Last year we shared our OGIS Holiday Wish List here on The FOIA Ombudsman. The jolly man from the North Pole did not bring us our wishes, so we are revising it to reflect upon what OGIS has encountered over the past year. As we look to 2024 these wishes would go a long way toward improving the FOIA processes for both requesters and agencies.
1 – Estimated Dates of Completion (EDC) are key in the FOIA process – they are also the law! We wish that all federal agencies would use them to better assist requesters. EDCs aid both requesters and agencies by allowing the requester to understand the timeline for a response and ensure that agencies are communicating clearly with the requester. Learn more about EDCs in this blog post. And if you are stumped by EDCs, please reach out to OGIS for guidance – let us help you!
2 – Just as this holiday wish list is simple, we want all FOIA programs to also think simple. This means clear contact information on websites and in requester response letters. The Department of Justice Office of Information Policy (OIP) published guidance for agency FOIA webpages. Check links to make sure that they work, provide clear information about proactive disclosures, include instructions for making a FOIA request and an administrative appeal, and provide links to agency FOIA reporting. OGIS’s wish list includes a mailing address, an email address, and a phone number along with contact information for your agency’s FOIA Public Liaison(s). A good example can be found here.
3 – We would be oh so merry and bright if every federal agency had accurate and complete contact information on FOIA.gov, the National FOIA portal maintained by OIP. FOIA.gov is the master directory of publicly available FOIA contacts and is helpful not only to requesters but also to other government agencies for interagency coordination, including OGIS! Over the last year OGIS has noticed more agencies have not been updating their information in the portal in response to staffing and process changes. OGIS relies upon FOIA.gov for agency FOIA information and contacts as we aid the roughly 5,000 requesters who come to us for assistance each year. If you have questions about what information should be included on FOIA.gov, we encourage you to consult the National FOIA Portal Agency Manager Guide provided by OIP.
Happy Holidays to all and cheers to 2024!