FOIA Improvement: Updating FOIA Regulations

Note: This entry is another in our series of occasional blog posts updating our efforts to implement new provisions of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) signed into law by President Obama on June 30, 2016.

The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires that agencies review and update their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations within 180 days of the law’s enactment—by the end of calendar 2016. The act also requires that the updated regulations include procedures for engaging in dispute resolution services through OGIS and the agency FOIA Public Liaison (FPL).

As we have talked about before, the FOIA Improvement Act expands OGIS’s role in the FOIA process by directing agencies to alert requesters of their rights to seek dispute resolution services at several times throughout the process. Prior to the law’s passage, agencies were encouraged to provide requesters with information about OGIS after the agency made its final decision on appeal. The law now requires agencies to provide requesters with information about our services and about how to contact the agency’s FPL if the agency determines there are “unusual circumstances” that meet the requirements for extending the agency’s statutory deadline for responding. The law also requires that agencies inform requesters of the availability of OGIS and the FPL to help resolve disputes if the agency makes an adverse determination during its initial processing of a request. (We have model language agencies can use to alert requesters to our services in each if these instances).

Our expanded role in the process is reflected in the updated FOIA regulations template that the Office of Information Policy (OIP) at the Department of Justice issued last week. In addition to noting that the agency will inform requesters of their right to seek dispute resolution services from us and the agency’s FPL, the updated template also informs requesters that the mediation process is voluntary and that if the agency agrees to participate in the process, it will “actively engage” to resolve the dispute.

OGIS monitors and regularly comments on proposed FOIA regulations. If you would like to keep up with proposed FOIA regulations, one easy way to do so is to subscribe to the Federal Register and set your preferences to alert you to terms like “FOIA” and “Freedom of Information Act.” This will ensure that you never miss a chance to make your voice heard as new regulations are proposed.