Flurry of FOIA Findings from Justice

The Justice Department’s office that guides agencies on FOIA obligations assessed each cabinet department’s progress meeting their FOIA obligations and published the results in a side-by-side comparison chart that should encourage improvements at lagging departments.

This approach is a welcome step toward holding agencies more accountable for their FOIA performance.

For many years throughout several administrations Justice’s Office of Information Policy focused on encouraging compliance with FOIA through guidance, trainings and publishing annual statistics.  This assessment reports on and evaluates FOIA compliance and names names.  While the details of the assessment are less clear than they could be, the study makes a valiant effort to show who is making progress and who isn’t.  For instance, the Veterans Administration, Department of Energy and Commerce Department have watched their backlogs increase for both new requests and appeals. Four others also saw longer wait times for new requests.

The departments struggled to close out their ten oldest requests as well.  Last year only Justice, Interior and Health and Human Services were able to close out their ten oldest initial requests and ten oldest appeals. (Congratulations to those agencies; better luck next year to the others.)

We’d encourage departments and agencies to post their own scores on their FOIA pages along with realistic but ambitious goals for improving next year. FOIA.gov should show these performance statistics and goals in each agency’s profile.  And of course departments and agencies should follow through to meet those goals. It would be a sign that agencies are serious about making FOIA work better.

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