Each day, people seeking records about themselves use the FOIA process to obtain their records as they navigate health care, employment, immigration, law enforcement or other issues that intersect in some way with the federal government.
A government-wide look at what are known as “first-party requests” shows that the records requesters seek about themselves fall into two broad categories: records such as employee and personnel records maintained by all agencies, and records that are unique to an agency.
The latest OGIS issue assessment, Commonly Requested Categories of First-party Records, shows that of the 70 agencies that submitted Chief FOIA Officer Reports in 2021, 61 percent reported frequent receipt of first-party requests. The report reviews both categories of records referenced above: those common to all agencies and those tied to an individual agency mission.
The assessment recommends that agencies:
- examine the records that they generate, collect and/or maintain and seek creative ways to provide non-FOIA access to first-party records when possible;
- examine their FOIA logs to learn which categories of records are frequent subjects of first-party requests; and
- explain, in plain language, on FOIA websites the steps requesters should take to obtain access to first-party records.
The assessment fulfills a recommendation of the 2018-2020 term of the FOIA Advisory Committee. OGIS will continue to monitor the issue of first-party requests, and a working group of the Process Subcommittee of the 2020-2022 term of the Committee is studying the issue to see whether additional recommendations may be warranted.
If, after reading our assessment, you see practices that might work at your agency or that you would like to learn more about, please contact us. We stand ready to facilitate discussions between agencies to share best practices about ways to provide non-FOIA access to the first-party records.
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