We are happy to announce the release of our latest FOIA compliance assessment – the Privacy Office of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This office, which is led by the agency’s Chief Privacy & FOIA Officer, issues FOIA guidance to DHS’s components, monitors component performance, and issues required reports. Like our previously released assessments, this report is based on interviews of key FOIA staff and a review of FOIA policy and documents. What makes this report a little different is that it also includes observations made during our compliance assessments of the FOIA programs at six DHS components. We took this approach in recognition of the unique role that the Chief Privacy & FOIA Officer has in leading DHS’s FOIA program.
FOIA requires agency Chief FOIA Officers to:
- support efficient and appropriate compliance with FOIA and make recommendations as necessary to improve implementation;
- provide oversight of FOIA operations by monitoring implementation and reporting to the Attorney General as required; and
- support customer service by taking certain steps to improve public understanding of FOIA.
We found that the DHS Privacy Office is meeting these requirements by providing targeted services to components and providing them with guidance on FOIA policy issues. The Privacy Office monitors component performance throughout the year and prepares required reports. The Privacy Office further supports the work of the components by investing in information technology that helps the 22 agencies within the Department to be more responsive and assist requesters in understanding the process.
Our report also notes varying degrees of awareness of, and adherence to, DHS FOIA policies among the reviewed components. We recommend that the DHS Privacy Office adopt standard procedures for its guidance – similar to those used by the Office of Information Policy at the U.S. Department of Justice – to address these deficiencies.