As part of the Second United States Open Government National Action Plan the Administration committed to initiating “an interagency process to determine the feasibility and the potential content of a core FOIA regulation that is both applicable to all agencies and retains flexibility for agency-specific requirements.” Throughout 2014 and 2015, OIP convened an interagency working group and met with members of civil society to fulfill this commitment. The goal of this initiative was to create as much uniformity as is practical and feasible in the content of agency FOIA regulations. Today, OIP culminates work on this initiative by releasing guidance and a template containing both guidelines and sample language for agency FOIA regulations.
FOIA regulations are a key aspect of an agency’s FOIA administration. Each agency is responsible for publishing its own regulations. The FOIA statute requires that certain topics be included in agency FOIA regulations, such as providing for expedited processing. There are many other areas, however, where agencies have flexibility, such as setting a time limit for submitting an administrative appeal.
OIP’s new guidance identifies the topics that the FOIA requires agencies to address in their regulations. The guidance also notes the provisions that the FOIA permits agencies to include. In addition to the required and optional provisions, the guidance describes the other types of provisions that agencies, as a matter of good practice, should include in their regulations.
The guidance is supplemented by a FOIA regulation template that provides guidelines and sample language for agencies to use as they publish and update their regulations. These resources will be updated as needed to reflect changes in law and policy.
To the extent it is feasible, standardizing common aspects of FOIA administration across agencies will simplify the FOIA process for requesters who may submit requests to different agencies. For example, the template guidelines specify a minimum number of days that agencies should afford requesters to file an administrative appeal. The guidance and template also stress the importance of including customer service provisions. OIP encourages all agencies to consult the guidance and template as they review their own regulations. By doing so, agencies can help further standardize FOIA practices across the government and improve overall administration of the FOIA.