The Department of Justice has a decentralized FOIA processing system. Under this framework, each of the Department's components maintains and processes its own records in response to FOIA requests. Overall, the Department received 70,081 requests in Fiscal Year 2013, which was the second highest amount of incoming requests for the entire government, and the most for the Department since Fiscal Year 2009. This also marked the third straight year in which the Department experienced an increase of incoming requests.
To meet this high demand, the Department continued to process requests at a record high level, processing 68,241 requests. By continuing to process requests at a high level, despite an ever-increasing demand, the Department was able to maintain a relatively low backlog when compared to the number of requests it received. At the end of Fiscal Year 2013, the Department's backlog of requests amounted to less than 10% of the over 70,000 requests it received. Additionally, the Department continued to focus on reducing the age of its backlogs by closing its 10 oldest requests and appeals every year. The Department is proud to have successfully met this milestone every year since Fiscal Year 2008.
The number of FOIA requests received by the various Department of Justice components can vary significantly. For example, a larger volume component like the Executive Office for Immigration Review received over 25,000 requests in Fiscal Year 2013, while some of the Department’s smaller volume components received fewer than 20 requests. For the overwhelming majority of requests processed by the Department, the requester received a final response within an average of less than 22 days.
For reference, the components can be roughly divided into three groups, according to the volume of FOIA requests each receives per year. A list of these three groups – large volume components, medium volume components, and small volume components – can be found below. Twenty-five of those components ended Fiscal Year 2013 with a backlog of 60 or fewer requests and seven had no backlog at all.
Given the varying circumstances for the Department's components, this past year the Office of Information Policy began working with each component individually, through a Component Improvement Initiative designed to identify causes contributing to any backlogs and to assist components in overcoming those challenges and finding further efficiencies.
The Department demonstrated great improvement in FOIA administration in Fiscal Year 2013 by processing requests at record high numbers while at the same time continuing a five-year trend of increasing the number of full releases made and maintaining a release rate of over 93%. As noted above, the Department also continued to close its 10 oldest requests and appeals from the prior fiscal year.
The Department will continue to focus on strengthening its FOIA process in order to respond to requests in a more timely manner through continued training, outreach efforts, and the implementation of advanced technologies and streamlined processes. Various approaches will be used by the Department, so it can tailor its efforts to the specific challenges facing the range of components receiving and processing FOIA requests. Details of some of these efforts can be found in the Department’s 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Report.
Information about the Department’s FOIA efforts is available at http://www.justice.gov/open/foia.html and at http://www.justice.gov/oip/oip.html.