Kickoff Sunshine Week 2014 with the Department of Justice
The Department of Justice is pleased to invite both agency personnel and members of the public to celebrate with us as we kickoff Sunshine Week 2014. This year also marks the fifth anniversary of Attorney General Holder’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Guidelines, which highlighted the importance of the FOIA as a reflection of “our nation’s fundamental commitment to open government.” Through his Guidelines, which were issued during Sunshine Week 2009, the Attorney General called on all government personnel to understand that the responsibility of an effective FOIA administration “belongs to all of us.” The Attorney General directed agencies to administer the FOIA with a presumption of openness, to ensure that they have effective systems in place to respond to requests, to work promptly and proactively to provide information to the public and to utilize technology to make information known to the public.
Associate Attorney General Tony West will lead our celebration this year and provide the keynote address commemorating the fifth anniversary of the FOIA Guidelines. The event will highlight the many significant improvements agencies have made in their FOIA administration over the past five years. Representatives from a cross-section of federal agencies will also share their particular experiences and accomplishments over the years in improving their administration of the FOIA through the implementation of the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines.
The details for the event, which is open to all agency personnel and members of the public, are:
Department of Justice Sunshine Week 2014 Celebration
Department of Justice, Robert F. Kennedy Building
10th and Constitution Ave., NW – Great Hall
March 17, 2014, 10:00am – 12 noon
You will need a picture ID to enter the building for this event.
We hope that you can join us for this year’s celebration. If you are interested in attending this event, please register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov, with the subject line “Sunshine Week 2014 Celebration.” If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact our office at (202) 514-FOIA (3642).
New Agency Best Practices Workshop Series for Improving FOIA Administration
As part of the Second Open Government National Action Plan’s commitment to modernizing FOIA and improving internal agency FOIA processes, we will be holding a series of agency Best Practices workshops beginning this Spring. Each workshop will focus on a specific topic and will include a panel of agency representatives sharing their success stories and strategies. Through these workshops agencies can learn from one another and leverage the successes of other agencies in their own organization for the overall benefit of FOIA administration across the government.
As the Attorney General emphasized in his FOIA Guidelines, the “responsibility for effective FOIA administration belongs to all of us . . . [and] [w]e all must do our part to ensure open government.” Embracing the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines, over the past few years many agencies have analyzed their existing FOIA practices and found ways to improve different areas of their FOIA administration such as reducing backlogs, improving processing times, increasing proactive disclosures, using technology, and improving customer service.
This new Best Practices Workshop series is designed to share the lessons learned across agencies in improving their FOIA administration, many of which are described each year in agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports. Each workshop will focus on a specific FOIA topic, such as reducing backlogs, and will highlight a panel of agencies that have had success in that area. Tips and best practices discussed during these workshops, as well as feedback from workshop participants will then be published online so that all agencies can use them as a resource for improvement.
Specific details regarding these workshops, including time, location and topic will be announced prior to each session here on FOIA Post and through OIP’s Twitter account, @FOIAPost. As we work to establish this new series of workshops, we invite you to suggest discussion topics. Also please let us know if you would like to participate as an agency representative on a panel or would like to identify any other agencies that have had successes in any area of FOIA administration that should be included on a panel. Please e-mail your suggestions to us at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov using the subject line “Agency Best Practices Workshop Suggestion.”
January FOIA Requester Roundtable
Update: Due to the delayed opening of federal agencies on January 22nd, this FOIA Requester Roundtable meeting has been cancelled and will be rescheduled for a future date. The updated details for this meeting will appear below once they are finalized. We apologize for the inconvenience.
OIP’s FOIA Requester Roundtable series continues this month with the first meeting of 2014. The quarterly series continues to provide an opportunity for the FOIA requester community and agency personnel to come together in an open forum to discuss various topics in FOIA administration.
This month’s meeting, hosted in conjunction with the Office of Government Information Services, will focus on how agencies provide estimated dates of completion to FOIA requesters. Focusing on the implementation of this statutory requirement, the meeting will build off of agency best practices and OIP’s guidance regarding the importance of good communication. Specifically, the meeting will highlight the various ways agencies provide estimated dates of completion to requesters and the experience of requesters in receiving and requesting such information from agencies.
The details for this meeting are:
FOIA Requester Roundtable Meeting
Providing Estimated Dates of Completion
Department of Justice – Office of Information Policy
1425 New York Avenue, NW – Suite 11050
January 22, 2014, 10:00 am – noon
This and all Requester Roundtable meetings are open to the public as well as all interested agency personnel, and we hope that you can join us for this discussion.
If you are interested in attending, please e-mail your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “January Requester Roundtable.” As space for this meeting is limited, registration is required to attend, and please remember that you will need a picture ID to enter the building. If you have any questions regarding this event, please contact OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.
New Guidance for Improving Agency Communications with Requesters
A key element of answering President Obama’s and Attorney General Holder’s call for agencies to work with FOIA requesters “in a spirit of cooperation” is the use of good communication practices. As a result, in 2010 OIP released guidance which addressed a number of areas where better communication with requesters could improve overall FOIA administration across the government. Today, after continued engagement with both agencies and the requester community, we have released our second installment of guidance on this topic.
Building off the 2010 guidance, our new guidance “encourages greater use of email or other technology as the means by which agencies communicate with requesters.” The guidance also focuses on improving the content of agency communications to provide requesters with a greater understanding of how their requests are being handled.
The specific topics addressed by this new guidance are:
- Using Technology to Further Improve Communications with Requesters,
- Communicating Electronically with Requesters as the Default,
- Alerting the Public to any Limitations on the Use of Electronic Communications,
- Providing Links to Information Already Available Online,
- Communicating in a “Spirit of Cooperation,”
- Providing Requesters With a Breakdown of Fees and an Explanation When Fees Might be Higher than Expected,
- Making it Easy to Narrow Requests
By improving the means by which agencies communicate with FOIA requesters as well as the content of those communications, agencies will help promote greater understanding of the FOIA process and facilitate timely access to information. Through continued improvements in this area, agencies will be able to make concrete steps towards affirming their commitment to President Obama’s and Attorney General Holder’s vision of working with requesters in a “spirit of cooperation.”
You can read the full guidance article here and on OIP’s Guidance page.
Training Opportunities for Fiscal Year 2014
As the federal government’s lead office for encouraging agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), each year OIP offers a number of regularly scheduled training opportunities designed to educate agency personnel on how to implement the various provisions of the statute. For Fiscal Year 2014, the dates and topics for these training sessions are:
FOIA for Attorneys and Access Professionals
November 19-20, 2013
February 25-26, 2014
May 13-14, 2014
July 15-16, 2014
Advanced FOIA Seminar
March 26, 2014
Introduction to the FOIA
April 16, 2014
FOIA Administrative Forum
June 11, 2014
All seminars will be held in Washington, DC, and are open to all federal government employees. Descriptions of these seminars are available on our Training page. OIP also offers various other training opportunities throughout the year such as the Director’s Lecture Series, refresher training on agency Annual FOIA Reports and Chief FOIA Officer Reports, and training that is available through video conferencing. Details on all of the training offered by OIP will continue to be announced here on FOIA Post, as well as through OIP’s Twitter account, @FOIAPost.
To register for any of the above training seminars, please e-mail your name to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov. In the subject line of your e-mail, please specify the name and date of the course that you are seeking to attend. Any questions regarding these training opportunities may also be directed to OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.
Calculating FOIA Response Times after the Government Shutdown
As federal employees returned to work after the recent government shutdown, OIP has been asked by many FOIA professionals how these recent events will impact their agency’s FOIA reporting. Specifically, agencies have asked whether the recent government shutdown affected how agencies should count the number of days used to respond to FOIA requests and administrative appeals.
When considering how to calculate the number of days used to respond to FOIA requests and administrative appeals for agency Annual FOIA Reports, the following guidance should apply:
Agencies and requesters alike generally refer to the FOIA’s time limits as “working days.” Logically, then, they could easily conclude that during a time when FOIA Offices had no choice but to be closed because of the lapse in funding, those days when employees were furloughed were not “working” days and so should not be counted as part of the FOIA’s response times. As a matter of policy, however, and consistent with the spirit of openness in administering the FOIA, agencies should count as part of their response times for FOIA requests and appeals the eleven days when the government was closed, which excludes the Saturdays, Sundays, and the one legal public holiday that occurred during the shutdown.
Our hope and expectation is that requesters will fully understand that even though agencies will be including these shutdown days in their calculations of response times, that because FOIA personnel were not able to work during that period, there will necessarily be an impact on processing times.
OIP’s FOIA Counselor Service and Annual FOIA Report Team are available to answer any questions on this guidance or any other topic regarding FOIA administration, and can be reached at (202) 514-FOIA (3642).