Federal agencies must report new details on FOI Act compliance
WASHINGTON, D.C.–The annual reports from federal agencies on how they enforce the Freedom of Information Act must include new details that will allow Congress and the public to effectively assess agency performance in meeting FOI Act requirements.
Under requirements of the year-old Electronic FOI Act and guidance from the Department of Justice issued in early October, agencies now must report the number of requests they receive as well as the number of denials they make. They must report in detail the time it takes them to process requests and the money and staff time they expend to process them, and must continue to report on the fees they collect.
Agencies are also required to report on their responses to requests for expedited review and the time it takes them to process those requests for faster treatment.
The reports must be made available to the public electronically.
The E-FOIA changed the old reporting system which required that agencies give details of the denials they issued, but did not require them to describe the actual numbers of requests they received or the delays they incurred in processing them. As a result, no one has been able to make a plausible estimate of the number of FOI requests processed by the federal government.
In early October, in the Summer 1997 issue of its FOIA Update, the Justice Department’s Office of Information and Privacy told agencies to include the new information in annual reports on FOI collected by the Justice Department and forwarded to Congress.
Even before the E-FOIA, agencies were supposed to estimate the costs they incurred in carrying out the mandates of the FOI Act and the monies received under the program. However, the reporting was hardly scientific.
Now agencies must report the numbers of persons working on requests, whether they are full or part time, and the amount of time it took to process each request.
Agencies must still provide detailed accounts of the exemptions they invoke to deny information.
The Justice Department assumes lead responsibility for government-wide enforcement of the FOI Act because of the reporting requirements in the act, which has required it to gather FOI activity reports from other agencies and forward them to Congress.