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FOIA Update: Wide Variety of FOIA Training Available

FOIA Update
Vol. V, No. 1

Wide Variety of FOIA Training Available

Over the years since federal agencies first began implementing the Freedom of Information Act, they have become increasingly aware of the value of up-to-date training in this area.

Today, a wide variety of basic and advanced training courses on the FOIA are available throughout the Federal Government. In 1984, approximately 25 governmentwide FOIA training programs will be held in Washington, D.C. alone, and 18 more sessions are scheduled in regions throughout the country. In addition, many agencies will offer in-house or on-the-job training for their FOIA access professionals and attorneys.

A review of the FOIA training practices at various federal departments and agencies reveals several consistent trends in FOIA training. New employees in the FOIA area usually attend at least one of the major FOIA training programs and thereafter return for refresher sessions from time to time.

Additionally, several agencies offer one-day or two-day in-house sessions on the FOIA which usually focus on technical questions and issues particular to those agencies. Educational programs offering updated training and advanced work are always popular and, as federal agencies have developed greater FOIA expertise in recent years, such programs have become heavily subscribed.

The major sources of FOIA training are:

The Department of Justice's Legal Education Institute (LEI) -- which offers five sessions yearly of its two-day course, "The Freedom of Information Act for Attorneys and Access Professionals." In 1984, four of these sessions will be offered in Washington and the fifth will be held in Los Angeles. The faculty is comprised of access law experts from several agencies and the Office of Information and Privacy.

LEI's training of legal personnel in the FOIA area goes back several years, but the current course was revised considerably in 1982. As it is now presented, the course is comprised of overview and case update lectures, a discussion of current FOIA policy issues, workshops on various FOIA exemptions and procedural issues, and a detailed explanation of the Vaughn requirements by an Assistant United States Attorney. It has been specifically made available to access professionals as well as attorneys and has been one of LEI's most heavily demanded course offerings over the past two years. A basic knowledge of the FOIA is usually required for participation.

In late 1983, based upon an OIP training survey showing a great demand for more advanced FOIA training, LEI inaugurated its "Advanced Seminar on the Freedom of Information Act." Intended for the principal FOIA officers at federal agencies or their designees, this one-day seminar includes specialized presentations and workshops on selected FOIA issues and will now be offered twice per year.

Also offered twice per year is LEI's new one-day Privacy Act seminar, which originated as part of its larger two-day information law course before it became a separate seminar early in 1983.

The Office of Personnel Management's Center for Communications and Administrative Management -- which, through its Administrative Management Training Institute, offers six FOIA/PA sessions yearly in the Washington area. Established during the winter of 1975-1976, OPM's "Successful Implementation of the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act" is directed toward the new employee or the one with little FOIA/PA experience.

It is offered three times yearly, as is OPM's companion course, "FOIA and Privacy Act Workshop for Administrative and Secretarial Personnel." The workshop is described by its instructor as a "nuts and bolts" course directed toward those involved in the receipt and processing of FOIA/PA requests.

All six Washington sessions are taught by William H. Harader, Director of the Center for Governmental Services and Professor of Political Science at Indiana State University. Harader was at OPM during the academic year of 1975-1976 as an exchange employee under the Intergovernmental Personnel Act. During that time, he worked with Office of Management and Budget employees and with OMB's Privacy Act guidelines to develop a Privacy Act course. Later, he worked with the Justice Department to add material on the FOIA.

The Office of Personnel Management's Government Affairs Institute -- which offers an annual two-day symposium on the FOIA. Professor Harader, who coordinates this symposium with OPM's Patti Shosteck, describes the symposium as directed toward top level personnel concerned with new legislative, policy, and case law developments. It generally draws about 150 persons, despite being held in mid-August, and is open governmentwide. This year will see the sixth annual offering of this FOIA program and, according to OIP Co-Director Dan Metcalfe, who has spoken at each program, it is "highly regarded and recommended."

The Office of Personnel Management's Regional Training Centers -- which have scheduled 17 two-day sessions on the FOIA and the Privacy Act for 1984. Response to the FOIA/PA course in the OPM regions varies. For example, the Denver Region Training Center recently offered a FOIA/PA course taught by the trainer from Dallas; the session filled quickly and some people were turned away. In other regions, however, demand has decreased in recent years. One region ran as many as nine sessions yearly, but is now down to three.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Graduate School -- which offers a three-day course on information access laws four times a year and a two-day FOIA and Privacy Act course four times yearly. The three-day course on access laws was established in 1983. Course instructor as Francis Seng says, "It's not for people just starting out in the field . . . it's not a primer course." Instead, he says, instruction deals with the laws, that regulate custody, management, and disclosure of government information.

The two-day course at USDA is specifically directed at the FOIA and the Privacy Act. Instructors from the Office of Information and Privacy. and other government agencies serve as the faculty. Now undergoing substantial revision, the course currently opens with an overview of the FOIA, focusing on procedural and exemption issues, and then moves into a detailed description of the Privacy Act, and a final summary comparing the two Acts. The course is aimed at students with little or no experience in these areas.

The American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP) -- which, since its establishment in late 1980, has offered annual training sessions on the FOIA and the Privacy Act. Lt. Col. William C. Goforth, ASAP training committee co-chairman, terms the ASAP half-day sessions "basic training for the novice or the person who has FOIA as an additional duty."

Col. Goforth says the FOIA sessions generally open with an overview, additional sessions deal with the exemptions, and the final program in the series presents a panel of managers who discuss problems and solutions.

Goforth estimates that there were approximately 250 paying attendees for the five FOIA courses in 1983 and that attendance has risen in each of the three years ASAP has offered the courses. Sessions are taught by personnel from government agencies and from the private sector.

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Other such programs or seminars run locally have included an annual fall seminar on the FOIA and the Privacy Act sponsored by the Center for National Securities Studies, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the FOI Clearinghouse, as well as FOIA programs presented from time to time by the American Bar Association and the Federal Bar Association.

In-House Training

In addition, in-house courses, seminars, and training sessions are available in several federal agencies or in particular components where certain common issues can be identified.

For example, the Department of the Interior in the past year reinstituted earlier in-house training for FOIA officers and others dealing with the law. John D. Trezise, an assistant solicitor at Interior, says the new course was offered in 1983 to some 65 to 70 persons, the majority of whom had no prior training. A 300-page training manual was prepared for the course, with material focused on Exemptions 4 and 5 and, to a lesser extent, Exemptions 6 and 7. In addition, the course covered "nuts and bolts" procedural issues. Since the first 1983 sessions, condensed versions were held for program officers in various Interior Department components.

The Department of Health and Human Services also has an extensive program with personnel from its FOIA Office and its Office of the General Counsel offering training for all FOIA officers and to individual components throughout the year. In 1983, FOIA training was also held in five HHS regional offices. Similar field training is offered by FOIA personnel at both the Department of Energy and the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

At the FBI, comprehensive training for both Headquarters and Field Office staff is a longstanding tradition, and even now when there are not as many new FOIA/PA employees, the Bureau does frequent updating and also holds an annual seminar at the FBI Academy at Quantico. Likewise, the Department of Defense and its components offer a wide range of in-house training in FOIA to supplement the programs available through LEI and the other outside trainers.

Special OIP Training

Finally, the Office of Information and Privacy provides specialized FOIA training upon request at individual federal agencies. During 1983, special training sessions were conducted by OIP attorneys at such agencies as the Department of Labor, the State Department, ACTION and the Merit Systems Protection Board. In a more specialized session, OIP's two co-directors spoke at a day-long FOIA training seminar presented for all inspectors general and their staffs under the auspices of the President's Council on Integrity and Efficiency last March.

(See page 12 of this issue for a listing of currently scheduled FOIA training opportunities.)


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Updated December 9, 2022