The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS or Department1) is the United States government’s principal agency for protecting the health and wellbeing of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. The Department fulfills that mission, and, in doing so, serves Americans at every stage of life by implementing policies, and providing services and supports, that foster sound, sustained advances in the sciences underlying medicine, public health, and social services. Eleven operating divisions, including eight agencies in the U.S. Public Health Service and three human services agencies, administer HHS FOIA programs.
The Freedom of Information Act2 (FOIA) programs within HHS are one of many important functions that contribute to the Department’s ability to successfully execute our mission and realize our strategic goals. I am pleased to submit the 2023 Chief FOIA Officer Report to the Attorney General of the United States, which summarizes the Department’s initiatives to comply with the FOIA, enhance departmental FOIA operations, and facilitate information disclosure.
HHS is proud of our continued FOIA accomplishments during the 2023 reporting period. We continue to maintain and reinforce the Department’s commitment to the fair and responsible implementation of the Act.
We look forward to continuing to identify and implement additional best practices in our FOIA operations and, thereby, demonstrate the Department’s ongoing commitment to the spirit of FOIA and the government’s transparency and open government goals.
Acting Agency Chief FOIA Officer
Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA at the Department of Health and Human Services
HHS FOIA administration is decentralized and consists of 11 FOIA Requester Service Centers (RSCs)/FOIA Offices – all of which receive and respond to FOIA requests. The RSCs include the Administration for Children and Families (ACF); Administration for Community Living (ACL); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS); Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA); Indian Health Service (IHS); National Institutes of Health (NIH); Office of Inspector General (OIG); Office of the Secretary (OS); and Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA) FOIA Division processes initial FOIA requests for records in the custody of the Program Support Center (PSC), the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH), the Administration for Strategic Preparedness and Response (ASPR), and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) and FOIA appeals on behalf of the PSC, ACF, ACL, OIG and the following Public Health Service agencies – AHRQ, ASPR, OASH, CDC, HRSA, IHS, NIH and SAMHSA.
ASPA also responds to initial FOIA requests for records maintained by all OS StaffDivs with the exception of the Office of Inspector General (OIG); ensures consultation with the HHS Office of General Counsel (OGC), provides guidance on departmental appeal decisions, establishes Departmental FOIA policies; and monitors FOIA implementation throughout the Department, ensuring the HHS Secretary and the U.S. Attorney General are appropriately informed of the Department’s implementation of and compliance with the FOIA.
The following HHS OpDivs and StaffDivs provided information in response to the FOIA compliance and transparency sections of this report:
- Administration for Children and Families (ACF)
- Administration for Community Living (ACL)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
- Indian Health Service (IHS)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Office of Inspector General (OIG)
- Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA)
Among Federal agencies which receive and process the most FOIA requests annually, HHS has consistently been among the top ten. During Fiscal Year (FY) 2022, HHS received a total of 38,462 FOIA requests, a 16% increase from the previous fiscal year. The number of FOIA requests submitted to each of the HHS OpDivs varied widely, ranging from a low of 88 (ACL) to a high of 20,289 (CMS). The Department closed 37,241 FOIA requests in FY 2022, a 13% increase over the number of requests closed in the previous fiscal year.
Currently, 284 HHS employees work full-time on FOIA administration and approximately 80 additional employees provide part-time assistance. This is a modest increase of 11 FTEs over FY 2021 staffing levels. As the average age of federal workers rises and increasingly larger numbers of federal employees are eligible for retirement, the Department is preparing for the impact of this demographic trend on the HHS FOIA community by implementing succession planning to maintain the necessary alignment of critical skills in the agency workforce, so that we may continue to serve the requester community in the best manner possible.
- Introduction: Agency Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer
- Section I: FOIA Leadership and Applying the Presumption of Openness
- Section II: Ensuring Fair and Effective FOIA Administration
- Section III: Proactive Disclosures
- Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology
- Section V: Steps Taken to Remove Barriers to Access, Improve Timeliness in Responding to Requests, and Reduce Backlogs
1 In this report, “HHS” or “Department” means the entire agency, including all operating divisions and offices.
2 5 U.S.C. §552