Search The Site

Archive for the ‘Open Government’ Category:

July Best Practices Workshop Series Open to the Public
July 10, 2014 Posted by

As a part of the Second Open Government National Action Plan’s commitment to modernizing FOIA, OIP launched a new series of workshops focused on agency best practices in FOIA administration.  Next week OIP is hosting the second event in this Best Practices Workshop series on the topic of proactive disclosures and making posted information more useful for the public.  We are pleased to open this event to interested members of the public as well agency personnel.  

Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines encourage agencies to “readily and systematically post information online in advance of any public request.”  While increasing their proactive disclosures, agencies are also finding new and creative ways of making the information they post online easier to find and more useful to the public.  At this event, a panel of representatives from the Office of Science & Technology Policy, OIP, the Department of State, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau will share their success stories and strategies on improving their proactive disclosures. 

As agencies continue to make progress in this area, it is important that they interact with the public in order to learn their needs and better understand how they access government information online.  To further that exchange, OIP is opening this event in the Best Practices Workshop series to the public.

The details for next week’s event are:

FOIA Best Practices Workshop
Proactive Disclosures & Making Online Information More Useful
Department of Justice, Robert F. Kennedy Building
10th and Constitution Ave. NW – Great Hall
July 17, 2014, 10:00am – noon

You will need a picture ID to enter the building for this event.

The first event in this series focused on how agencies can reduce backlogs of FOIA requests and improve timeliness, and the panel of agency representatives identified a number of common approaches that they had each taken to achieve success in this important area.  As this series continues, we hope that FOIA professionals continue to learn from one another and leverage the successes of others in their own organizations for the overall benefit of FOIA administration across the government.

If you are interested in attending next week’s event, you can register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “July Best Practices Workshop.”  As space for this meeting is limited, registration is required to attend.  If you have any questions regarding this event or the Best Practices series, please contact OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Successes in FOIA Administration: Part V – Improving Timeliness & Reducing Backlogs
June 4, 2014 Posted by

Over the last five years, agency Chief Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer Reports have provided detailed descriptions of agency efforts to improve FOIA administration in five key areas addressed by Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines.  As part of a five-part series which started during Sunshine Week 2014, OIP continues to highlight some of the successes in these five key areas as reported by agencies in their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports

Improving Timeliness in Responding to Requests and Reducing Backlogs

Both the President and the Attorney General have emphasized the importance of improving timeliness in responding to requests.  In his FOIA Memorandum issued on his first full day in office, President Obama directed agencies to “act promptly” when responding to requests.  Attorney General Holder similarly emphasized in his FOIA Guidelines that “[t]imely 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.”  For the 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports, agencies were asked to provide detailed information on their average processing times for simple requests and their efforts to reduce backlogs and close their ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations.  Those agencies that had a request backlog of over 1,000, and did not reduce that backlog, were also required to provide a plan for achieving backlog reduction in the year ahead.  Likewise, agencies that did not close their ten oldest requests, appeals, or consultations were required to describe their plans for closing those requests, appeals or consultations by the next fiscal year. 

Because of the strong correlation between the type of request that is made and the ability of the agency to respond to that request more quickly, in 2012, OIP established a milestone that addresses whether the agency overall responded to requests in its simple track within an average of twenty working days or less.  Agencies were once again required to report on this metric in their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports.  Sixty-three agencies, including seven of the fifteen cabinet level agencies, reported that they were able to process their simple-track requests in Fiscal Year 2013 in an average of twenty-working days or less.  Twenty-six of those sixty-eight agencies did not utilize multi-track processing, however, their average processing time for all non-expedited requests was twenty-working days or less.

With regard to request backlogs, fifty-five agencies reported that they were either able to reduce the number of requests in their backlog at the end of Fiscal Year 2013 or they had no backlog to reduce.  Additionally, four agencies reported no change in their request backlog, and twelve agencies reported a slight increase of up to five backlogged requests.  Twenty-eight agencies experienced a backlog increase of more than five requests.  Notably, however, seventy-three agencies were able to maintain a small request backlog of 100 requests or less, with twenty-nine of these agencies reporting no backlog at all.

For administrative FOIA appeals, seventy-three agencies reported that they were either able to reduce the number of appeals in their backlog at the end of Fiscal Year 2013 or they had no backlog to reduce.  Three agencies had no change in their appeals backlog, and fifteen agencies reported a slight increase of up to five backlogged appeals.  While eight agencies reported a backlog increase of over five appeals, a total of eighty-two agencies maintained a backlog of twenty or less appeals.

As with previous years, agencies that experienced an increase in their request or appeal backlogs explained the causes that contributed to those increases in their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports. Some of the common factors reported by agencies included an increase in the number of incoming requests, loss of FOIA staff, and an increase in the complexity of the requests or appeals received by the agency.   

A critical element of the government’s efforts to reduce backlogs and answer the President’s and Attorney General’s call to provide timely disclosures of information is closing the ten oldest pending requests, appeals, and consultations at each agency every year.  Sixty-eight agencies reported that they were either able to close all ten of their oldest requests from Fiscal Year 2012 by the end of Fiscal Year 2013, or they had no ten oldest to close.  With regard to appeals, eighty agencies were either able to close their ten oldest pending appeals or they had no ten oldest to close.  Finally, ninety-three agencies were able to close their ten oldest pending consultations or they continued to maintain no pending consultations at the end of the fiscal year. 

Agencies were also asked to report in their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports on whether they have a system in place for providing requesters substantive interim responses when appropriate.  In the spirit of providing more timely disclosures of information, OIP issued guidance in 2010 to agencies encouraging the use of interim releases whenever a request involves a voluminous amount of material or a search in multiple locations is required.  The vast majority of agencies reported that they did have a process in place for making interim responses.  Additionally, each agency reported an estimate of the number of cases in their backlog for which and interim response was provided. 

This is just a snapshot of agencies’ efforts to improve timeliness and reduce backlogs.  OIP encourages both agencies and the public to review the individual 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports issued by agencies for a more comprehensive view of agency progress in this area. 

As with previous years, this summer OIP will once again publish its assessment of agencies’ implementation of the President’s and Attorney General’s FOIA Memoranda based on agency Annual and Chief FOIA Officer Reports.  Be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for more information on the Department’s continuing efforts to improve both transparency and understanding of the FOIA.

You can read previous posts in this series on FOIA Post (Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV).  

Successes in FOIA Administration: Part IV – Greater Utilization of Technology
May 29, 2014 Posted by

Over the last five years, agency Chief Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer Reports have provided detailed descriptions of agency efforts to improve FOIA administration in five key areas addressed by Attorney General Holder’s FOIA GuidelinesAs part of a series which started during Sunshine Week 2014, OIP continues to highlight some of the successes in these five key areas as reported by agencies in their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports

Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology

A key component of the President’s FOIA Memorandum is the call for agencies to “use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government.”  In response to this directive, agencies have utilized advanced technology to not only make more information available online and improve their websites, but also to assist in their overall administration of the FOIA.  Each year, OIP asks agencies to describe in their Chief FOIA Officer Reports the steps they have taken to greater utilize technology in their FOIA administration. 

As a part of the first Chief FOIA Officer Reports, submitted in 2010, agencies were surveyed to determine the extent to which they were using technology to receive, track, and process requests, and to prepare their Annual FOIA Reports.  As has been done for each section of the Chief FOIA Officer Report, every year OIP has refined the questions for this section as the use of technology in FOIA has matured.  For 2014, agencies were asked to report on whether they provide requesters the ability to track the status of their requests online, and if so, to provide details regarding the functionality of such online services.   Agencies were also asked to report on the extent to which they are using more advanced technologies to assist with the processing of requests.  Finally, agencies were asked whether there were any additional tools that would be helpful to achieving further efficiencies at their agency.

Over a quarter of the agencies reported offering requesters the ability to track the status of requests online, with decentralized agencies like the Departments of Housing and Urban Development, Labor, and Interior offering such services for all of their components.  The form and functionality of the online tracking provided by these agencies varies.  For example, a number of agencies reported providing tracking through online portals, while some other agencies explained that they regularly post updated request logs with status information on their websites.  In addition to providing online tracking, some agencies reported that they provide requesters estimated dates of completion through these services.  Of the agencies that do not currently provide online tracking, about half reported that they were taking steps to establish this capability.  For those agencies that do not plan to establish online tracking at this time, many reported that such services would not provide a substantial public benefit given the small number of requests they receive and their short processing times.

The use of technology to reduce the time and labor needed to process requests, such as technology that can sort and de-duplicate documents, provide shared platforms to facilitate consultations, or improve search capabilities, has great potential for improving agencies’ FOIA administration.  For 2014, many agencies once again reported that they are taking steps to utilize more advanced technology to assist with the processing of requests.  For example:

  • The Privacy Office and fifteen of the Department of Homeland Security‘s (DHS) components deployed a new web-based tracking application that includes a number of features for the agency’s FOIA professionals including new search capabilities and the ability to share documents across offices for consultations and referrals.  Additionally, DHS added a new de-duplication capability that allows FOIA staff to upload e-mail correspondence files and de-duplicate the correspondence based on a comparison process performed by the application.
  • The Department of State is updating its records archive, the State Archiving System, with new tools to assist its FOIA staff in conducting searches in response to FOIA requests.  The agency plans further improvements to this custom-built system, including the ability to search across document formats, streamlining the process of identifying duplicate messages, and adding a 25-year review enhancement for classified material.
  • The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is in the process of implementing an advanced document review module which utilizes logarithmic record analysis capabilities to de-duplicate voluminous record sets, which will reduce the processing time for large volume requests. 

A number of agencies reported that they could benefit from the types of tools described above that provide shared platforms for consultations and that would assist with the search, de-duplication, and review of large volumes of records.  As agencies continue to acquire such tools for use in their FOIA operations, they can expect to see greater efficiencies in their overall FOIA administration.  As the Chief FOIA Officer Reports continue to illustrate, agencies are eager to use more advanced technology to streamline their FOIA administration.

This is just a brief summary of agencies’ use of technology in FOIA as reported in their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports.  OIP encourages both agencies and the public to review the individual 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports issued by agencies for even more examples.

Be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for more information on the Department’s continuing efforts to improve both transparency and understanding of the FOIA.

You can read previous posts in this series on FOIA Post (Part I, Part II, Part III).

Common Core FOIA Regulations Kickoff Meeting
May 1, 2014 Posted by

As part of the efforts described in the Second Open Government National Action Plan (NAP) to modernize FOIA, the Administration has committed to developing common FOIA regulations and practices for agencies.   OIP is pleased to announce that this month we will host the kickoff meeting for the interagency process of developing a common set of FOIA regulations.  

Agencies promulgate FOIA regulations to procedurally assist in the implementation of certain provisions of the law, such as where and how to make a request.  While currently these regulations can vary between the ninety-nine agencies subject to the FOIA, the NAP recognized that “[c]ertain steps in the FOIA process are generally shared across Federal agencies . . . [and that] [s]tandardizing these common aspects through a core FOIA regulation and common set of practices would make it easier for requesters to understand and navigate the FOIA process and easier for the Government to keep regulations up to date.”

During this meeting, which is open to all agency FOIA personnel and interested agency regulatory specialists, we will begin discussing and collaborating on the content of potential common FOIA regulations and the next steps moving forward in this process.  As noted in the NAP, our goal for this initiative is to develop a common core FOIA regulation “that is both applicable to all agencies and retains flexibility for agency-specific requirements.” 

The details for the meeting are:

Common Core FOIA Regulations
Kickoff Meeting
Department of Justice – Office of Information Policy
1425 New York Avenue, NW – Suite 11050
May 29, 2014, 1:00 pm – 3:00 pm

 Registration is required to attend this meeting and you will need a picture ID to enter the building.

Prior to this meeting, OIP will also meet with members of the FOIA requester community and civil society for initial input on the development of common FOIA regulations.  As we work on this important initiative, we look forward to regularly engaging all stakeholders throughout the process.

If you are interested in attending this kickoff meeting, you can register by e-mailing your name and phone number to OIP’s Training Officer at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject line “Common FOIA Regulations Kickoff Meeting.”  If you have any questions regarding this meeting, please contact OIP’s Training Officer at (202) 514-3642.

Successes in FOIA Administration: Part III – Increasing Proactive Disclosures
April 9, 2014 Posted by

Over the last five years, agency Chief Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer Reports have provided detailed descriptions of agency efforts to improve FOIA administration in five key areas addressed by Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines.  As a part of a series which started during Sunshine Week 2014, OIP continues to highlight in a series of posts some of the successes in these five key areas as reported by agencies in their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports.

Increasing Proactive Disclosures

Both the President and the Attorney General have emphasized the need for agencies to work proactively to post information online without waiting for individual requests to be received.  As a part of the guidelines for the 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports, OIP asked agencies to detail the steps “taken to both increase the amount of material that is available on [their] website[s]” as well as “the usability of such information.”  In their reports for this year, agencies provided numerous details on the systems they have in place for identifying records for proactive disclosures, how they are making posted material more useful to the public, and how they are notifying the public of newly posted material. 

In order to answer the Attorney General’s call for agencies to “readily and systematically post information online” it is important that each agency have a process in place to identify records for proactive disclosures.  Utilizing different strategies tailored to serve the community of individuals who most frequent their websites, many agencies described the distinct processes they have put in place to identify records of public interest for proactive disclosures.  For example, FOIA professionals at the General Services Administration use their networking system to work with key agency offices to anticipate records of public interest that could be proactively disclosed online.  In addition to systematically reviewing records requested under the FOIA for posting online, the Office of Personnel Management routinely sends notices to program offices reminding them of the need to proactively disclose data and records.  At the Department of Health and Human Services’ Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services the FOIA Office works closely with program managers to identify and proactively post records for which there might be a high public interest. 

Using various methods to identify proactive disclosures, agencies also provided a wealth of examples of new or regularly updated information posted on their websites, including:

  • The Department of Homeland Security has proactively posted over 16,000 pages of records since March 2013, including daily schedules of senior leaders and procurement records.
  • With more frequency and in greater volume, components of the Department of Labor posted FOIA logs, annual reports, policy guidance, historical reports, mission reports, government purchase card holder lists, strategic plans, contracts information and listings, lists of accessioned documents, press releases, testimonies and speeches, workplace accident reports, investigations, audit reports, proposals and abstracts for grant applications, reports to Congress, Equal Employment Opportunity complaint data, veterans information and links on worker healthy living.
  • The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has continued to expand its Consumer Complaint Database, launched in June 2012 to include various types of complaints and data for over 176,000 complaints. 
  • The Department of Energy’s website for agency data provides a central location for information about data released by the agency, including an agency-wide data index that provides metadata and URLs to publicly available datasets.

In addition to identifying and posting new material, agencies also detailed how they are taking steps to make posted material more useful to the public.  For example:

  • The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management posted an interactive map displaying and describing its renewable energy-related activities in the United States. Similarly, Amtrak’s train locator map, an interactive tool created in partnership with Google, tracks any of the 300 daily trains operated by Amtrak and provides consumers with more accurate predicted arrival times.
  • The U.S. Agency for International Development continues to make agency data available in standard, nonproprietary, and machine-readable formats, and solicits public feedback on the information that the agency makes available.  Users can interact with agency data, see how other members of the public are using the data, and leave questions or comments about the data for the agency to respond.
  • At the Department of Agriculture, the Food and Safety Inspection Service uses an interactive resource called “Ask Karen” to provide information to consumers about preventing foodborne illness, safe food handling and storage, and safe preparation of meat, poultry and egg products.

Finally, agencies described in their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports steps they are taking to publicize or highlight important proactive disclosures in order to inform the public of their availability, including using social media.   Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and Flickr are just some of the social media outlets used by agencies over the past year to highlight new postings. 

These are just a few of the examples of the successes achieved by agencies in the past year in ensuring that they have taken steps to increase proactive disclosures.  OIP encourages both agencies and the public to review the individual 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports issued by agencies for even more examples. 

Be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for more information on the Department’s continuing efforts to improve both transparency and understanding of the FOIA.

You can read previous posts in this series on FOIA Post (Part I, Part II). 

Successes in FOIA Administration: Part II – Effective Systems for Responding to Requests
April 4, 2014 Posted by

Over the last five years, agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports have provided detailed descriptions of agency efforts to improve FOIA administration in five key areas addressed by Attorney General Holder’s FOIA Guidelines.  As a part of a series which started during Sunshine Week 2014, OIP continues to highlight some of the successes in these five key areas as reported by agencies in their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports.   

Ensuring Agencies Have Effective Systems for Responding To Requests

As a part of this year’s guidelines for agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports, agencies were asked to provide information on the steps “taken to ensure that [the] management of [the agency’s] FOIA program is effective and efficient.”  In their 2014 reports, agencies provided details on various efforts related to personnel, processing procedures and requester services.

A key component of an agency having an effective system for responding to requests is the quality of its FOIA professionals who are on the frontlines of processing the increasing numbers of requests that are received each year.  Both the President and the Attorney General have emphasized the importance of the work performed by agency FOIA professionals. In recognition of their important role, and in an effort to professionalize the government’s FOIA and Privacy Act workforce, on March 9, 2012, the Office of Personnel Management announced the creation of a new job category specifically for FOIA and Privacy Act professionals called the Government Information Series.  In their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports, many agencies reported that they had converted the majority, if not all, of their eligible FOIA staff to the new job series including the Departments of Justice, Labor, and Interior, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  Agencies that had not yet converted all of their eligible FOIA personnel to the new job series provided plans in their report for doing so in the upcoming year. 

For the 2014 reports, agencies were also asked to report on if they were able to adjudicate requests for expedited processing in an average of ten calendar days or less during Fiscal Year 2013. In response, several agencies reported that they did not receive any requests for expedited processing, but of the agencies that did adjudicate such requests, fifty-one including thirteen of the fifteen cabinet departments reported that they were able to do so within an average of ten calendar days or less.  Notably, the three agencies that adjudicated the most requests for expedited processing during Fiscal Year 2013, the Departments of Homeland Security (1,480), Justice (1,017), and Defense (1,014), all reported an average of five days or less.  For those agencies that did not maintain an average of ten days or less, many outlined aggressive plans in their reports for improvement during Fiscal Year 2014.

In line with OIP’s previously released guidance on procedures for processing consultations and referrals, many agencies highlighted additional steps they have taken to make the handling of such items more efficient and effective.  A number of agencies reported taking affirmative steps to create efficiencies by entering into agreements with other agencies or agency components on how to process records that are a common source of consultations or referrals.  For example, at the Department of Justice, the Executive Office for Immigration Review continued to work under a longstanding agreement with the Department of Homeland Security on the processing of immigration records, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation reached an agreement within the Intelligence Community on the processing of certain information.  Other agencies reported employing shared document environments to allow for more efficient means of collaborating on material that required consultation.  Notably, at the end of Fiscal Year 2013, ninety-one of the ninety-nine agencies subject to the FOIA reported having less than ten consultations pending at their agency, with seventy-four reporting that they had none pending.

This year’s reports also detailed over-arching steps agencies have undertaken to ensure that their FOIA systems operate efficiently and effectively, including:

  • The General Services Administration consolidating and centralizing its FOIA program during the reporting period, thereby creating a single point of intake for all agency FOIA requests.  As a result of this restructuring, the agnecy expects to have increased accountability and quality control in its administration of the FOIA, as well as improved communication with FOIA requesters.
  • The Department of the Treasury implemented the next phase of its goFOIA electronic system, which has improved its reporting abilities, allowing agency leadership to view more accurate and detailed weekly and monthly FOIA reports that they can now use to more accurately gauge FOIA performance throughout the year.
  • Like a number of other agencies, the FOIA office at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission began conducting a case-by-case review of its FOIA administration to determine any trends contributing toward delays and to identify any areas where efficiencies could help the agency reduce its request backlog.

As a part of their 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports, agencies also overwhelmingly noted that they communicate with requesters through electronic means whenever possible and that they are informing the public of the mediation services offered by the Office of Government Information Services in their administrative appeal responses. 

These are just some examples of the concrete steps agencies have taken to ensure that they have an effective and efficient system in place for responding to FOIA requests.  OIP encourages both agencies and the public to review the individual 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Reports issued by agencies for even more examples. 

Be sure to continue reading FOIA Post for more information on the Department’s continuing efforts to improve both transparency and understanding of the FOIA.

You can read the previous post in this series on FOIA Post (Part I).

 
Search The Blog

FOIA Post and Update

Stay Connected YouTube Twitter Facebook Sign Up for E-Mail Updates Subscribe to News Feeds