The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been working to strengthen its FOIA program and improve the agency’s compliance with the law (Read the response here: fema-ogis-response-11-16-web. FEMA recently contacted OGIS in response to the recommendations in our compliance assessment of the FEMA FOIA program.
According to FEMA, agency leadership is focusing on staffing, training and development in an effort to reduce the overall backlog. FEMA also reported that it has implemented or is in the process of implementing most of the recommendations included in OGIS’s compliance report.
Notably, FEMA reported that it is using its FOIA processing and tracking system to sort requests into simple and complex queues, and assigning a combination of simple and complex requests to its Disclosure Program analysts. FEMA is also using the system’s reporting capabilities as a management and quality control oversight tool and providing FEMA leadership with data on the volume of records processed each week to improve understanding and awareness of the FOIA workload. According to FEMA, this will help the agency respond more quickly to relatively simple requests and better manage its resources.
FEMA also informed us that it updated its internal policies to direct Disclosure Program analysts to call requesters on a quarterly basis to discuss the status of their requests. As we noted in our report, lack of response was a factor in all FOIA litigation filed against FEMA between 2009 and the time of our report. Proactively communicating with requesters about their requests might help avoid future lawsuits against the agency.
We applaud the steps FEMA has taken to improve the performance of their FOIA program, and look forward to continuing to work with the agency on ways to continue to make the FOIA process more efficient and effective.