COVID-19 and FOIA: DOJ Releases New Guidance

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On May 28th, the Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy (OIP) posted Guidance for Agency FOIA Administration in Light of COVID-19 Impacts.

Here are some highlights:

  • Agencies’ legal obligations under the FOIA continue even as agencies are working during COVID-19.
  • All of FOIA’s statutory time limits continue to apply during workforce adjustments. Agencies have twenty (20) working (business) days to respond to requests and appeals plus 10 additional working days for unusual circumstances (see 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A)-(B)).
  • OIP urges agencies to:
    • Post notices on FOIA websites and include language in FOIA acknowledgment letters to inform requesters of any anticipated delays, including information about the most efficient way to make a request;
    • Acknowledge requests and appeals in a timely fashion;
    • Notify requesters of any unusual circumstances;
    • Make timely determinations on requests for expedited processing;
    • Work directly with requesters to tailor their requests to receive the most efficient responses;
    • Leverage multitrack processing to further triage requests that can be processed more efficiently in light of current limitations;
    • Continue to process records, even if at a slower pace;
    • Retrieve and process records remotely and provide interim responses, even if other portions of the request cannot yet be completed;  
    • Make proactive disclosures;
    • Continually assess technological resources to ensure most effective solutions are used; 
    • Explore how technology solutions may assist in continuing FOIA program operations;
    • Use resources such as Department of Justice Guide to the FOIA, Court Decisions Overview, OIP FOIA Counselor Service (202-514-FOIA (3642)), OIP’s Best Practices Workshop Series, OIP FOIA training and OIP’s Self-Assessment Toolkit.

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