Setting Expectations in Extraordinary Times

image for EDCWe at the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) hear you loud and clear! The COVID-19 pandemic is challenging FOIA professionals and requesters alike in unprecedented ways. Amid all the uncertainty, one thing is certain: response times are likely to increase.

It is more important than ever to keep the lines of communication open. One way of doing that is through FOIA’s customer service mandate to provide an estimated date of completion (EDC) upon request. An estimated date of completion is just that—an estimate—and not a guarantee that the agency will respond to the FOIA request by that date.

Long before “coronavirus” entered our common vocabulary, OGIS assessed compliance with EDCs based on our dispute resolution experience. We found that federal agency compliance is mixed, as is agency use of online tools to provide requesters with EDCs and status information.

The assessment—“Agency Compliance with the Estimated Date of Completion Requirement of the Freedom of Information Act”—has been published simultaneously with OGIS Advisory Opinion 2020-01,“Agencies Must Provide Estimated Dates of Completion Upon Request,” as well as an OGIS FOIA Ombuds Observer providing requesters with tips for obtaining EDCs.

OGIS advances four recommendations in its assessment, including that agencies must provide an EDC to a requester upon request in order to comply with FOIA, and that Chief FOIA Officers should ensure that FOIA professionals have the necessary resources to provide EDCs to FOIA requesters. Learn more by reading the full report.

As the federal FOIA Ombudsman, OGIS plays a unique role in the FOIA process by identifying and highlighting issues, and recommending opportunities for change. OGIS’s EDC assessment drew from many aspects of the office’s work—from handling requests for OGIS dispute resolution assistance to assessing agency FOIA compliance.

We wish FOIA professionals across the government—as well as FOIA requesters—the best of health as we all navigate these unprecedented times together.