Guidelines for 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports

Guidelines for 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports

President Obama’s FOIA Memorandum and the DOJ’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines

On his first full day in office, President Obama demonstrated his commitment to the ideals of transparency and openness by issuing a Memorandum to the heads of all Executive Branch Departments and agencies stressing the important role that the FOIA plays in our democracy. In accordance with the President’s memorandum, on March 19, 2009, the Department of Justice issued new FOIA guidelines, which called on all agencies to reaffirm the government’s "commitment to accountability and transparency." Among other things, the Guidelines stressed the importance of proactive disclosures and timely responses to FOIA requests. Agencies were instructed to greater utilize technology and to take steps to ensure that they have an effective system for responding to requests. Significantly, the 2009 FOIA Guidelines emphasized that "[e]ach agency must be fully accountable for its administration of the FOIA."

Agency Accountability

The 2009 FOIA Guidelines highlighted the key role played by each agency’s Chief FOIA Officer and emphasized that "[i]mproving FOIA performance requires the[ir] active participation." Accordingly, the Department of Justice directed agency Chief FOIA Officers to review "all aspects of their agencies' FOIA administration" and to report each year to the Department on the steps taken "to improve FOIA operations and facilitate information disclosure."

Since its introduction in 2010, agencies have highlighted in their Chief FOIA Officer Reports a wide range of initiatives, big and small, that have been undertaken to improve transparency in keeping with DOJ’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines. Since 2011, OIP has prepared a comprehensive annual assessment of agency compliance with the 2009 FOIA Guidelines, which combines pertinent details outlined by agencies in their Chief FOIA Officer Reports with data from their Annual FOIA Reports. These assessments are accompanied by a summary of agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports, which describes the various initiatives undertaken by agencies. Additionally, each year OIP compiles and posts a collection of success stories from the Chief FOIA Officer Reports of key agencies. OIP will once again prepare and release an assessment after the submission of the 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports.

In addition to the summary and assessment, based on its review of agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports, OIP issues guidance each year on steps that can be taken by agencies to achieve greater transparency in the years ahead. Over the last five years, these guidance articles have addressed the importance of:

  • utilizing advanced technology to process requests,
  • limitations on the use of “still interested” letters,
  • complying with the FOIA’s requirements for response letters
  • focusing on quality FOIA training,
  • closing the ten oldest pending requests and appeals pending at each agency every year,
  • utilizing multitrack processing,
  • improving processing times for simple track requests, and
  • communicating with requesters electronically.

Topics to be Addressed and Format of 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports

In accordance with the DOJ’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines, OIP is charged with the responsibility of providing guidance to agencies on the timing and content of agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports to the Attorney General. The guidelines for the 2017 reports are set out below.

While the overall topics to be addressed in the reports remain the same, for 2017 OIP has once again modified and updated the questions that are asked, in particular to reflect the amendments to the FOIA made by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. As agencies continue to make improvements to their FOIA operations it is important that the Chief FOIA Officer Reports reflect the more advanced steps agencies are taking to apply DOJ’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines.  At the same time, it is also important that the Chief FOIA Officer Reports address those areas where agencies need to improve. In the course of planning for these guidelines OIP met with representatives of civil society and has taken their input into account.

Reporting Standards for Large-, Medium-, and Small-Volume Agencies

In 2014, OIP began issuing separate reporting requirements for agencies based on the volume of FOIA requests they receive. The 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines follow a similar format, but for the first time provide separate questions for three types of agencies instead of two.  We are now distinguishing between small-, medium-, and large- volume FOIA agencies.  By providing agencies with distinct reporting requirements based on the volume of requests received, OIP can more easily address the different circumstances and challenges faced by those agencies with small- and medium-volume FOIA workloads, while continuing to focus in depth on those agencies which receive a higher volume of FOIA requests. 

To account for the differences in FOIA administration across the government, the Chief FOIA Officer reporting guidelines for each agency are based on the number of requests that the agency received during Fiscal Year 2015.  The volume for each agency is listed in the chart provided at the end of this page.   

Small-volume agencies receiving less than 50 requests in Fiscal Year 2015:

These agencies should answer the questions designed for small-volume agencies, using this template

Medium-volume agencies that received 50-1,000 requests in Fiscal Year 2015:

These agencies should answer the questions provided for medium-volume agencies, using this template.

High-volume agencies that received more than 1,000 requests in Fiscal Year 2015:

These agencies should answer the questions provided for high-volume agencies, using this template.

As in previous years, the 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports should provide an overall picture of each agency’s activities undertaken pursuant to DOJ’s 2009 FOIA GuidelinesThus, even for those agencies that process requests on a decentralized basis, by component, the Chief FOIA Officer Report should contain agency overall answers and should not be broken down by component. Instead, it should be organized by the five key topical areas. Then, within the discussion of each key area, data and examples from the agency’s various components can be provided. That approach makes it easier to get a picture of how the agency as a whole is addressing all the aspects of DOJ’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines.

Deadlines for Submitting 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports

The twenty-six high-volume agencies noted below must submit their 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review no later than Friday, January 13, 2017.

All other agencies must submit their 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports to OIP for review no later than Friday, February 3, 2017.

The drafts should be submitted by email to DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov. Please use the following text for the subject line of the email:  Draft [insert agency name] Chief FOIA Officer Report.

After the reports are reviewed and cleared by OIP, they should be posted on each agency’s website. OIP, in turn, will make all the Chief FOIA Officer Reports available to the public on the Department of Justice’s website. For 2017, agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports should be posted in final form by no later than Monday, March 13, 2017.

If you have any questions regarding your agency's 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Report, you can contact OIP’s FOIA Compliance Team at 202-514-3642, or by using the e-mail noted above.

Time Frame for Report

Unless otherwise noted, agency 2017 Chief FOIA Officer Reports should address agency activities that have occurred since the filing of last year’s Report, which was March 14, 2016, up until the filing of the 2017 Report (March 13, 2017). Thus, the general reporting period for the Chief FOIA Officer Reports is March 2016 to March 2017.

Agency Reporting Categories

Agency

Requests Received in FY2015

Small/Medium/High Volume

Administrative Conference of the United States

26

Small

American Battle Monuments Commission

5

Small

Appraisal Subcommittee

 -

Small

Armed Forces Retirement Home

13

Small

Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System

778

Medium

Broadcasting Board of Governors

45

Small

Central Intelligence Agency

3,618

High

Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board

45

Small

Commission on Fine Arts

 -

Small

Committee for Purchase from People Who are Blind or Disabled

6

Small

Commodity Futures Trading Commission

228

Medium

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

318

Medium

Corporation for National and Community Service

47

Small

Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency

15

Small

Council on Environmental Quality

83

Medium

Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency

532

Medium

Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board

19

Small

Denali Commission

 -

Small

Department of Agriculture

20,132

High

Department of Commerce

2,230

High

Department of Defense

57,498

High

Department of Education

2,297

High

Department of Energy

2,356

High

Department of Health and Human Services

43,085

High

Department of Homeland Security

281,138

High

Department of Housing and Urban Development

2,230

High

Department of Justice

67,783

High

Department of Labor

16,792

High

Department of State

24,837

High

Department of the Interior

6,792

High

Department of Transportation

13,374

High

Department of Treasury

13,922

High

Department of Veterans Affairs

29,716

High

Environmental Protection Agency

10,910

High

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission

17,883

High

Export-Import Bank

100

Medium

Farm Credit Administration

41

Small

Farm Credit System Insurance Corporation

11

Small

Federal Communications Commission

785

Medium

Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation

630

Medium

Federal Election Commission

91

Medium

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

131

Medium

Federal Financial Institution Council

23

Small

Federal Housing Finance Agency

169

Medium

Federal Labor Relations Authority

85

Medium

Federal Maritime Commission

35

Small

Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service

55

Medium

Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission

140

Medium

Federal Open Market Committee

34

Small

Federal Retirement Thrift Investment Board

14

Small

Federal Trade Commission

1,531

High

General Services Administration

934

Medium

Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council

 -

Small

Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation

 -

Small

Institute of Museum and Library Services

34

Small

Interagency Council on Homelessness

 -

Small

Inter-American Foundation

3

Small

James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation

 -

Small

Legal Services Corporation

54

Medium

Marine Mammal Commission

 -

Small

Merit Systems Protection Board

165

Medium

Millennium Challenge Corporation

18

Small

Morris K. Udall Foundation

 -

Small

National Aeronautics and Space Administration

923

Medium

National Archives and Records Administration

22,555

High

National Capital Planning Commission

3

Small

National Council on Disability

 -

Small

National Credit Union Administration

89

Medium

National Endowment for the Arts

55

Medium

National Endowment for the Humanities

62

Medium

National Indian Gaming Commission

43

Small

National Labor Relations Board

4,011

High

National Mediation Board

36

Small

National Railroad Passenger Corporation

257

Medium

National Science Foundation

302

Medium

National Transportation Safety Board

566

Medium

Neighborhood Reinvestment Corporation

 -

Small

Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission

53

Medium

Office of Government Ethics

70

Medium

Office of Management and Budget

198

Medium

Office of National Drug Control Policy

43

Small

Office of Navajo and Hopi Indian Relocation

179

Medium

Office of Personnel Management

10,720

High

Office of Science and Technology Policy

99

Medium

Office of Special Counsel

148

Medium

Office of the Director of National Intelligence

395

Medium

Office of the U.S. Trade Representative

102

Medium

Overseas Private Investment Corporation

40

Small

Peace Corps

248

Medium

Pensions Benefit Guaranty Corporation

2,278

High

Postal Regulatory Commission

8

Small

Presidio Trust

 - 

Small

Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

11

Small

Securities and Exchange Commission

16,898

High

Selective Service System

7

Small

Small Business Administration

955

Medium

Social Security Administration

23,208

High

Social Security Advisory Board

 -

Small

Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction

37

Small

Surface Transportation Board

65

Medium

Tennessee Valley Authority

198

Medium

U.S. Access Board

11

Small

U.S. African Development Foundation

2

Small

U.S. Agency for International Development

330

Medium

U.S. Commission on Civil Rights

21

Small

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

715

Medium

U.S. Copyright Office

36

Small

U.S. Election Assistance Commission

 -

Small

U.S. Institute of Peace

 -

Small

U.S. International Boundary and Water Commission

27

Small

U.S. International Trade Commission

31

Small

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission

505

Medium

U.S. Nuclear Waste Technical Review Board

 -

Small

U.S. Postal Service

2,651

High

U.S. Railroad Retirement Board

123

Medium

U.S. Trade and Development Agency

18

Small

 

Updated November 14, 2016