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FOIA Update: FOIA Training Still Widely Available

FOIA Update
Vol. VII, No. 3

FOIA Training Still Widely Available

Despite governmentwide budgetary constraints and sharp cutbacks in some areas of federal employee training, Freedom of Information Act training opportunities have remained widely available during this past year, and this can be expected to continue as the demand for FOIA training continues to remain high.

Traditionally, most formal FOIA training has been provided on a governmentwide basis because of the cross-cutting nature of FOIA issues and the need for uniformity among agencies in their administration of the Act. The Office of Personnel Management and, more recently, the Department of Justice have taken the lead in this area by sponsoring and conducting many FOIA training programs available to all federal employees over the years.

The tightening of federal agency budgets for such "discretionary" items as training, though, has necessitated certain program reviews and adjustments to ensure the continued availability of a full range of FOIA instruction.


At the Department of Justice, extreme budgetary constraints earlier this year threatened a substantial cutback in the government's major FOIA training program.

For the past several years, the bulk of governmentwide FOIA training was conducted under the auspices of the Legal Education Institute, part of the Justice Department's Office of Legal Education, located organizationally within the Department's Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys. However, when that entire organization suddenly faced severe budgetary shortages in early 1986, LEI was unable to maintain its role in FOIA training.

Consequently, the Office of Information and Privacy, which had been conducting FOIA training under LEI's auspices for several years, assumed LEI's organizational role and began providing FOIA training directly using its own resources, at less overall cost. As in the past, there is no charge for attendance at OlP-conducted training

The first such OIP training session was the Advanced FOIA Seminar, a program limited to 40-45 senior FOlA personnel, which was held on June 4. It was followed by OIP's Introduction to the FOIA or Non-Specialists in early September which was attended by a record number of participants for such a session. These programs, each of which will be offered twice yearly by OIP, are designed to complement the more extensive, two-day basic FOIA training course.

That two-day FOIA course, entitled "The Freedom of Information Act for Attorneys and Access Professionals," has been a staple of governmentwide FOIA training for many years. A combination of lecture presentations and student-selected workshops, it provides detailed basic instruction in FOIA policies and practices to hundreds of agency access professionals annually.

OIP will continue to conduct this course no less than five times per year, with organizational assistance from the Department's Office of Legal Education. It is so heavily in demand that nearly 250 applicants sought to be among its 85 attendees at its most recent offering in July.


It was to meet this consistently high demand for FOIA training that OIP broadened the range of course offerings with its introductory and advanced training. Towards this same end, OIP inaugurates another new seminar this year, one designed for the access professional or agency official who needs only a periodic update on current FOIA case law and policy developments.

Entitled the "Annual Update Seminar on the FOIA," this new training session will be conducted by OIP at the end of September, immediately upon completion of work on OIP's annual "Justice Department Guide to the FOIA," which is published as part of its Freedom of Information Case List. A special prepublication copy of the "Justice Department Guide" is provided to all participants.

Also of significance is the fact that this new seminar is offered without the usual space limitations, because it is being held by special arrangement in the main auditorium of the FBI Headquarters Building. More than 250 persons registered to attend the inaugural session.


The one aspect of FOIA training inescapably limited by budgetary constraints is the availability of training opportunities outside of the Washington, D.C. area. The two-day basic FOIA course which in recent years has been offered twice annually in different parts of the country, has been restricted to D.C. during 1986.

OIP has worked to fill the gap, though, by holding special training sessions in targeted areas where the need is greatest. During the past year, it has provided such training at special agency request in eight different locations throughout the country, including two military bases. In two instances, this training was made available through novel cooperative arrangements made with local bar associations.

The primary source of FOIA training source of FOIA training outside of Washington, however, remains the Office of Personnel Management, which regularly provides basic FOIA and Privacy Act training sessions in each of the federal regions. In many areas of the country, this is the only formal access law training available to federal employees.

While OPM's regional training activities have been affected somewhat by budget constraints this past year, it continues to provide a valuable selection of FOIA training, albeit at some cost to the participating agencies. (See "Training Opportunities" on page 8 of this issue.)


Additional FOIA training is available as well in the Washington, D.C. area. The Office of Personnel Management, for example, provides basic instruction in FOIA administrative procedures that is designed primarily for administrative and secretarial personnel.

Through its Center for Communications and Administrative Management, OPM continues to offer such sessions on FOIA and Privacy Act implementation several times per year, under the overall direction of Indiana State University Professor William H. Harader.

Once a year, in August, Professor Harader also coordinates the presentation of the OPM Government Affairs Institute's Annual Symposium on the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts, a two-day program held on Capitol Hill for senior agency officials. This year's program was the eighth such symposium and it featured an address by Assistant Attorney General for Legal Policy Stephen J. Markman.

Another federal source of FOIA training is the Graduate School of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In the past, it offered as many as eight courses annually on federal access laws, which it presented with curricular and instructional support from OIP, but it has always charged a substantial tuition for such programs. Recently, as enrollment in these courses has been diminishing, the Graduate School has reduced the frequency of its offerings.

Finally, there is the continued availability of specialized training at individual agency request through OIP. OIP's training office, Philip A. Kesaris, with the assistance of paralegal specialist Karen M. Finnegan, reviews training activities and works to ensure the meeting of both individual and multiagency FOIA training needs.

During this past year, for instance, OIP discerned the need for greater coordination and uniformity among federal agencies possessing law enforcement records in their administration of certain aspects of the Act. Consequently, OIP is planning to conduct a training session designed to meet this need, entitled the "Special FOIA Seminar for Law Enforcement Agencies." Scheduled to be held on February 4, 1987, this session will be open to all federal agencies that deal with law enforcement records.

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Updated August 13, 2014