OIP Guidance for Further Improvement Based on 2018 Chief FOIA Officer Report Review and Assessment
Strategically Managing Backlogs
In Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, the government once again received a record number of requests. The government overall received 818,271 requests, a 3.7% increase from FY 2016 (29,502 more requests). The government also processed a record high number of requests during FY 2017 (823,222 requests, an 8.3% increase from FY 2016). Every year, agencies strive to reduce the backlog of pending requests and improve processing times. In FY 2017, the government overall achieved backlog reduction compared to FY 2016, although a majority of high and medium-volume agencies experienced increases in their individual backlogs.
OIP acknowledged in last year’s guidance that while agencies should continue to strive for backlog reduction, the reality is that these efforts will always be impacted by certain factors outside of the agency’s control, such as limited resources and fluctuations in the number of incoming requests that agencies face from year to year. While some agencies can reallocate personnel resources to assist in backlog reduction, as discussed in this year’s Summary, this is not always feasible for all agencies. Many agencies that are leveraging all available resources and utilizing technology for greater efficiency may still experience backlog increases. Accordingly, we encourage agencies to continue managing their backlog strategically and provide some methods for doing so below.
First, agencies should ensure that they have systems in place to respond to simple requests quickly. We have encouraged agencies to use multitrack processing so that requests that take less time to process are not delayed behind requests that are more complex. The majority of agencies reported processing their simple track requests within twenty working days during FY 2017. As the government continues to receive more requests each year, we encourage agencies to identify simple requests as soon as possible upon receipt so that FOIA staff can ensure that those requests continue to be processed quickly. Relatedly, agencies should actively work with requesters and continue to give them the opportunity to clarify or narrow the scope of their requests so that they can be processed in the simple track. Finally, as discussed last year, agencies should continue to focus on closing their oldest requests, in particular the ten oldest requests, in order to limit the age of their backlogs overall.
Improvements in agency FOIA backlogs can happen in many ways, including a reduction in the number of backlogged requests, maintaining a small ratio of backlogged requests compared to incoming, improvements in processing times, and reductions in the age of the agency’s backlog. Agencies should strategically focus their attention on the areas where they can have the greatest impact.
Closing Ten Oldest Consultations
At times, requests may take longer to process because the agency has sent records to another agency for consultation. To promote closing consultations in a timely manner, we have long encouraged agencies to focus on closing their ten oldest consultations, in addition to their ten oldest requests and appeals. In their 2018 Chief FOIA Officer Reports, while most agencies closed their ten oldest consultations or had none to close, several agencies reported that they did not close the ten oldest consultations pending from FY 2016 during FY 2017. We encourage agencies to continue focusing on closing all consultations, in particularly the ten oldest, in a timely manner as a way to assist other agencies in ultimately closing the request.
Posting Raw Data from Annual FOIA Reports
The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 amended the FOIA to require all agencies to proactively post the raw data that makes up the content of their Annual FOIA Reports. Previously, agencies were required to make that raw data available upon request, but agencies are now required to post the raw data electronically so that it is available for public inspection in an electronic format. In 2016, OIP issued Guidance on the New Requirements for Agency Annual FOIA Reports to assist agencies in complying with this requirement. The 2018 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines asked agencies to provide the link to the raw data posting from their FY 2016 Annual FOIA Report. While most agencies posted their FY 2016 raw data, there were some agencies that indicated they were not able to do so. Those agencies that have not yet posted their raw data should review OIP’s guidance and determine next steps for ensuring that they can comply with this posting requirement.