It will soon be easier than ever for OGIS to help resolve Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) disputes at two agencies – the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the Department of Commerce. Both agencies recently published notices in the Federal Register that will make it easier for them to share their FOIA case files with us.
Because FOIA case files generally include personally identifiable information that is protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, agencies are not allowed to share files with other agencies unless they have notified the public that the files might be shared as a routine use. An agency provides the public with this notice by publishing a Privacy Act Systems of Records Notice (SORN) in the Federal Register.
Including VA and Commerce, 10 of the fifteen cabinet-level agencies and six non-cabinet agencies have added a routine use to their Privacy Act Systems of Records that allow all or part of their departments to share FOIA case files with OGIS. In the case of the Department of Agriculture, the SORN with OGIS language applies only to the Office of Inspector General. In addition to allowing OGIS to talk to the agency about an individual FOIA dispute, updating their Privacy Act Systems of Records would make it easier to allow OGIS to review a sample of the agency’s case files during an agency compliance assessment.
This fall, OGIS sent letters to the Chief Privacy Officer at every agency that has not yet updated its SORN to include a routine use for OGIS. We’re happy to report that additional agencies will follow in VA and Commerce’s footsteps in the near future.