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Tracking Agency Progress to Implement the FOIA Guidelines
August 7, 2012 Posted by

As a part of his 2009 FOIA Guidelines, Attorney General Holder directed the Chief FOIA Officers at each agency to review “all aspects of their agencies’ FOIA administration” and to report annually to the Justice Department on the steps taken “improve FOIA operations and facilitate information disclosure.”  These “Chief FOIA Officer Reports” provide descriptions of the steps agencies have taken to improve FOIA administration and serve as a complement to the agencies’ Annual FOIA Reports, which contain detailed statistics on the numbers of requests received and processed during the preceding fiscal year.

Last year, the Office of Information Policy (OIP) conducted an assessment of the progress made in FOIA administration by the fifteen executive departments.  OIP identified metrics for assessment, such as improvements to efficiency and reduction in backlogs, and then used data from both agency Annual FOIA Reports and Chief FOIA Officer Reports to score the agencies on their progress in those areas.   

For 2012, we have expanded the assessment to include all ninety-nine agencies subject to the FOIA in fiscal year 2011. We also have changed several of the metrics, taking into account the progress that has already been made in implementing the FOIA Guidelines to make the assessment progressively more challenging.   

For 2012, we have also prepared a narrative to accompany the assessment. The narrative provides a wealth of examples from large and small agencies of the improvements that have been made to help improve the FOIA process.   Lastly, OIP has included guidance to agencies to assist them in making additional improvements in the years ahead.

The 2012 assessment provides a “visual snapshot” of agency activities in five key areas, specifically:

  • applying the presumption of openness,
  • increasing efficiencies,
  • making information available proactively,
  • using technology, and
  • reducing backlogs and improving timeliness. 

The assessment is meant to “readily [illustrate] the many areas where agencies have made real progress and also serves to highlight the areas where further improvement can be made.”  Notably, our review found that:

“Agencies continue to make concrete progress in implementing the President’s FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines.  The 2012 assessment shows that agencies are applying the presumption of openness, are taking steps to ensure that they have effective systems in place for responding to requests, are increasing both the content on their websites and its usability, and are offering requesters the opportunity to submit requests electronically.”

At the same time, the assessment shows that there are areas where further improvements can be made.  For example, while sixty-six agencies either had no backlog of pending requests or were able to reduce an existing backlog, there were others whose backlogs increased.  Similarly, while sixty-eight agencies closed all of their ten oldest pending requests, or had none pending to close, there were others who did not meet this milestone.

By assessing agencies on a wide variety of factors that all contribute to improving information disclosure, the public, as well as the agencies themselves, can readily see where agencies have excelled, and where further work can still be done, in improving the administration of the FOIA.

You can access the 2012 Chief FOIA Officer Report Summary and Assessment, along with summaries from previous years, success stories from the Chief FOIA Officer Reports, and the reports themselves on our reports page.

 

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