This Guidance was issued as a part of the 2015 Summary and Assessment of Agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports
OIP Guidance for Further Improvement Based on
2015 Chief FOIA Officer Report Review and Assessment
Continuing to Focus on Substantive FOIA Training
It is critical to any successful FOIA administration that the professionals responsible for implementing the law have adequate training resources available to them. Agencies should take steps to ensure that all of their FOIA professionals attend substantive FOIA training at least once throughout the year. The level of training needed by agency FOIA professionals will necessarily vary based on the numbers and complexity of the requests the agency receives. Nevertheless, it is important that all professionals that handle FOIA requests at an agency, whether small or large, participate in necessary FOIA training throughout the year so that they can be current with the state of the law.
Agencies that are in need of training are encouraged to take advantage of the many 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. Additionally, this past March OIP released a suite of e-Leaning FOIA courses that are available for all agencies with e-learning platforms. For more information about OIP's upcoming training events and how to attend please visit the Training page of our website.
Electronic Communication with Requesters
President Obama and Attorney General Holder emphasized in their FOIA Memoranda the importance of agencies working with FOIA requesters “in a spirit of cooperation.” In 2013, OIP issued a second guidance article on the importance of good communication with requesters with emphasis on the use of technology. As the public increasingly seeks to communicate with agencies electronically, it is vital that agencies ensure that they utilize technology to facilitate that communication. In accordance with OIP's 2013 guidance, agencies should communicate electronically with requesters as a default.
Improving Timeliness and Reducing Backlogs
Both the President and Attorney General Holder have emphasized the importance of timeliness when responding to requests. As agencies receive more requests every year and fiscal times continue to be tight, additional challenges must be overcome to improve timeliness. In the 2015 Assessment, OIP captures agencies' efforts in this area by scoring several milestones, including: the average processing time for simple requests, reductions in backlogs, the percentage of the backlogs in relation to incoming requests and appeals, and the closure of agencies' ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations.
With regard to simple track requests, those agencies that reported an average processing time of more than twenty days should reexamine their FOIA process and strive to meet this milestone. For those agencies with backlogs of requests and appeals, agencies should continue to work to reduce those backlogs. Finally, agencies should continue to make it a priority to close their ten oldest pending requests, appeals, and consultations 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. Closing the ten oldest consultations also ensures that the agencies that sent the consultations can have the responses they need in order to close out those requests.