As federal agencies approach the end of fiscal year 2022 in September, we know many are aiming to close old FOIA requests and reduce their FOIA backlogs. Some have begun to send requesters “still interested” letters to ensure that the information in a FOIA request is still being sought by the requester from the agency.
The Office of Information Policy (OIP) guidance on the issue advises agencies about “being mindful” in regard to the timelines for requesters to respond and indicate their level of interest. OIP updated this guidance in 2015 and included a series of procedures that agencies should use when sending “still interested” letters. In a nutshell:
- Limit the use of “still interested inquiries” to situations where the agency has a reasonable basis to determine that the requester’s interest in the records may have changed.
- Limit the frequency of “still interested” inquiries to the requester concerning a particular request.
- Use the requester’s preferred method of communicating.
- Provide requesters with a minimum of 30 working days to respond to “still interested” inquiries.
- Ensure that “still interested” inquiries do not disadvantage the requester in the event that a requester responds to such inquiries within a reasonable amount of time after the deadline has passed.
- Review your procedures on the use of “still-interested” inquiries to ensure they conform to OIP guidance.
In 2016, OGIS published a report on recommendations to improve the transparency of the use of “still interested” letters to administratively close FOIA requests and reduce requester frustration with the practice. We continue to monitor the use of “still interested” letters and follow up with agency FOIA programs as appropriate. If you have received a “still interested” letter from an agency that does not appear to comply with OIP’s guidance, you may contact the agency’s FOIA Public Liaison and/or OGIS for assistance.