Providing estimated dates of completion can be a challenge—but it’s also the law. As we’ve previously noted, Congress amended FOIA in 2007 to require agencies to provide requesters with estimated dates of completion when asked. We think that estimated dates of completion are so important that we analyze their use as part of our agency compliance assessments.
We know that some agencies continue to struggle with meeting this requirement, while others have made providing this information part of their process. The two agencies highlighted below use technology in different ways to fulfill the estimated-date-of-completion mandate.
The Internal Revenue Service
In 2014, OGIS co-hosted a FOIA Requester Roundtable on estimated dates of completion and learned that the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses its FOIA processing software to track estimated completion dates for its pending requests. IRS has configured the system so that if the estimated date of completion passes before the case is closed, the agency’s processors use the software to generate a letter updating the requester on the status of his or her request.*
Department of Homeland Security
The Privacy Office at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has tackled the issue by creating an online tool that allows requesters to receive an estimated date of completion by entering the FOIA request’s tracking number. The online tracking tool uses data from the office’s FOIA tracking and processing system to automatically generate an estimated date of completion. Other DHS components that use the same tracking and processing system have access to this tool. Offices that are not on the same system can make use of the tool by providing the Privacy Office with data from their system in a standardized format.
When DHS’s online tracking tool first launched, FOIA processors needed to manually update the estimated date of completion to provide any additional time needed to respond to the requester. The office would sometimes receive calls from requesters who were upset that the estimated date of completion had passed with no response. The Privacy Office addressed this issue by updating the tracking and processing system so that an additional 30 days is automatically added to the estimate if the deadline passes without the case being closed. Since implementation of this fix, the volume of calls checking on the status of overdue requests has declined.
Does your office have a particularly good method for handling requests for estimated dates of completion? Please let us know!
*An earlier version of this post indicated that the IRS’s software automatically generated a letter updating the requester on the status of the request.