This Guidance was issued as a part of the 2016 Summary and Assessment of Agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports
OIP Guidance for Further Improvement Based on
2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report Review and Assessment
Closing the Ten Oldest Requests and Appeals
As agencies work to improve timeliness in processing requests, they should continue to prioritize closing the ten oldest requests and appeals reported as pending at the end of the previous fiscal year (FY) in their Annual FOIA Reports. During FY2015, 56% of agencies that reported having a “Ten Oldest Request” at the end of FY2014 did not close all of those requests in FY2015, and 57% of agencies that reported having a “Ten Oldest Appeal” at the end of FY2014 did not close all of those appeals in FY2015. While it is important to focus on reducing the overall number of requests and appeals in their backlogs, agencies should also devote attention to closing their ten oldest requests and appeals, so that both the age and number of requests and appeals in their backlogs continues to improve. Additionally, for those agencies that receive consultations, focusing on closing the ten oldest consultations each year helps ensure that the agencies that sent the consultations have the information they need to close out the requests. Agencies demonstrated success in the closing of their ten oldest consultations in FY2015, with ninety-two agencies either closing their ten oldest or having no pending consultations to close. A similar focus on closing the ten oldest requests and appeals will ensure that we continually reduce the age of the government’s backlog.
OIP encourages agencies to take steps to actively monitor the status of their ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations throughout the fiscal year. For example, agencies may task specific FOIA personnel to regularly follow up on the status of the ten oldest requests, appeals, or consultations, which can help agencies to identify and address any unique challenges to processing those cases. Agencies can also use their quarterly reports, discussed below, to monitor the progress of the ten oldest requests, and may also consider checking the status of the ten oldest appeals and consultations each quarter as well.
Successfully Posting Quarterly Reports
Quarterly FOIA Reports provide a snapshot of an agency’s key FOIA statistics throughout the fiscal year. Each quarter, agencies report on the status of their ten oldest requests from the prior fiscal year, as well as the number of requests received, processed, and backlogged as of the end of the reporting quarter. Quarterly reports are a useful supplement to the Annual FOIA Reports because they help inform agency personnel and members of the public about an agency’s progress in key areas of FOIA administration throughout the fiscal year, rather than only one time at the end of the fiscal year.
OIP’s Guidance for Quarterly FOIA Reporting details the requirements and instructions for agencies to post their quarterly reports so that the data appears in a human-readable format on FOIA.gov that is accessible to agencies and the public. During FY2015, many agencies successfully posted their quarterly reports. While several agencies posted their reports on their website, the data did not appear on FOIA.gov. Agencies can check to ensure that each quarter’s data appears on FOIA.gov by visiting the FOIA.gov Reports page and selecting their agency and “Quarterly.” Agencies should inform OIP if their quarterly data does not appear within 48 hours of the reporting deadline so that any technical issues can be addressed to ensure successful reporting.
Conducting self-assessments can assist all agencies in reviewing and improving their FOIA administration. Several high-volume and low-volume agencies reported conducting self-assessments during the past year. Self-assessments can give agencies an opportunity to, for example, review aspects of their FOIA program to streamline processing procedures, identify new ways to use technology, and determine whether to reallocate resources to facilitate continued progress towards agency processing goals. Agencies can also examine other aspects of FOIA administration through self-assessments, such as procedures for identifying records for proactive or discretionary release. Self-assessments may also reveal best practices or areas where FOIA guidance and best practices can be more effectively implemented.
Agencies’ Annual and Quarterly FOIA Reports, along with OIP’s Assessments of Chief FOIA Officer Reports, can be a significant resource to help inform agency self-assessments, from identifying trends over time, to highlighting areas of success, and pinpointing those areas in need of improvement. OIP encourages all agencies to regularly conduct self-assessments to help them improve and refine their administration of the FOIA.