We’ve written before about the profound impact the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 has had on our workload, and that impact has only continued to grow. Demand for our services has roughly quadrupled since the passage of the bill, while at the same time there are two open positions on the mediation team that we have been unable to fill. So how is our small staff approaching this big task, and what can our customers do to receive a response more quickly?
1. Submit materials: Reviewing the correspondence related to a FOIA dispute (such as the request, the agency’s response, the administrative appeal and the agency’s response to the appeal – if they exist) is an important part of the OGIS dispute resolution process, and we need those materials to open a case. Providing them with your initial submission allows us to open a case for you immediately. Additionally, we do our best to prioritize cases for which timeliness—such as an appeal deadline—is a factor.
2. Be patient: Delays are an inevitable part of the FOIA process. Unfortunately, delays have also become part of OGIS’s process as our caseload has grown and our staff has shrunk. We work hard to carefully analyze every request for our assistance and provide a thoughtful response, but the more involved your case is the longer the OGIS’s process will take.
Many agency FOIA offices organize records requests into queues based on complexity, and we take the same approach with requests for assistance. Cases in OGIS’s simple queue are relatively straightforward—obtaining the status of delayed FOIA requests, providing information about the FOIA process, et cetera—while cases in the complex queue require more thought, analysis, and discussion with both the agency and you the requester. If your case in in the complex queue, we will send you a case number; knowing your number will help us communicate about your case more efficiently.
3. Communicate: We hear regularly from people who have asked for our assistance and want to know the status of a case. If you would like to know the status of your case, including whether your pending case has been assigned to an OGIS facilitator, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We hope that this provides you with some insight about how our process works. As always, feel free to contact us if you have any questions or feedback.