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FOIA Update: Why FOIA Update?

FOIA Update
Vol. I, No. 1

Why FOIA Update?

The basic purpose of FOIA Update, according to Robert L. Saloschin, Director of the Justice Department's Office of Information Law and Policy (OILP), is to help upgrade the quality of FOIA administration in federal agencies.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law designed to secure the public's right to know. FOIA affects every federal program and is administered by every federal agency. Anyone can make a FOIA request to see any agency records, and any federal employee may have to help in responding to it. Today, however, a large part of FOIA work is done by specially assigned agency personnel, and they are expected to form much of FOIA Update's readership.

Administering FOIA requires making determinations of fact, law, and policy. To do this adequately is sometimes a large or complex task, especially when requests are for records that may be numerous or sensitive. Difficulties are often magnified by new or conflicting court decisions; by gaps in an agency's knowledge, resources, organization, or training; by a need to involve other agencies; or by a need to reconcile divergent policies.

FOIA Update will provide help for agency personnel, including administrators, lawyers, and paralegals, to handle FOIA requests in more efficient and satisfactory ways. Better handling of FOIA requests should benefit both the agency and the public. FOIA Update will be issued quarterly, except for possible special issues.

In addition, FOIA Update will help the Justice Department carry out its interagency duties. Congress has recognized that the Justice Department has a duty to "encourage agency compliance" with FOIA (5 U.S.C. § 552(d), last sentence). Last year the Justice Department, to improve its performance of this function, established its Office of Information Law and Policy (OILP). Among OILP's purposes are to advise agencies "on all questions of policy, interpretation, and application of FOIA . . . to co-ordinate FOIA policy among the executive agencies . . . and to undertake informational programs" in this field (43 Fed. Reg. 45991).

After repeated indications from Congress and from agency personnel that additional FOIA guidance should be provided by the Justice Department, establishing this newsletter was one of OILP's priority tasks. The editor of FOIA Update will be OILP Deputy Director Kathryn M. Braeman, who also has organizing and planning responsibilities in connection with FOIA legislative proposals and FOIA training programs. She welcomes your comments, suggestions, and contributions. Sharing your experience and expertise through FOIA Update may help other agencies to administer FOIA better.

FOIA Update should prove of value in both an immediate and a longer-run sense. The holes at the side of the page are to encourage preserving FOIA Update in a loose-leaf binder for reference, but please don't put FOIA Update in the binder without first making sure that a copy will be seen promptly by FOIA personnel.

FOIA Update welcomes your ideas. For example, the title FOIA Update was the suggestion of Barbara L. Thompson, Management Analyst, Manpower Plans and Policy Division, U.S. Marine Corps, at an Office of Personnel Management seminar in August, 1979, where Robert L. Saloschin, Douglas S. Wood, and Kathryn M. Braeman spoke on the responsibilities of the Office of Information Law and Policy. At the same seminar three Interior Department employees suggested very similar titles--"FOI Update," Priscilla Baker, Chief, Office of Public Affairs, National Park Service; "Newsletter Update-FOIA", Frances A. Patton, Special Assistant to the Director, Office of Hearings and Appeals; "The FOIA Updater," Betty J. Foyes, Freedom of Information Coordinator, Office of Inspector General.

"FOIbles," the title for the cartoon feature, was suggested by Roy D. Sandberg, Consumer Safety Officer in the Office of the Executive Director of Regional Operations, Food and Drug Administration, Department of Health, Education and Welfare. "FOIA Foibles," was suggested by J. C. Glover, Executive Officer, National Environmental Satellite Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Department of Commerce.

Go to: FOIA Update Home Page

Updated August 13, 2014