Description of Agency FOIA Program
The Department of Labor (DOL) is a widely diverse agency whose activities include, among others, law-enforcement programs such as the occupational safety and health and mine safety and health programs, wage standards and child labor programs, and programs to protect the pensions of American workers. They also include benefit programs such as workers compensation and unemployment compensation programs, job training initiatives, and a variety of informational and statistical activities.
Because of this diversity, the Department operates a decentralized FOIA program at the initial request level. Each of the Department's agencies or offices has been given flexibility to design a program that meets its needs. Most agencies have delegated their disclosure responsibilities to officials at the Office Director or Division Chief level in Washington as well as to their regional offices. The Mine Safety and Health Administration and the Office of Workers Compensation Programs have delegated their field FOIA responsibilities to their district offices, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration has delegated field-level FOIA responsibilities to its area offices. Some small agencies handle all of their FOIA requests centrally in Washington. A list, of disclosure officers arranged by title, can be found at 29 CFR Part 70, App. A. The Department's FOIA appeal function is centralized in the Office of the Solicitor (SOL).
Most requests are to be sent directly to the agency that has custody of the records being sought. A requester who does not know where the records are located may send its requests to the Office of the Solicitor, and SOL will then forward them to the FOIA coordinator for the appropriate agency or agencies. The normal practice is for each agency to respond to requests separately. When it is determined that responsive records may be located in multiple agencies, SOL provides any necessary coordination of the Department's response. If SOL determines that a consolidated response is appropriate, it will issue such a response on behalf of the Department.
The Office of the Solicitor provides legal advice to agency disclosure officers regarding initial FOIA requests. A separate staff within SOL assists in the preparation of FOIA appeals decisions. The Office of the Solicitor has also periodically conducted FOIA training courses for DOL employees.
The number and nature of FOIA requests varies greatly from agency to agency. For example, in FY 2005, the Department received 23,505 FOIA requests nationwide. Of this number, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration accounted for almost half, 11,423. Approximately 95 percent of these requests to OSHA are for investigation files maintained in regional and area offices. These requests are usually made by lawyers involved in private litigation arising out of a matter that DOL investigated. In other agencies, the nature of the requests may differ substantially.
The Department of Labor has recently issued FOIA regulations to revise the regulations that were last updated in 1989. See 29 CFR Part 70Revision of the Department of Labor Freedom of Information Act Regulations and Implementation of Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996, 71 FR 30762 (May 30, 2006). Among the revisions were changes in fees, disclosure officers, and other responsibilities under the FOIA program, and revisions to allow the acceptance of e-mail requests and appeals and to reflect practices under the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996.
Following the promulgation of Executive Order 13392, the Department of Labor took several steps to implement its provisions. It designated Robert Shapiro, Associate Solicitor for the Office of Legal Counsel in the Office of the Solicitor, as its Chief FOIA Officer. It designated Barbara Bingham, Director, Office of Compliance Assistance Policy in the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Policy, as its Public Liaison, and it has established FOIA Service Centers in components throughout the Department. The Department has posted contact information for these officials on its Web site, along with a comprehensive list of the Service Centers established by the Department of Labor under the Executive Order. See http://www.dol.gov/dol/foia/RequestorServiceCenters.htm.
In addition, the Department's Chief FOIA Officer engaged in extensive outreach efforts to inform Labor Department officials of the new responsibilities prescribed by the Executive Order. He briefed the Department's Management Review Board (consisting of DOL agency heads) on the objectives of the Executive Order and the steps being taken to implement it. He conducted a similar briefing for key management officials in each agency through the Department's Chief Financial Officer's Council.
He briefed the Administrative Officers of each of the DOL agencies about the Order and sought their input concerning the optimum structure for the Department's FOIA Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaison(s). He provided them with a memorandum describing the Order's key provisions and asking their assistance in providing information needed to prepare the Report/Plan that the Order directs each government agency to submit. He also engaged in discussions with officials within DOL to obtain further information and assistance that would be useful. He has made himself available to brief individual DOL agencies about the Order and its implementation.
Finally, he briefed the leadership of the Department's national and field office labor unions to describe the Order and explain how it might affect its members.