Over the last few years we have made a concerted effort to highlight the relatively simple step that agencies can take to make it easier for OGIS to fulfill its statutory responsibilities to both resolve FOIA disputes between requesters and agencies as well as conduct agency assessment compliance reviews. This simple step involves publishing a notice in the Federal Register that allows the agency to discuss its FOIA case files with us without first having to obtain a privacy consent statement from the requester. OGIS updates a list of agencies that have published this notice on our website.
We need to obtain a privacy consent statement or waiver from agencies that have not published this notice because FOIA case files generally include personally identifiable information (PII) that is protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. §552a. In order for an agency to share its files with OGIS without the need for the requester to provide their express consent, the agency may publish a System of Records Notice (SORN) in the Federal Register that includes a “routine use” exception. Such an exception explains the files can be shared with OGIS so that we can fulfill our statutory responsibilities to review policies and procedures and offer services to resolve FOIA disputes. Having a SORN in place also allows OGIS to more easily fulfill its statutory responsibilities of compliance review of individual agencies’ FOIA offices. OGIS developed model “routine use” language with the Department of Justice several years ago.)
In anticipation of OGIS’s expanded role in resolving disputes throughout the FOIA process as a result of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, we contacted all of the federal agencies subject to FOIA and asked that they make it easier for us to provide assistance by publishing a FOIA/PA SORN with a routine use exception for OGIS. We also posted all of these letters and responses from the agencies on our website.
We have made progress, but we are only one third of the way there. As of this date, 13 out of the 15 Cabinet-level departments, and 25 of the approximately 115 independent agencies that are subject to FOIA have published FOIA/PA SORNs that allow them to share files with OGIS. We look forward to continuing to add to our list of agencies that do not require requesters to authorize us in advance prior to discussing their requests with the agency, and we will continue to follow up with agencies that have not yet responded to our request and post any updates on our website.