Today the Office of Information Policy (OIP) issued guidance to agencies concerning their FOIA administration in light of the recent impacts of COVID-19. Federal employees responsible for agency FOIA administration have faced a variety of challenges as a result of changes to workplace policies due to steps taken to protect the health and well-being of employees while continuing to fulfill their agencies' missions. OIP's guidance encourages agencies to continuously assess their FOIA programs as circumstances evolve with a focus on finding workable solutions to maximize the efficiency and effectiveness of their FOIA administration.
The guidance emphasizes that even as agencies are working under new constraints due to COVID-19, agencies' legal obligations under the FOIA continue and the FOIA's statutory time limits still apply. As it has done in the past, OIP encourages agencies to focus on effective communication with requesters. While always important, effective communication, such as through the use of standard notices and individualized correspondence, is especially critical during this time when usual FOIA operations may be altered or delayed.
The guidance also encourages agencies to strategically manage their requests using multitrack processing and interim releases, particularly where portions of requests could be completed during the current circumstances. Agencies should also continue to consider how proactive disclosures could provide the public with efficient access to information, particularly for agencies that are significantly impacted by processing limitations. The guidance also highlights the importance of agencies leveraging technology to assist in managing their FOIA requests and encourages agencies to identify additional potential solutions to better facilitate remote work. Lastly, particularly for agencies that find that their usual FOIA workload has changed, OIP encourages agencies to find other ways to maximize efficiency and effectiveness, such as by focusing on more complex requests that can be handled remotely, reviewing and updating outdated procedures, or holding remote trainings.
OIP continues to provide resources to assist agencies in their administration of the FOIA, including the Department of Justice Guide to the FOIA, summaries of recent Court Decisions, updates to our Best Practices Workshop Series page, and virtual training. OIP's FOIA Counselors also remain available to provide advice to agencies on the newly issued guidance or any FOIA matter.