Justice Department to solicit views on new model FOIA regulations
WASHINGTON, D.C. — Dan Metcalfe and Richard Huff, co-directors of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Information and Privacy, in late January told about 30 representatives of several public interest groups that their office will solicit the views of FOI Act users over the next several months as it develops model FOI regulations.
Metcalfe said the Justice Department will revise its regulations to fulfill promises by President Clinton and Attorney General Janet Reno last October that the current administration will adhere to principles of open government, and cut delays and curtail arbitrary denials in the FOI process.
Reno’s memorandum, endorsed by a separate memorandum from the president, instructed heads of federal agencies to process long backlogs of FOI requests and to withhold information only where disclosure could cause some particular harm. In response the Justice Department already has dropped out of some FOI suits brought by requesters by turning over the information, Metcalfe said. It also has asked all federal agencies to provide information about their backlogs so that OIP can study root causes of the delays and issue guidelines on reducing backlogs.
The Office of Information and Privacy issues guidance to all federal agencies on enforcement of the FOI Act, and Metcalfe said that other agencies would likely follow the Justice Department’s lead in changing regulations.
He said the Justice Department is currently looking at its standard responses to FOI requesters and will also look at the responses other agencies send out. The department would welcome suggestions for revision, he said, and suggested that groups such as Public Citizen’s FOI Clearing House and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, both of whom regularly advise FOI Act requesters, may want to forward examples of standard responses that ought to be changed.
Proposed Justice Department regulations will be issued for public comment, but Metcalfe said OIP would like to hear suggestions about needed changes now, before proposals are drawn up.