In September 2015, OGIS issued a compliance assessment of the United States Coast Guard’s FOIA program. As part of our assessment, we recommended several improvements to the program’s management, use of technology and communications with its requesters.
One hundred and twenty days after we issue an assessment report, we follow up with the agency to see what, if any, action the agency has taken to implement our recommendations. When we followed up with the Coast Guard earlier this month, we were pleased to learn that the agency has taken concrete steps to implement some of our recommended changes.
According to FOIA Managers at the Coast Guard, the agency is revising its FOIA Manual and discussing with Coast Guard leadership the agency’s ability to access records housed on Department of Defense servers. As you might remember, we cited the latter as an area for improvement because in response to FOIA requests for emails, the Coast Guard may be required to coordinate with Department of Defense (DoD) FOIA processors to search records hosted on DoD servers, which delays the FOIA process.
Coast Guard also reported overhauling its FOIA web page and directing requesters seeking maritime accident reports to check the agency’s open investigations database: https://cgmix.uscg.mil/IIR/IIRSearch.aspx. As we point out in our compliance assessment report, records pertaining to investigations into boating accidents are frequently requested under FOIA. The Coast Guard also reported that it has revised its template letters to include more plain language and less jargon; Coast Guard also removed language in appeal letters saying the agency cannot provide estimated dates of completion.
As we continue to assess agency FOIA programs and complete our 120-day follow up process, we look forward to learning about more changes agencies have made to make the FOIA process more efficient and effective.