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U.S. Department of Labor 2011 Chief FOIA Officer Report

DOL Seal

U.S. Department of Labor
Chief FOIA Officer Report for 2011
(March 2010 – March 2011)


Part I:    Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness

1.    Describe the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied to all decisions involving the FOIA.

a.    Describe how the President's FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines have been publicized throughout your agency.

The Administration has a deep commitment to openness and transparency in government. The Department of Labor (DOL) is actively working to deliver on this commitment, including through enhanced administration of the FOIA. The Solicitor of Labor, who also serves as the DOL Chief FOIA Officer, issued guidance on December 3, 2010 focusing on encouraging open government through proactive disclosure of government information, responses to FOIA request that are prompt and appropriately release records, enhanced administrative processes, and accountability across the Department for FOIA performance.

Among DOL's most significant recent actions and in furtherance of the Solicitor's role as DOL's Chief FOIA Officer, is the creation during FY 2010 of the Office of Information Services (OIS), within the Office of the Solicitor (SOL), Division of Management and Administrative Legal Services (MALS), to serve as DOL's overall FOIA administrator and manager. DOL's day-to-day FOIA operations are largely decentralized, with individual DOL component agencies responsible for directly answering FOIA requests and providing documents from their agencies – e.g., the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) responds to requests for OSHA inspection materials. However, OIS is the focal point for the coordination of FOIA program improvement efforts at DOL. OIS is leading DOL's efforts to increase the quality, consistency, and timeliness of FOIA responses; to reduce the backlog of pending FOIA requests; and to monitor the effectiveness of each agency's FOIA procedures.

DOL has taken multiple steps at the Departmental and agency component level to ensure that President Obama's instructions regarding the "Presumption of Openness" and the Attorney General's FOIA guidelines are fully integrated into and inform DOL FOIA disclosure determinations. Immediately upon receipt of the January 21 and March 19, 2009 memoranda, the Department disseminated the information to all Agency Heads, Administrative Officers and FOIA professionals. DOL also disseminated the March 16, 2010 FOIA memo from former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel and White House Counsel Bob Bauer concerning the Freedom of Information Act. As further discussed below (see response to Question 1(b) in this Part), this guidance has been incorporated into multiple training sessions and regularly addressed at meetings of FOIA staff. During this reporting period, DOL also issued guidance on making discretionary disclosures (see response to Question 1(c) below in this Part), and incorporated this subject into FOIA performance measures and milestones (see response to Part V, Question 3(a) below).

b.    What training has been attended and/or conducted on the new FOIA Guidelines?

2010 Annual FOIA Training Conference: On May 12 – 13, 2010, SOL hosted the Department's Second Annual FOIA Training Conference, with over 225 onsite attendees in the D.C. national office and many more via remote access. The conference theme – "Presumption in Favor of Disclosure…It's the Spirit of Cooperation" – captures the emphasis DOL places on applying openness principles to our FOIA practices. The conference included speakers from DOL, the Office of Information Policy of the Department of Justice, and the Office of Government Information Services of the National Archives.

Quarterly Departmental FOIA Coordinators Meetings: SOL continues to hold quarterly meetings with FOIA Coordinators representing each DOL agency component. These meetings provide an opportunity to disseminate information and to offer on-the-spot training on the application of FOIA exemptions, considerations involved in evaluating "foreseeable harm" from potential disclosure, administrative processing matters, best practices in customer service, and related matters.

FOIA Forums: OIS conducts a series of small, informal training sessions commonly referred to as "FOIA Forums." To date FOIA Forums have included sessions on the appropriate use of the Departmental FOIA tracking system (Secretary's Information Management System – FOIA or SIMS-FOIA), the FOIA Administrative Process, and Discretionary Disclosures.

Other Training Opportunities: OIS regularly announces outside FOIA training opportunities. Many DOL staff report attending FOIA-related courses offered by DOJ's Office of Legal Education, briefings hosted by DOJ's Office of Information Policy, and FOIA and Privacy Act seminars offered by the USDA's Graduate School and the American Society of Access Professionals.

c.    How has your agency created or modified your internal guidance to reflect the presumption of openness?

In addition to providing immediate dissemination and regular training on the presumption of openness, OIS produced in September 2010 an internal FOIA Desk Reference Guide to provide administrative FOIA guidance consistent with the provisions of the OPEN Government Act ("Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007")and the Administration's FOIA guidance. It has been widely distributed to DOL's FOIA staff. As shown by the following Q and A from the Guide, the DOL FOIA Desk Reference Guide clearly states DOL's policy in favor of openness:

WHAT IS THE DEPARTMENT OF LABOR POLICY REGARDING FOIA?

The Department of Labor is committed to the goal of a more open government. In accordance with the President's January 21, 2009 memos on the "Freedom of Information Act" and "Open Government," DOL looks for opportunities to proactively make information available to the public. In response to a FOIA request, DOL also makes every effort to disclose as much information as possible, only withholding information when we find that its disclosure would result in foreseeable harm to an interest protected under FOIA."

On January 12, 2011, the OIS Director and the Counsel for FOIA, FACA and Privacy Act issued guidance to all DOL FOIA staff on Discretionary Disclosures and Foreseeable Harm. This guidance reminds staff that, in response to a specific FOIA request, DOL should not only disclose the information the FOIA requires to be disclosed, but also make every effort to make discretionary disclosures. DOL's January 12, 2011 guidance builds on the general guidance issued by the Department of Justice by providing detailed information to assist in guiding decisions on discretionary disclosures based on knowledge of DOL's programs and the nature and character of the records DOL creates in carrying out its mission.

d.    To what extent has your agency made discretionary releases of otherwise exempt information?

During this reporting period, DOL modified its DOL FOIA tracking system, known as Secretary's Information Management System for FOIA (SIMS-FOIA), to create the capability of tracking the number of discretionary disclosures. When closing out a FOIA case, the user must complete a mandatory field in the SIMS-FOIA system that asks whether or not a discretionary disclosure was made in response to the FOIA request. If the user clicks "yes," the user must indicate which exemption could have been used to withhold the information in question. Data for the first quarter of FY 2011 (the first period when this tracking measure was in place) is as follows:

First Quarter FY 2011 – Discretionary Disclosure Statistics

 

Number of Initial
Requests Received

Number of Initial
Requests Processed

Number of Discretionary
Disclosures

DOL Total

4,173

4,002

125

e.    What exemptions would have covered the information that was released as a matter of discretion?

FOIA exemptions 2 and 5 would have covered the information that was released as a matter of discretion.

f.    How does your agency review records to determine whether discretionary releases are possible?

As referenced above, DOL issued agency specific guidance on making discretionary disclosures. That guidance, coupled with the guidance issued by DOJ's Office of Information Policy, serves as the basis for making determinations on disclosures as a matter of discretion. As a result of the decentralized FOIA program within the Department, agencies components make such determinations on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with program officials, subject area specialists, servicing legal counsel and others with expertise on the records at hand.

g.    Describe any other initiatives undertaken by your agency to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied?

In addition to the multiple guidance, communication, tracking and training actions discussed above that promote application of the presumption of openness in FOIA processing (see responses to Questions 1(a) through 1(f) in this Part I), during this reporting period OIS began a review of the administrative processes used by agency components' FOIA programs. OIS used the collaborative review process as an opportunity to emphasize discretionary and proactive disclosures, and to ensure that FOIA Coordinators had a clear understanding of the principles of openness outlined in the President Obama and Attorney General Holder's FOIA Guidelines. Many agency components reported efforts within their agencies to monitor FOIA requests to determine when responsive records may generate the interest of media or public interest groups.

2.    Report the extent to which the numbers of requests where records have been released in full and the numbers of request where records have been released in part has changed from those numbers as reported in DOL's previous year's Annual FOIA Report.

 

FY 2009

FY 2010

REQUESTS PROCESSED

16,810

17,625

FULL GRANTS

4,684

4,358

PARTIAL GRANTS

6,664

6,454

TOTAL NUMBER OF FULL AND PARTIAL GRANTS

11,348

10,812

During FY 2009, the Department of Labor processed 16,810 requests under FOIA. Of the 16,810 requests, 11,348 consisted of a combination of full and partial grants. This means that 67.5% of the total number of processed requests resulted in a release of information. By comparison, in FY 2010, DOL processed 17,625 requests. Of that total, 10,812 resulted in the release of information in full or in part. In the last fiscal year, DOL disclosed information in response to initial FOIA requests 61.3% of the time, an overall decrease of 6.2% from the prior year.

DOL's proactive disclosures through our web sites, both as proactive disclosures mandated under FOIA and the collaborative efforts of our Open Government team to publish high-quality data sets, may partially explain the slight decrease in full and partial disclosures between FY 2009 and FY 2010. As discussed in Part III(c) below, DOL is posting online extensive data sets that were previously only available by submitting a FOIA request. This data would have been released in full or part in response to such FOIA requests. Thus the proactive disclosure has likely had the effect of reducing the proportional number of FOIA responses that are granted in full or part. Further, the majority of FOIA requests received by DOL are for enforcement files, which contain personal information and confidential witness statements protected by exemptions (b)(6), (b)(7)(C) and (b)(7)(D) and therefore almost always result in partial grants of disclosure when such files are requested under FOIA. Similarly, requests for ongoing investigations, including those conducted by the IG, are denied in full or in part under exemption (b)(7)(A). As it relates to these types of records, DOL does not expect to see future significant increases in the number of requests that are granted in full or in part. On a quarterly basis, the Department continues to track the number of full and partial releases to ensure sufficient focus is being paid to this issue.

Part II:    Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency Has an Effective System in Place for Responding to Requests

Describe the steps your agency has taken to ensure that your system for responding to requests is effective and efficient.

a.    Do FOIA professionals within your agency have sufficient IT support?

The Department leverages available IT resources to the maximum extent possible to support effective FOIA operations throughout the Department. As explained under Part I, Question 1(a), DOL has a largely decentralized FOIA operation, and individual component agencies within DOL respond directly to FOIA requests about their programs and activities. At the same time, as further discussed under Part IV, DOL has established a centralized tracking database, the Secretary's Information Management System for FOIA or "SIMS-FOIA," which is used by all DOL agency components to track FOIA requests (with the exception of DOL's Office of Inspector General). SIMS-FOIA is centrally supported by DOL's Departmental Information Technology Center, which works with SOL's Office of Information Services, as the system owner, to ensure that SIMS-FOIA is functioning appropriately, to trouble shoot problems identified by system users, to run queries against the system to facilitate ad hoc reporting requirements and to implement system enhancements as necessary and appropriate. While SIMS-FOIA performs DOL's required tracking, logging and reporting requirements, the system does not have such capabilities as loading and redacting documents, issuing electronic acknowledgements, and directly responding to requesters. The resources to enhance the system are also limited. Further, because DOL has a decentralized FOIA program, whether particular FOIA components have sufficient IT assistance to support their FOIA work – which is a question of the availability of IT support, resources and electronic tools -- varies between FOIA components and locations.

b.    Describe how your agency's FOIA professionals interact with your Open Government Team.

The Office of Public Affairs (OPA) leads DOL's Open Government initiatives. The Open Government Team Leader within each agency component serves as a liaison between the component and OPA. The component Open Government Team Leader works with the respective FOIA Coordinator to identify records and data that are appropriate for public posting. That information is then conveyed to OPA for consideration in line with the established Open Government framework. To date, DOL has posted approximately 60 data sets on http://www.data.gov/, all of which are also available on the relevant agency's website and many of which are featured on http://www.dol.gov/open/. DOL's flagship initiative is searchable enforcement database – now in version 1.4 and available at http://www.dol.gov/enforcementdata/ – that provides the public with access to enforcement data collected by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), and Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The database brings together enforcement data from across the department in one location, allowing users to search along a series of common dimensions. In addition to the added value of aggregate information, this database also provides access to previously unpublished enforcement data that would have required a FOIA request in the past.

c.    Describe the steps your agency has taken to assess whether adequate staffing is being devoted to responding to FOIA requests.

Agency components allocate staff based on program needs, priorities, and available resources. Agency components report that their FOIA Office meets with the appropriate program area to review existing FOIA caseload and address whether adequate staff resources are being devoted to processing FOIA requests. As reported in the FY 2010 Annual FOIA Report, the number of "Full-Time FOIA Staff" at DOL increased by 16.58 over the numbers reported in FY2009. This increase includes three new OIS staff members.

d.    Describe any other steps your agency has undertaken to ensure that your FOIA system operates efficiently and effectively.

The Chief FOIA Officer has assigned OIS to ensure the continued monitoring and auditing of the data in SIMS-FOIA to ensure accuracy and reliability of the data it contains. This process includes updates to the user manual and refresher training to ensure that appropriate rules of behavior are employed by system users. In addition to the measures already noted, OIS has undertaken review of the FOIA processing and administrative procedures of DOL agency components in order to identify and share best practices. OIS expects to continue disseminating lessons from this review through trainings and regular FOIA Coordinator meetings. Additionally, DOL has established a number of performance metrics related to FOIA in order to promote accountability and keep focused on important aspects of effective FOIA administration. These milestones and measures are set up below in Part V in response to Question 3(a).

Part III:    Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures

Describe the steps your agency has taken to increase the amount of material that is available on your agency's website, including providing examples of proactive disclosures that have been made since issuance of the new FOIA Guidelines.

a.    Has your agency added new material to your agency website since last year?

Yes. The Department of Labor remains committed to increasing proactive disclosures. Most of the agencies within the Department actively post and update materials in their electronic reading rooms. This practice is in addition to DOL's Open Government initiatives. The Department is also continually looking for ways to expand the information posted on our public facing web sites to better serve the public and ultimately reduce the public's need to file FOIA requests and to also decrease the number of FOIA requests for the same materials.

As discussed under Part II, Question (b), DOL has posted approximately 60 data sets on http://www.data.gov/, all of which are also available on the relevant agency's website and many of which are featured on http://www.dol.gov/open/. DOL's flagship initiative is a searchable enforcement database – now in version 1.4 and available at http://www.dol.gov/enforcementdata/ – that provides the public with access to enforcement data collected by the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA), Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA), and Wage and Hour Division (WHD). The database brings together enforcement data from across the department in one location, allowing users to search along a series of common dimensions. In addition to the added value of aggregate information, this database also provides access to previously unpublished enforcement data that would have required a FOIA request in the past.

b.    What types of records have been posted?

Program-specific records that are deemed to be the most valuable to the customers of individual agency components have been published. Examples include: fatality reports, investigation summaries, program or enforcement statistics, regulations and internal guidance, standard and ad hoc reports, and fact sheets.

c.    Give examples of the types of records your agency now posts that used to be available only by making a FOIA request for them.

The following is a sampling of Department FOIA Reading Room materials that have been added to agency websites since March 2010 and that agency components report were previously available only through FOIA request:

    • DOL's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) has begun proactively posting online the full data set of Form 5500 data, information which previously was only available through request.
    • The Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) post accident investigation information, program or enforcement statistics, inspection and violation history, safety and health legislation and regulations. MSHA also posts accident investigation reports and a listing of mine addresses in advance of FOIA requests. Following recent mine accidents, such as the April 2010 disaster at the Upper Big Branch mine discussed at the end of this report, MSHA proactively established web pages where it posted voluminous information such as mine plans, maps, prior citations, and inspection reports.
    • The Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs (OCIA) posts grant and Congressional information (including Congressional testimonies and notifications).
    • OSHA posts weekly fatality reports; chemical exposure health data; employment specific injury and illness rates; worker fatality reports; and fatality and catastrophic investigation summaries.
    • The Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) posts notices of proposed rule making changes, publication updates, Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA) Part B and Part E data statistics, Defense Base Act casualty statistics and Industry Report Cards showing insurance carrier timeliness results.
    • The Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS) posts Compliance Audit Program and International-Compliance Audit Program closing letters; Assistant Secretary decisions and orders in Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) cases; Form LM-2 Hardship Determinations; Transit Employee Protection determinations; and election and trusteeship case decisions.
    • The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) posts the Registered Farm Labor Contractor Certification list. This list contains the name and physical address of all current certificate holders, as well as the expiration date and the certificate number generated by WHD. This list also indicates if a contractor has been authorized to house workers, to use vehicles to transport workers, or to drive such vehicles.

d.    What system do you have in place to routinely identify records that are appropriate for posting?

Most agency components report having routine meetings to discuss which records are appropriate for posting to their respective electronic FOIA reading rooms.

e.    How do you utilize social media in disseminating information?

DOL uses social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube to disseminate useful information about the Department's programs. As a sampling of these activities:

    • Using YouTube videos to promote workplace safety -- OSHA uses YouTube to post instructional videos that explain the importance of respirators, which are used – and misused – by millions of employees across the country. Videos posted in both English and Spanish have been viewed nearly 30,000 times, and a number of users have reported positive feedback. While these videos are also available on OSHA's web site, having this information available on a consumer oriented site like YouTube has lead to increased exposure. Based on positive feedback, DOL is in the process of producing similar instructional videos.
    • Using crowd-sourcing to help Job Seekers Connect to Jobs -- The Employment and Training Administration (ETA) made its first foray into crowd-sourcing, utilizing the IdeaScale platform to conduct the "Tools for America's Job Seekers Challenge." Organizations and entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to add their job search and career development web sites to the platform, and the public then voted on their favorites. More than 16,000 people participated on the site, casting more than 32,000 votes. The leaders in each category are now featured at our One-Stop Career Centers around the country, and this compilation of more than 600 job search sites will live on as a resource for those looking for employment. The use of this new technology allowed a small group of committed employees to take on this project at a fraction of the cost of a similar effort to survey the landscape of job search sites available nationwide.
    • Using Web Chats to Provide Unprecedented Access to DOL Experts -- In addition to conducting live web chats on DOL's budget, regulatory agenda, and strategic planning process, DOL has also used chat technology to give the public the opportunity to provide feedback on a number of other useful initiatives. Our worker protection agencies have used live chats to get feedback on upcoming rules. The Women's Bureau used live chats to talk about job opportunities for women in green technologies, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics conducted a live discussion on the release of the March employment report featuring statistical experts from their Current Population Survey (CPS) and Current Employment Statistics (CES) programs.

f.    Describe any other steps taken to increase proactive disclosures of information at your agency.

During the latter portion of FY 2010 and the first quarter of FY 2011, the Office of Information Services conducted FOIA agency reviews. The reviews were primarily aimed at assessing FOIA operations within DOL and identify administrative best practices and deficiencies, but these reviews also provided OIS with the opportunity to provide agency-specific guidance on a number of issues, including increasing proactive disclosures of information.

Part IV:    Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology

1.    Electronic receipt of FOIA requests:

a.    What proportion of the components within your agency which receive FOIA requests have the capability to receive such requests electronically?

Consistent with DOL's implementing regulations at 29 CFR Part 70, only the Office of the Solicitor can receive FOIA requests electronically on behalf of all agency components.

b.    To what extent have you increased the number of components doing so since the filing of your last Chief FOIA Officer Report?

DOL has not increased the number of DOL agency components which have the capability to receive FOIA requests electronically.

c.    What methods does your agency use to receive requests electronically?

FOIA requesters may only submit FOIA request electronically via the central FOIA mailbox at foiarequest@dol.gov. Once a request has been logged and assigned a tracking number, requesters can track the status of their request using DOL's FOIA web portal.

2.    Electronic tracking of FOIA requests:

a.    What proportion of components within your agency which receive FOIA request have the capability to track such requests electronically?

The Department has established a fully functional centralized FOIA control and tracking system - the Secretary's Information Management System for FOIA (SIMS-FOIA) to electronically track FOIA requests that are received by the Department. Since2009, all DOL agencies and offices, except the Office of Inspector General (OIG), have integrated SIMS-FOIA into their FOIA response procedures. The OIG has its own tracking system that mirrors SIMS-FOIA.

b.    To what extent have you increased the number of components doing so since the filing of your last Chief FOIA Officer Report?

All components of DOL are using electronic tracking methodology.

c.    What methods does your agency use to track requests electronically?

As stated previously, centralized tracking is accomplished through the use of the SIMS-FOIA tracking system, an internal tracking database specifically designed for DOL. A separate, in house, tracking system mirroring SIMS-FOIA was designed for the use of the DOL IG.

3.    Electronic processing of FOIA requests:

a.    What proportion of components within your agency which receive FOIA request have the capability to process such requests electronically?

While DOL uses SIMS-FOIA as an electronic tracking, logging and reporting system for FOIA requests, the system does not include such capabilities as loading and redacting documents, and issuing electronic acknowledgements and disclosure responses to requesters. As noted, DOL has a very decentralized FOIA program. Some agency components, based on available resources and the volume of FOIA requests, have been able to invest in electronic redaction technology. Use of this technology, however, is not available across DOL and IT support may vary by the particular DOL component and location. Most agencies use other electronic tools such as scanners, CDs, email, and internal databases for retrieval and processing of FOIA requests.

b.    To what extent have you increased the number of components doing so since the filing of your last Chief FOIA Officer Report?

Due to the decentralized nature of DOL's FOIA program, resource limitations, and the system limitations of the existing Departmental tracking database, DOL has not significantly increased the number of components having the capability to process requests electronically.

c.    What methods does your agency use to process requests electronically?

See above.

4.    Electronic preparation of your annual FOIA Report:

a.    What type of technology does your agency use to prepare your agency Annual FOIA Report, i.e., specify whether the technology is FOIA specific or a generic data-processing system?

The SIMS-FOIA database is used to capture nearly all of the data required for completing the Department of Labor FOIA Annual Report. As previously noted, all parts of DOL use SIMS-FOIA to log and track FOIA requests except for DOL's Office of Inspector General. Additionally, FOIA cost and staffing data for the annual report are not included in the SIMS-FOIA database.

b.    If you are not satisfied with your existing system to prepare your Annual FOIA report, describe the steps you have taken to increase your use of technology next year.

SIMS-FOIA currently provides the functionality needed to capture the data necessary to prepare DOL's Annual FOIA Report. OIS continues to work with the Department's Information Technology Center to monitor system functionality and accuracy of the data it reports, and to add enhancements as resources permit. We are also keeping an eye toward life cycle management issues related to SIMS-FOIA.

Part V:    Steps Taken to Reduce Backlogs and Improve Timeliness in Responding to Requests

1.    If your agency has a backlog, report whether that backlog is decreasing. That reduction should be measured in two ways:

First, report whether the number of backlogged requests and backlogged administrative appeals that remain pending at the end of the fiscal year decreased or increased, and by how many, when compared with last fiscal year.

Backlog Comparison – Initial FOIA Requests

 

Number of Backlogged
Requests as of End FY2009

Number of Backlogged
Requests as of End of FY2010

DOL OVERALL

619

503

The U.S. Department of Labor has exceeded its FY 2010 backlog reduction goal of 10% for initial FOIA requests. Since the end of FY 2009, DOL has reduced its FOIA backlog by 18.7%.

Backlog Comparison –FOIA Appeals

 

Number of Backlogged
Appeals as of End of FY2009

Number of Backlogged
Appeals as of End of FY2010

DOL OVERALL

178

143

The U.S. Department of Labor continues to work to reduce the number of appeals pending with the agency. Since the end of FY 2009, DOL has reduced its backlog of FOIA appeals by 19.7%.

Second, report whether your agency closed in Fiscal Year 2010 the ten oldest of those pending requests and appeals from Fiscal Year 2009, and if not, report how many of them your agency did close.

FY 2009 – 10 Oldest Pending Initial FOIA Requests at DOL

 

10th Oldest
Request
and
Number
of Days
Pending

9th

8th

7th

6th

5th

4th

3rd

2nd

Oldest
Request
and
Number
of Days
Pending

Date

# days

8-11-08

286

7-1-08

310

2-26-08

412

2-8-08

424

1-24-08

456

10-22-07

488

9-25-07

500

9-11-07

510

8-13-07

536

7-5-07

562

FY 2010 – 10 Oldest Pending Initial FOIA Requests at DOL

 

10th Oldest
Request
and
Number
of Days
Pending

9th

8th

7th

6th

5th

4th

3rd

2nd

Oldest
Request
and
Number
of Days
Pending

Date

# days

9-4-07

763

8-29-07

766

8-13-07

787

6-11-07

826

6-8-07

832

5-9-07

844

3-27-07

875

2-15-07

905

11-15-06

973

10-5-06

997

During FY 2010, the Department closed eight initial requests that had been included within the ten oldest requests reported during FY 2009. The two remaining requests are being processed as expeditiously as possible. More consistent use of the SIMS-FOIA system in this reporting period has allowed identification of requests that were previously unaccounted for.

FY 2009 – 10 Oldest Pending FOIA Appeals at DOL

 

10th Oldest
Appeal
and
Number
of Days
Pending

9th

8th

7th

6th

5th

4th

3rd

2nd

Oldest
Appeal
and
Number
of Days
Pending

Date

# days

8-7-07

785

7-18-07

805

5-22-07

862

4-18-07

896

3-23-07

922

2-28-07

945

1-31-07

973

4-13-06

1266

4-11-06

1268

10-13-05

1448

FY 2010 – 10 Oldest Pending FOIA Appeals at DOL

 

10th Oldest
Appeal
and
Number
of Days
Pending

9th

8th

7th

6th

5th

4th

3rd

2nd

Oldest
Appeal
and
Number
of Days
Pending

Date

# days

07-16-08

807

07-10-08

813

07-07-08

816

05-14-08

870

05-14-08

870

05-02-08

882

05-02-08

882

04-11-08

903

02-19-08

955

05-22-07

1228

During FY 2010, the Department closed nine FOIA appeals that had been included within the ten oldest appeals reported during FY 2009. The remaining appeal is being processed as expeditiously as possible:

2.    If there has not been a reduction in the backlog as measured by either of these metrics, describe why that has occurred.

a.    Is the backlog increase a result of an increase in the number of incoming requests or appeals?

As noted above, DOL has decreased its backlog of both initial FOIA requests and appeals.

b.    Is the backlog increase caused by a loss of staff?

N/A

c.    Is the backlog increase caused by an increase in the complexity of the requests received?

N/A

d.    What other causes, if any, contributed to the increase in backlog?

N/A

3.    Describe the steps your agency is taking to reduce backlogs and to improve timeliness in responding to request and administrative appeals.

a.    Does your agency routinely set goals and monitor the progress of your FOIA caseload?

Yes, consistent with the Open Government Directive, DOL has established an FY 2011 Backlog Reduction Plan. This Plan is distributed among DOL's FOIA Coordinators and posted to our public facing FOIA website at http://www.dol.gov/sol/foia/11backlog.htm. SOL has also established FOIA related milestones and process measures to monitor FOIA compliance within OIS and across the Department as a whole. Those goals are as follows:

Milestones

    • Milestone 1 – During FY 2011, OIS will conduct quarterly reviews of the discretionary disclosures pursuant to President Obama's FOIA policy made by each of DOL's 23 FOIA components, using information available in SIMS-FOIA.
    • Milestone 2 – During FY 2011, OIS will conduct quarterly reviews of the discretionary disclosures pursuant to President Obama's FOIA policy made by each of DOL's 23 FOIA components, using information available in SIMS-FOIA.
    • Milestone 3 – During FY 2011, OIS staff will conduct policy reviews of the existing FOIA standard operating procedures of each of DOL's 23 FOIA components, to ensure compliance with FOIA requirements and to identify best practices.
    • Milestone 4 – During FY 2011, OIS, in conjunction with SOL/MALS legal staff, will conduct at least 5 training sessions related to the implementation of the FOIA and Privacy Act.

Process Measures

    • Measure 1 – In FY 2011, DOL's FOIA components will provide on-time responses to initial FOIA requests (that is, within the 20 working days mandated by statute) for 75% of all initial FOIA requests processed in the "Simple" queue; and 60% of all initial FOIA requests processed in the "Complex" queue.
    • Measure 2 – By the end of FY 2011, DOL's FOIA components will reduce the number of DOL backlogged FOIA requests by 10%.
    • Measure 3 – OIS will respond on time to 100% of FOIA related data calls and reports, including the Annual FOIA and Chief FOIA Officer Reports.
    • Measure 4 – To facilitate timely responses by DOL FOIA components to FOIA requests submitted to DOL's central e-mail intake box (foiarequest@dol.gov), OIS will acknowledge and route these requests to the agency components that are likely to maintain responsive records within 2 business days.

b.    Has your agency increased its FOIA staffing?

Yes. Since FY 2009, the number of "Full-Time FOIA Staff" at DOL increased by 16.58. Most importantly, in FY 2010, DOL established a central FOIA administrative office – the Office of Information Services, which currently has a staff of four and serves as the focal point for coordinating FOIA improvement efforts within DOL.

c.    Has your agency made IT improvements to increase timeliness?

No. DOL has not made any IT improvements specifically aimed at improving timeliness. The Chief FOIA Officer continues to seek out and explore best practices in technology available to streamline FOIA processes.

d.    Has your agency Chief FOIA Officer been involved in overseeing your agency's capacity to process requests?

The Chief FOIA Officer has been instrumental in fostering support for the agency's FOIA initiatives. The Chief FOIA Officer was key to establishment of the Department's new Office of Information Services in FY 2010 and has overseen DOL's FOIA activities throughout the year. The Chief FOIA Officer or senior level officials in her office meet regularly with the office responsible for both OIS and FOIA legal advice, and seek regular updates on the Department's FOIA initiatives and improvement plans. In September 2010, the Chief FOIA Officer and the OIS Director met with the National Archive's Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) to discuss DOL's FOIA administration and areas for improved customer service. In December 2010, the Chief FOIA Officer issued a memo to all DOL agency heads, FOIA disclosure officers and FOIA professionals encouraging open government practices, emphasizing the importance of effective FOIA operations at DOL, and noting that, at her direction, OIS would be working with agency components to ensure that DOL's performance metrics on timeliness of FOIA responses and reduction of backlogged FOIA requests (Measures 1 and 2 quoted in response to Part V Question 3(a) above) are met.

Spotlight on Success

Describe one success story that you would like to highlight as emblematic of your agency's efforts to enhance FOIA processing in terms of ensuring transparency, making discretionary disclosures, increasing productivity and/or backlog reduction.

On April 5, 2010, 29 miners perished following a catastrophic explosion at the Upper Big Branch Mine in Raleigh County, West Virginia. The disaster created an immediate inflow of FOIA requests to the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA). Response to this extraordinary FOIA workload required search, collection and coordination from several MSHA components, and review of voluminous records. Due to the intense public and mining community interest, as well as the likelihood of litigation, consultation regarding record disclosure and redaction was required with the Department of Justice and various offices and entities within the Department of Labor, including MSHA's accident investigation team and the Solicitor's Office.

MSHA created an Upper Big Branch Single Source Page on its website -- http://www.msha.gov/PerformanceCoal/PerformanceCoal.asp -- and very quickly posted enforcement actions and related inspector notes for 18 months preceding the accident. MSHA was able to review and place approved ventilation plans and modifications on the website in a very short timeframe. In short, even while being overwhelmed with FOIA and media requests, MSHA was able to provide the mining community and the general public with access to the documents most in demand related to this major accident. Public access to this material significantly limited the number and/or scope of FOIA requests for information related to the disaster.