The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is commonly referred to as the law that allows citizens to know “what their government is up to.” In addition to publishing information in the Federal Register and processing requests made by individuals, the statute also contains proactive disclosure provisions which require agencies to make certain categories of non-exempt records available to the public without waiting for a FOIA request. Today, OIP has released new guidance designed to improve agency compliance with these provisions in line with the tenets of Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines.
The FOIA statute itself, in subsection (a)(2) outlines four categories of records that agencies are required to “make available for public inspection and copying” consisting of operational documents (final orders & opinions, policy statements, and staff manuals & instructions) and “frequently requested records.” Both the President and Attorney General Holder have directed agencies to “take affirmative steps to make information public” and to “readily and systematically post information online in advance of any public request.” As noted in this new guidance,
“When agencies make proactive disclosures they are enhancing transparency by ensuring that certain key information about the operations and activities of the government is readily and efficiently made available to all.”
In addition to providing an overview of the legal requirements of the FOIA to make various types of records available proactively, the guidance addresses ways in which agencies can take additional steps to improve transparency through proactive disclosures. A specific focus of the new guidance is of the requirement for agencies to post “FOIA-processed records on popular topics that the agency determines are, or are likely to be, the subject of multiple FOIA requests.”
OIP’s new guidance provides information on proactive disclosures to agencies on a variety of topics, including:
- Methods of disclosures – where agencies post proactively disclosed records, specifically FOIA Libraries;
- Strategies for identifying “Frequently Requested” records – steps that agencies can take to efficiently and effectively locate records requested multiple times or topics that could become the subject of multiple requests; and
- Ensuring that posted information is useable – outlining how agencies can work to make information that is posted is in a user-friendly format.
The full text of the guidance, along with all other guidance issued by OIP, is available on our guidance page. OIP encourages agencies to review their procedures for identifying and posting proactive disclosures to ensure they are efficiently and effectively carrying out their obligations for this important aspect of FOIA administration.