In this season of reflection and good cheer, we at OGIS are giving thanks for some improvements we have seen recently in the FOIA world:
- While backlogs remain a significant problem, agencies are making strides in reducing them—they are down 45% in five years—even as requests increase and staffing decreases.
- OGIS constantly beats the drum for good customer service, and agencies are paying attention. Agency FOIA Public Liaisons field questions, complaints and generally offer assistance, and of course, OGIS exists as a neutral resource outside the agency to provide similar services.
- We are also thankful for two great online resources: FOIAonline, a centralized portal to file, track and receive responses to requests; and FOIA.gov, which provides agency reports and statistics, instructional tips and videos, and contact information for agency FOIA programs.
Thanksgiving, like any family dinner, also comes with its share of topics we might prefer to avoid. Similarly, we are contemplating some areas of FOIA that need improvement:
- Though OGIS reviews and comments on agency FOIA regulations when they’re published in the Federal Register, we note that about half of the 100 Federal agencies have not updated their regulations since passage of the 2007 amendments that significantly changed various aspects of the law—most notably in terms of how the agency can assess fees, the addition of FOIA Public Liaisons, and requirements for status information.
- Agencies are making headway in reducing backlogs, but they remain a problem. Some 71,000 requests—11% of all FOIA requests—are backlogged and two-thirds of agencies have a backlog.
- Technology remains an area where agencies could significantly improve. Better use of technology could reduce FOIA delays by making the referral and consultation process more efficient, allowing better searching, and streamlining the review process.
We hope that when you tuck into that second (or third) slice of pie this Thursday, you will give thanks for FOIA and its role in increasing government transparency and accountability. Happy Thanksgiving!