As all agencies know, reducing backlogs of pending requests and improving timeliness is a key aspect of FOIA administration.
Given its importance OIP selected this topic to be the focus of the first Best Practices Workshops convened by OIP to fulfill one of the Administration's five FOIA modernization commitments outlined in the second National Action Plan.
At this workshop, speakers from five different agencies shared with other FOIA professionals their successes in reducing backlogs and improving timeliness. While each faced different challenges, the methods employed by the five agencies featured some common themes.
The speakers addressed the importance of:
- Obtaining leadership support – to obtain personnel and resources, to get buy-in from program offices, to increase awareness, to spread responsibility and ensure greater accountability
- Routinely reviewing processing metrics – to ensure oldest cases are handled each year, to make changes as needed during the course of the year, to identify common requests and trends as part of “Intelligent Case Management,” to troubleshoot
- Ensuring accountability – to motivate and reward personnel, to engage all members of the agency with a role in the process
- Engaging with FOIA staff – to train and encourage, to answer questions, to simplify processes and improve quality as well as quantity
In these times of lean resources and competing priorities, the challenges in this area can be many. As the discussion illustrated, however, many agencies have found success by first carefully studying their processing systems and policies and then implementing targeted solutions to gain efficiencies. Today, OIP is issuing guidance for all agencies based on the discussion at the workshop. Reducing backlogs and improving timeliness requires an active, aggressive, and multi-pronged approach. Employing these methods can help all agencies realize improvements in this area.