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New Quarterly FOIA Reporting Beginning January 2013
December 4, 2012 Posted by

In the upcoming weeks, the Office of Information Policy will be sending detailed guidance to agencies directing them to report on four key FOIA statistics that will be posted to FOIA.gov on a quarterly basis. 

Each year agencies are required to submit to the Department of Justice an Annual FOIA Report which contains detailed statistics on the agency’s FOIA activities over the past fiscal year.  Among other things, the Annual FOIA Report shows how many requests the agency received during the past fiscal year, how many it processed, the disposition of those requests, and the number of requests that remain in the agency’s backlog (requests that are pending beyond the statutory deadlines). 

Since 2011, the Department has presented this data on FOIA.gov in a way so that both the public and agency FOIA professionals can compare trends between agencies and over time.   As more and more people have come to rely on FOIA.gov to track agencies’ FOIA progress, the benefits of providing certain FOIA data more frequently have become clear.

As a result, and as part of the Department of Justice’s Open Government Plan, OIP will be issuing guidance later this month directing all agencies to begin quarterly reporting of four key FOIA statistics.   Beginning with January 2013, agencies will report, for each quarter:

  • the number of requests received,
  • the number of requests processed,
  • the number of requests in their backlog, and
  • the status of the agency’s ten overall oldest pending FOIA requests from the previous fiscal year.

Agencies that are decentralized in their FOIA processing will need to provide the data for the first three statistics for each of their individual components as well as for their agency overall.  In keeping with the Department’s longstanding focus on reducing the age of the oldest pending requests, for the fourth statistic agencies will be required to report on how many of their agency’s ten overall oldest pending FOIA requests from the previous fiscal year were closed during each quarter. 

To assist agencies in submitting the data OIP will be providing a uniform template for all agencies to use and, for the first time, collecting this data through the use of an Applied Programming Interface (or API).

With the quarterly reporting of these key FOIA statistics, the public will be able to more regularly track government FOIA administration throughout the year.  Emerging trends and patterns for the entire government, both in terms of the numbers of incoming requests received and the numbers of requests agencies processed and closed, will be available systematically during the course of the year, thereby shining further light on FOIA across the government.

Continued Focus on Closing the Oldest Pending Requests
August 1, 2012 Posted by

As agencies approach the last two months of the fiscal year, FOIA professionals are doing all that they can to keep up the pace and to close as many FOIA requests and appeals as possible by September 30th.    Heading into the home stretch of the fiscal year agencies are working with requesters, completing records searches, and reviewing records for disclosure, as part of their efforts to close out this fiscal year as strongly as possible.  While there might not be a gold medal and cheering fans, or the national anthem playing in the background when we end the fiscal year, there will still be the satisfaction of  knowing that all our efforts in implementing the FOIA form a key part of how our country works.

During these last few months of the fiscal year it is critical that agencies not only work to close pending FOIA requests and administrative appeals, but that they also focus on closing the oldest of those pending requests and appeals.  Both the President and the Attorney General have stressed the importance of timely disclosure of information.  In his FOIA Guidelines, the Attorney General declared that “timely disclosure of information is an essential component of transparency” and that “[l]ong delays should not be viewed as an inevitable and insurmountable consequence of high demand.”  Building on that directive, our office has put a particular focus on the need for agencies to close their oldest pending requests and appeals.  After the close of Sunshine Week, OIP issued guidance to all agencies asking that they set a goal of closing their ten oldest pending requests and appeals each year.

Most recently, the Acting Associate Attorney General, who also serves as the Department of Justice’s Chief FOIA Officer, together with the Counsel to the President, sent a memorandum to Agency General Counsels and agency Chief FOIA Officers emphasizing that over the past three years agencies “have disclosed more, withheld less, processed requests faster, reduced backlogs, improved [their] FOIA infrastructure, and not least of all provided the public with voluminous information proactively.”  They then specifically asked agency General Counsels and Chief FOIA Officers to focus on resolving their agencies’ oldest requests.

“To further ensure that FOIA is administered in a way consistent with the President’s Memorandum and that agencies provide timely response to FOIA requests, we request that you review your oldest pending FOIA requests, and take affirmative steps to resolve them.”

This latest memorandum is designed to build on the momentum already established by agencies and to ensure that as the fiscal year ends, agencies continue to focus on closing their oldest requests.  We believe that with sustained focus on the discrete goal of closing the oldest of the pending FOIA requests and administrative appeals at each agency, we can achieve a systemic improvement in a key area of FOIA administration.

You can read the full text of this new memorandum, along with our guidance to agencies on closing their oldest pending requests, on the OIP Guidance page of our site.

FOIA Court Decision on Administrative Exhaustion
June 22, 2012 Posted by

Each week, the staff of the Office of Information Policy reviews FOIA court decisions from the various federal courts around the country.  This review produces the weekly FOIA court decision summaries that are posted on the Court Decisions page of our site, which was updated today with the FOIA case decision summaries for the week ending June 8, 2012.

Included in this summary is a decision from the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit which issued an opinion in Flaherty v. IRS, No. 11-5237. 2012 U.S. App. LEXIS 11436 (D.C. Cir. June 6, 2012) (per curiam).  In this case, the D.C. Circuit addressed the issue of administrative exhaustion, affirming the decision of the district court and finding that although the plaintiff alleged that he had constructively exhausted his administrative remedies because the agency had taken more than twenty working days to respond to the request, he had filed his lawsuit “well after the government responded to the FOIA request,” and once the response was made the requirement to exhaust administrative remedies had been re-triggered. 

You can access the weekly summaries, as well as previous summaries compiled by month, on our Court Decisions page.  We also organize court decisions by topic to make it easier to find the latest decisions addressing particular topical areas.   As we continue to post decisions by week, you can also follow OIP’s Twitter account, @FOIAPost, for the most up to date information on the additions to our site.

A New Opportunity for FOIA Training
June 12, 2012 Posted by

One of the core functions of the Office of Information Policy (OIP) is to provide training and guidance to agencies on the proper administration of the FOIA.  Throughout the year, our office regularly offers many training opportunities for agency personnel, covering a wide range of FOIA topics, providing a solid foundation for agencies to rely on for the day-to-day processing of FOIA requests.

With agencies across the federal government receiving and processing a record number of requests over the past several years, including many increasingly complex requests, our office is regularly asked to provide specialized training to help agencies improve their FOIA administration.  We also routinely hear that agencies would appreciate even more opportunities to attend training.

Today, I’m happy to announce the summer slate of our new Director’s Lecture Series of training seminars.  This summer slate will provide specialized training opportunities beginning this month, with additional lectures in July and August.  The June lecture will focus on “FOIA Fundamentals,” addressing such procedural topics as the requirement to assign tracking numbers, routing requirements for misdirected requests, “unusual circumstances,” multi-track processing, segregation of records, and making discretionary disclosures.  The details for this lecture, which is open to all agency FOIA personnel, are:

Director’s Lecture Series
FOIA Fundamentals
Department of Justice, Robert F. Kennedy Building
10th and Constitution Ave., NW – Great Hall
June 20, 2012, 10:00 am – noon

 Registration required.  You will need a picture ID to enter the building for this seminar.

We found that the regularity of our yearly training is a key factor in the success of these sessions, and that the specialized and individualized topics of our agency-specific training sessions is a big draw for agency personnel.  Our goal with this new Director’s Lecture Series it to complement the training already offered by our office, with focused sessions on specialized topics and the opportunity for discussion and an open dialogue with attendees.

The second and third lectures of this summer slate of training will take place on July 24th and August 15th.  As we get closer to these dates, the topics and any additional details regarding these lectures will be announced here on FOIA Post.   

If you are interested in attending this event, you can register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer, Bertina Adams Cleveland, at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov.  If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact Ms. Adams at (202) 514-1010.

FOIA Court Decisions Now Available Weekly
June 7, 2012 Posted by

In order to provide agency FOIA professionals and interested members of the public with more timely access to information on significant FOIA decisions, OIP will begin posting its summaries of court decisions each week, rather than each month.  As an example of this new format, the decisions for May 2012 have been posted as weekly files on our Court Decisions page, and the June court decisions will be the first month posted on a weekly basis.

The May decisions include a ruling by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  The case involved a request made to the National Security Agency, seeking any communications allegedly exchanged between the NSA and Google regarding encryption and cyber security.  The D.C. Circuit upheld NSA’s decision to neither confirm nor deny the existence of any records based on Section 6 of the National Security Act.  The full summary of this decision, Elec. Priv. Info. Ctr. v. NSA, No. 11-5233, 2012 WL 1654953 (D.C. Cir. May 11, 2012), is available in the summaries for the week ending May 11th.     

You can access the weekly summaries, as well as all our previous monthly case summaries, on our Court Decisions page.  We also organize court decisions by topic to make it easier to find the latest decisions addressing particular topical areas.   

Implementing the Open Government Plan 2.0: Monthly FOIA Logs
May 23, 2012 Posted by

During the Department’s Sunshine Week Celebration, Attorney General Holder announced that the department:

“Will begin posting monthly FOIA logs for requests made to my office, the offices of the Deputy Attorney General, the Associate Attorney General, and other senior leadership offices.  These logs will publicly identify the subject matter and disposition of each request – bringing greater transparency to the FOIA process and making it easier for people to located information that may be of interest to them.”

Today we launched this initiative, which was also noted in the Department’s Open Government Plan version 2.0, by posting in our FOIA Library the FOIA logs for January, February, March, and April 2012, listing the FOIA requests closed during these months by our office. 

The monthly logs list requests processed by OIP, which include requests sent to the department’s senior leadership offices as noted by the Attorney General, in addition to the Offices of Legislative Affairs, Legal Policy, Public Affairs, Intergovernmental and Public Liaison (now a part of the Office of Legislative Affairs), as well as requests for OIP’s own records.

For each entry, these FOIA logs provide:

  • the request number;
  • the date the request was closed;
  • a description of the records sought;
  • the disposition of the request (how it was closed); and
  • a listing, and description, of any FOIA exemption applied to the request

Logs are posted as both PDFs and as open format CSV files.  In order to provide as much information as possible with these monthly postings, these logs do not contain entries for requests made by individuals for records on themselves.

By posting these logs, you can easily identify previously processed records that are of interest and gain insight into the FOIA operations at the Justice Department.

You can view all of the posted monthly FOIA logs, as well as other documents made available by OIP, here.

 
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