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Department of Justice Issues New Annual FOIA Report Guidance

In the wake of the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which amended the reporting requirements for agency Annual FOIA Reports, the Department of Justice, in consultation with the Office of Management and Budget, has revised both the content and the format of the Report and its corresponding guidelines. The revised guidelines, posted today, reflect the new statutory mandate. They also include new reporting requirements, including data on agency backlogs, which are an extension of the goals set forth in Executive Order 13,392, and are in furtherance of best practices in FOIA administration. The guidance also clarifies existing reporting requirements and further defines the type of requests to include in the Annual FOIA Report.

Accuracy in Reporting

The Annual FOIA Report is designed to provide a clear picture of the FOIA activities of federal agencies. In order to achieve this goal and to provide an accurate and meaningful Report, agencies must ensure that all the data they collect concerning the numbers of FOIA requests and appeals received, processed, and pending through the year, as well as the dispositions of those requests and appeals, and the time taken to process them, are accurate. It is each agency’s responsibility to ensure the reliability and accuracy of the data that is collected throughout the year and then included in its Annual FOIA Report. Maintaining proper data-collection systems to capture agency FOIA activity and utilizing procedures to cross-check the accuracy of the information collected is an indispensible part of the reporting process.

Backlog Reduction

The Annual FOIA Report now requires agencies to include information about agency backlogs (i.e., those requests and appeals that have been pending beyond the statutory time period). The issue of backlogs of requests has been a long-standing concern in FOIA administration. The Annual FOIA Report will now require agencies to report both the numbers of backlogged FOIA requests and administrative appeals, and to provide yearly comparisons of those backlogs. Accordingly, agencies should remain focused on the goal of systematically reducing their backlogs. To do so, it is essential that each agency properly plan how it intends to accomplish that goal and then to take all steps that are necessary to bring about meaningful backlog reduction. (posted 5/22/2008)

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