The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) recently published two assessment reports examining Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) websites and FOIA’s inclusion in agency performance plans. The assessments fulfill recommendations from the 2018-2020 term of the FOIA Advisory Committee. Recommendation 2020-01 was for OGIS to “undertake an assessment of the information agencies make publicly available on their FOIA websites to facilitate the FOIA filing process and for the purpose of informing further guidance by [the U.S. Department of Justice’s] Office of Information Policy on how agencies may improve online descriptions of the process.” Recommendation 2020-07 was to “examine the FOIA performance measures used in agency performance plans and reports to encourage agencies to include FOIA in their performance plans.”
While the publication of the assessments completes OGIS’s work on the recommendations, opportunities exist for agencies to implement the findings issued in the reports. The two assessments are outlined below.
The Freedom of Information Act’s Inclusion in Agency Performance Plans (published September 30, 2022)
OGIS reviewed available annual performance plans and reports for all 15 Cabinet-level departments and independent agencies that received more than 50 FOIA requests in fiscal year 2020 (FY20). OGIS assessed whether agencies’ annual performance plans and performance reports mentioned FOIA and, if so, included FOIA performance goals, measures, and results. OGIS identified two findings and made two recommendations.
- Finding 1: One-quarter of departments and agencies we reviewed included FOIA in their agency performance plans.
- Finding 2: FOIA performance goals and measures vary widely across agencies that include FOIA in their annual performance plans.
- Recommendation 1: All federal agencies that receive more than 50 FOIA requests annually should include FOIA in their annual performance plans.
- Recommendation 2: Agencies should include specific FOIA goals along with metrics in their annual performance plans for accountability and to leverage FOIA toward furthering an agency’s mission.
(This assessment is similar but different from another assessment OGIS conducted in response to a FOIA Advisory Committee recommendation in September 2020, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Performance Measures for Non-FOIA Professionals.)
Agency FOIA Websites (published November 28, 2022)
OGIS reviewed FOIA websites for all 15 Cabinet-level departments, including their components, and six independent agencies that together received 93 percent of FOIA requests governmentwide in FY19. For each website, OGIS reviewed the presence or absence of 25 criteria developed from the FOIA statute, Office of Information Policy (OIP) guidance, and FOIA Advisory Committee best practices for FOIA websites. OGIS identified three findings and made two recommendations.
- Finding 1: Almost all agency FOIA websites have deficiencies in the information they include.
- Finding 2: There are some data points that almost all agencies include; however, a slim minority of agency websites have deficiencies.
- Finding 3: Agencies generally include ample information on their websites, but finding it can often be difficult.
- Recommendation 1: Agencies should address the deficiencies in the information they include about FOIA.
- Recommendation 2: Agencies should make finding information on websites easier.