OGIS Publishes Report Based on Agency Self-Assessments

McLain, Miss., Feb. 22, 2013 -- FEMA Preliminary Disaster Assessment (PDA) Representative Karrie Beardall and Mississippi Emergency Management Agency District 1 Area Coordinator Jennifer Cobb-Willis write down information provided to them by local residents. PDA teams verify the damages with visits to the damaged homes. Greene County has requested a FEMA disaster declaration due to the damages from the flash floods which accompanied the tornado event February 10th. Photo by Marilee Caliendo/FEMA (National Archives ID: 24475833)
McLain, Miss., Feb. 22, 2013 – FEMA assesses damages from flash floods in Greene County. (National Archives ID: 24475833)

Federal agencies are generally complying with FOIA’s mandate to create procedures for preparing documents to post on FOIA reading rooms, and more often than not, the responsibility for prepping the documents rests with the FOIA staff. That is one of the key findings of a collaboration between the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) and the Office of the Chief Records Officer (CRO) for the U.S. Government.

The 2018 Records Management Self-Assessment (RMSA), administered in 2019 by the CRO, included several questions directed to FOIA officers at agencies. Based on the responses we received, OGIS found that less than one-third of agencies report having FOIA performance measures for non-FOIA professionals. Both findings (posting of documents on websites and performance measures for non-FOIA professionals) tie directly to recommendations from the 2016-2018 term of the Federal FOIA Advisory Committee and form the foundation for two separate forthcoming OGIS issue assessments.

Learn more by reading our 11-page report, which also shows that, generally:

  • Agency FOIA programs are informing their leadership about backlogs and pending requests on a regular basis.
  • Records needed to respond to a FOIA request are readily accessible to staff responsible for FOIA.
  • Agencies are informing requesters of OGIS’s dispute resolution services at some point in the FOIA process.

OGIS and CRO have collaborated since 2016 to gather government-wide information about FOIA administration as part of the RMSA, an annual agency self-assessment and reporting tool developed and managed by the CRO to determine whether agencies comply with statutory and regulatory records management requirements.

The FOIA information gathered complements the observations OGIS staff make through our other activities including providing dispute resolution to requesters and agencies, assessing FOIA compliance, leading the Federal FOIA Advisory Committee, and co-chairing the cross-agency Chief FOIA Officers Council.

OGIS is grateful for the CRO’s willingness to include FOIA questions in the RMSA. FOIA questions fit naturally with the RMSA data collection because a strong records management program—which allows agencies to find responsive records—is essential to a successful FOIA program.

OGIS encourages agency FOIA officers to work with their agency’s records managers in responding to the 2019 RMSA, which remains open until March 13, 2020. This year, the RMSA asks five FOIA questions about FOIA training, review of agency FOIA responses, de-duplication of records, the availability of records on FOIA websites, and Section 508 compliance.