The President and the Attorney General have emphasized the importance of improving timeliness in responding to requests. This section addresses both time limits and backlog reduction. Backlog reduction is measured both in terms of numbers of backlogged requests or appeals and by looking at whether agencies closed their ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations. For the figures required in this Section, please use those contained in the specified sections of your agency’s 2013 Annual FOIA Report and, when applicable, your agency’s 2012 Annual FOIA Report.
Simple Track Requests:
- Section VII.A of your agency’s Annual FOIA Report, entitled “FOIA Requests – Response Time for All Processed Requests,” includes figures that show your agency's average response times for processed requests. For agencies utilizing a multi-track system to process requests, there is a category for “simple” requests, which are those requests that are placed in the agency’s fastest (non-expedited) track, based on the low volume and/or simplicity of the records requested.
- Does your agency utilize a separate track for simple requests?
- Does your agency utilize a separate track for simple requests?
- If so, for your agency overall, for Fiscal Year 2013, was the average number of days to process simple requests twenty working days or fewer?
No. The components that track simple requests separately did not process them, on average, within twenty workings days or fewer.
- If your agency does not track simple requests separately, was the average number of days to process non-expedited requests twenty working days or fewer?
Backlogs and “Ten Oldest” Requests, Appeals and Consultations:
- Section XII.A of your agency’s Annual FOIA Report, entitled “Backlogs of FOIA Requests and Administrative Appeals” shows the numbers of any backlogged requests or appeals from the fiscal year. Section VII.E, entitled “Pending Requests – Ten Oldest Pending Requests,” Section VI.C.(5), entitled “Ten Oldest Pending Administrative Appeals,” and Section XII.C., entitled "Consultations on FOIA Requests – Ten Oldest Consultations Received from Other Agencies and Pending at Your Agency," show the ten oldest pending requests, appeals, and consultations. You should refer to these numbers from your Annual FOIA Reports for both Fiscal Year 2012 and Fiscal Year 2013 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.
- If your agency had a backlog of requests at the close of Fiscal Year 2013, did that backlog decrease as compared with Fiscal Year 2012?
Yes. Overall, the backlog of requests decreased by 10%.
- If your agency had a backlog of administrative appeals in Fiscal Year 2013, did that backlog decrease as compared to Fiscal Year 2012?
No. Overall, the backlog of appeals increased by 15%.
Ten Oldest Requests
- In Fiscal Year 2013, did your agency close the ten oldest requests that were pending as of the end of Fiscal Year 2012?
- If no, please provide the number of these requests your agency was able to close by the end of the fiscal year, as listed in Section VII.E of your Fiscal Year 2012 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest requests to close, please indicate that. For example, if you only had seven requests listed as part of your "ten oldest" in Section VII.E. and you closed two of them, you should note that you closed two out of seven “oldest” requests.
Ten Oldest Appeals
- In Fiscal Year 2013, did your agency close the ten oldest administrative appeals that were pending as of the end of Fiscal Year 2012?
- If no, please provide the number of these appeals your agency was able to close, as well as the number of appeals your agency had in Section VI.C.(5) of your Fiscal Year 2012 Annual FOIA Report.
Ten Oldest Consultations
- In Fiscal Year 2013, did your agency close the ten oldest consultations received by your agency and pending as of the end of Fiscal Year 2012?
- If no, please provide the number of these consultations your agency did close, as well as the number of pending consultations your agency listed in Section XII.C. of your Fiscal Year 2012 Annual FOIA Report.
Reasons for Any Backlogs:
- If you answered “no” to any of the questions in item 2 above, describe why your agency was not able to reduce backlogs and/or close the ten oldest pending requests, appeals, and consultations. In doing so, answer the following questions then include any additional explanation:
Request and/or Appeal Backlog
- Was the lack of a reduction in the request and/or appeal backlog a result of an increase in the number of incoming requests or appeals?
No. Although the overall total agency backlog decreased by 10% and the total agency backlog of appeals did increase by 15%.
- Was the lack of a reduction in the request and/or appeal backlog caused by a loss of staff?
No. Fewer FOIA appeals were processed for fiscal year 2013; this may have been in part caused by a shift in available staff to other priorities, such as processing initial FOIA requests rather than focusing on appeals.
- Was the lack of a reduction in the request and/or appeal backlog caused by an increase in the complexity of the requests received?
- What other causes, if any, contributed to the lack of a decrease in the request and/or appeal backlog?
Another factor may have been from the need to focus on the processing of initial FOIA requests, particularly FOIA requests/appeals involving litigation.
- Briefly explain the obstacles your agency faced in closing its ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations from Fiscal Year 2012.
- If your agency was unable to close any of its ten oldest requests or appeals because you were waiting to hear back from other agencies on consultations you sent, please provide the date the request was initially received by your agency, the date when your agency sent the consultation, and the date when you last contacted the agency where the consultation was pending.
Plans for Closing of Ten Oldest Pending Requests, Appeals, and Consultations and Reducing Backlogs:
Given the importance of these milestones, it is critical that Chief FOIA Officers assess the causes for not achieving success and create plans to address them.
- If your agency did not close its ten oldest pending requests, appeals, and consultations, please provide a plan describing how your agency intends to close those “ten oldest” requests, appeals, and consultations during Fiscal Year 2014.
- If your agency had a backlog of more than 1000 pending requests and did not reduce that backlog in Fiscal Year 2013, provide your agency’s plan for achieving backlog reduction in the year ahead.
OIP has issued guidance encouraging agencies to make interim releases whenever they are working on requests that involve a voluminous amount of material or require searches in multiple locations. By providing rolling releases to requesters agencies facilitate access to the requested information.
- Does your agency have a system in place to provide interim responses to requesters when appropriate?
- If your agency had a backlog in Fiscal Year 2013, please provide an estimate of the number or percentage of cases in the backlog where a substantive, interim response was provided during the fiscal year, even though the request was not finally closed.
While only a rough estimate, approximately 750 backlogged FOIA requesters are believed to have received a substantive, interim response during the fiscal year, even though the request was not finally closed.
Use of FOIA’s Law Enforcement “Exclusions”
In order to increase transparency regarding the use of the FOIA’s statutory law enforcement exclusions, which authorize agencies under certain exceptional circumstances to “treat the records as not subject to the requirements of [the FOIA],” 5 U.S.C. § 552(c)(1), (2), (3), please answer the following questions:
- Did your agency invoke a statutory exclusion during Fiscal Year 2013?
- If so, what was the total number of times exclusions were invoked?
Spotlight on Success
Out of all the activities undertaken by your agency since March 2013 to increase transparency and improve FOIA administration, please briefly describe here at least one success story that you would like to highlight as emblematic of your agency’s efforts. The success story can come from any one of the five key areas. As noted above, these agency success stories will be highlighted during Sunshine Week by OIP. To facilitate this process, all agencies should use bullets to describe their success story and limit their text to a half page. The success story is designed to be a quick summary of a key achievement. A complete description of all your efforts will be contained in the body of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.
In response to the Open Government Act of 2007, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) implemented the Strategic Work Information Folder Transfer (SWIFT) system in 2009, developed by Sole Solutions, Inc., to monitor its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. This system has hundreds of users and was deployed to every component in the agency, 10 regional offices and in 2013, was expanded and deployed to the Medicare Administrative Contractors (MACs).
CMS now has a global system to log and track more than 50,000 FOIA requests received and processed annually. The global SWIFT system captures all the complex data necessary to produce the monthly and annual reports required by CMS and the Department of Justice, including all costs and invoiced fees involved in FOIA implementation. Additionally, this system has a feature to create and edit template letters so regular correspondence such as the acknowledgement letter can be produced automatically with greater efficiency.
The updated SWIFT FOIA system supports all aspects of the FOIA program, including: redaction, exemption tracking, letter generation, fee tracking, invoice generation, and appeals tracking. As a result, CMS has improved FOIA processing times and reduced the backlog of open requests from 10,312 in FY 2009 to 1,426 in FY 2013. The SWIFT FOIA technology facilitates an electronic workflow process that is less prone to human error, reportable, and visible, for CMS, which administers approximately 80% of the FOIA requests received by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
- Section I: Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness
- Section II: Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency Has an Effective System in Place for Responding to Requests
- Section III: Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures
- Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology
- Section V: Steps Taken to Improve Timeliness in Responding to Requests and Reduce Backlogs