Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General Claire Murray Delivers Remarks at the U.S. Department of Justice Sunshine Week Celebration
As illustrated by OIP's 2013 Assessment of Agency Progress in Implementing the President's and Attorney General's FOIA Memoranda, agencies have accomplished a great deal over the past year to apply the presumption of openness, make more proactive disclosures, utilize technology for the benefit of FOIA administration, improve timeliness, and reduce backlogs. While the government overall has made significant improvements, the results achieved by individual agencies vary. OIP's Assessment serves as a visual snapshot of where each agency should focus its efforts in the upcoming year to achieve even greater success in implementing the President's Memorandum on the FOIA and the Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines. To assist agencies, OIP offers the following guidance based on our 2013 Assessment.
Focus on Quality Training
A proper understanding of the FOIA, including the correct application of the statute's provisions and the Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines, is the first step towards any successful FOIA operation. OIP's Assessment shows that the vast majority of agencies are either holding training conferences or sending their FOIA professionals to training hosted by other agencies. These efforts vary by agency, though, with some agencies citing one or two training sessions attended by staff and others hosting multiple FOIA conferences and having all of their FOIA professionals attend regular training.
OIP advises every agency to make FOIA training available to all their FOIA professionals at least once each year. Moreover, it is essential that FOIA training programs cover core, substantive aspects of FOIA administration. Agencies that have been engaged in robust training initiatives should continue these efforts. Agencies that are in need of training are encouraged to take advantage of the many FOIA training opportunities available around the government or to plan a comprehensive FOIA conference tailored to the needs of their own agency. OIP regularly conducts a number of government-wide training sessions that cover all aspects of the FOIA. OIP's subject matter experts are also available to provide specialized training for agencies on any FOIA topic. For more information about OIP's upcoming training events and how to attend please visit the "Training" page of our website. In addition, agencies can contact OIP’s Training Officer to arrange for assistance in holding an in-house training program.
Focus on Processing “Simple” Track Requests Within Twenty Working Days
The Attorney General has emphasized that "[t]imely disclosure of information is an essential component of transparency." The government overall showed improvement on this front with sixty-three agencies processing their "simple track" requests within an average of twenty days or less and several more being very close to meeting this goal. However, there are still a number of agencies with longer processing times. Agencies that are taking longer than an average of twenty days to process their simple requests should reexamine their FOIA process and strive to meet this milestone. Furthermore, OIP advises those agencies with high processing times that have not established multi-track processing to consider doing so. As explained in last year's guidance, multi-track systems provide a mechanism for agencies to process their simple requests in a different queue from their complex requests, which in turn can allow for improved timeliness for the simple requests. Differentiating the processing queues also allows agencies to provide requesters with meaningful choices regarding processing times, based on the complexity of the request.
Focus on Closing the “Ten Oldest”
Finally, all agencies should continue to make it a priority to close their ten oldest pending requests and appeals each fiscal year. Our sustained efforts to close these requests and appeals every year is essential to reducing the age of the government's backlogs and resolving those cases that have been lingering for years.In addition to closing their oldest requests and appeals, for those agencies that receive consultations from other agencies it is equally important to close their ten oldest pending consultations. This ensures that the agencies that sent the consultations can have the responses they need in order to close out the requests.