U.S. Department of Labor
2014 Chief FOIA Officer Report
M. Patricia Smith
Solicitor of Labor/DOL Chief FOIA Officer
Section I: Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness
The guiding principle underlying the President's FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines is the presumption of openness.
Describe the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied to all decisions involving the FOIA. To do so, you should answer the questions listed below and then include any additional information you would like to describe how your agency is working to apply the presumption of openness.
- Did your agency hold an agency FOIA conference, or otherwise conduct training during this reporting period?
Yes. The Department of Labor (DOL) held multiple FOIA training programs during this reporting period as described below.
- If so, please provide the number of conferences or trainings held, a brief description of the topics covered, and an estimate of the number of participants from your agency who were in attendance.
2013 Annual FOIA Training Conference: On August 20 - 22, 2013, the Office of the Solicitor (SOL), through the Office of Information Services (OIS), which serves as DOL's overall FOIA administrative manager, hosted the Department's Fifth Annual FOIA Training Conference. The three half-day event was themed, "Transformation 2.0: Transparency, Innovation and the Way Forward," and was designed to train Department of Labor access professionals on a variety of FOIA topics, both administrative and legal. Conference speakers included attorneys and FOIA professionals from across the Department and M. Patricia Smith, DOL's Chief FOIA Officer, provided the key note address. The interactive training was presented via webcast and made available to approximately 400 DOL staff members nationwide. OIS has published the training materials and videos of each presentation to our internal webpage for future viewing and self-paced learning opportunities.
Quarterly Departmental FOIA Coordinators Meetings: OIS continued to hold quarterly meetings with FOIA Coordinators who represent each of DOL's 23 FOIA agency components. These meetings provided an opportunity to disseminate information, advance the annual agenda established by the Chief FOIA Officer, offer on-the-spot training on the application of FOIA exemptions, provide guidance on the considerations involved in evaluating "foreseeable harm" in regards to potential discretionary disclosures, discuss administrative processing matters, share best practices in customer service and related topics and focus on the importance of overall backlog reduction, with emphasis on closing the ten oldest requests each year.
FOIA Forums: OIS conducted a series of small, informal training sessions commonly referred to as "FOIA Forums." During this reporting cycle, FOIA Forums have included sessions on Best Practices in Customer Service, Use of the Secretary's Information Management System for FOIA (SIMS-FOIA) and Alternative Dispute Resolution.
Monthly FOIA Teleconferences: OIS instituted monthly FOIA Teleconferences during the first quarter of FY 2014. The purpose for the monthly meetings is to update FOIA staff on "hot topics", issues of concern, offer guidance on FOIA matters as they arise, as well as offer an informal environment that allows Coordinators to speak with candor when addressing concerns or raising questions regarding everyday issues they encounter while processing FOIA requests. Participation in these meetings is mandatory for each agency component with a backlog of pending requests.
Other training: National Office FOIA Coordinators report that they have provided regular and recurring component specific training to FOIA staff in their agency on various issues including processing protocols, agency specific disclosure policies, discretionary disclosures, exemptions 4 and EO 12,600, electronic redactions, fees and fee waivers, and records management.
- Did your FOIA professionals attend any FOIA training, such as that provided by the Department of Justice?
In addition to the multiple DOL-sponsored training opportunities discussed above, DOL FOIA professionals have taken advantage of outside FOIA training opportunities, including FOIA-related courses offered by DOJ's Office of Legal Education, briefings and webinars hosted by DOJ's Office of Information Policy, and FOIA and Privacy Act seminars offered by the Graduate School USA and the American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP).
- Provide an estimate of the percentage of your FOIA professionals who attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period.
All of the FOIA personnel employed at DOL had the opportunity to participate in the various FOIA training opportunities referenced above. We estimate that 95% of the FOIA professionals within the Department have taken FOIA training during this reporting period. This information has been certified by registration at the Annual FOIA Conference, attendance at FOIA Forums and verification by the National Office FOIA Coordinators representing each of DOL's 23 FOIA components.
- OIP has issued guidance that every agency should make core, substantive FOIA training available to all their FOIA professionals at least once each year. Provide your agency's plan for ensuring that such training is offered to all agency FOIA professionals by March 2015. Your plan should anticipate an upcoming reporting requirement for your 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports that will ask whether all agency FOIA professionals attended substantive FOIA training in the past year.
As indicated above, DOL offers FOIA Training annually and has plans to host its 6th annual conference in June of 2014. As in the past we will make this training available to all staff, both here in the National Office and those across the country who can join via webcast. To underscore the training provided at the conference, the Chief FOIA Officer has charged OIS with hosting FOIA Forums on FOIA Exemptions, Redaction Methodology, Making Discretionary Disclosures, and Fees and Fee Waivers. Finally, on December 18, 2013, OIS issued a FOIA Bulletin advising staff of the FOIA and Privacy Act related training opportunities offered by the Department of Justice and the Graduate School USA during FY2014.
- Did your FOIA professionals engage in any outreach and dialogue with the requester community or open government groups regarding your administration of the FOIA? If so, please briefly discuss that engagement.
The DOL FOIA Public Liaison remains in constant contact with requesters, including public advocacy and open government groups, concerning the Department's FOIA policy. Consistent with the statutory role of that position, the FOIA Public Liaison has been an able resource in help in to negotiate the scope of extremely broad requests, fostering an understanding of the types of records created and maintained by the Department, resolving administrative processing matters such as fees and fee waivers, reducing delays, and assisting in the resolution of disputes.
Further, senior staff from DOL attended the "open government" meeting called by the Deputy Associate White House Counsel where we discussed concerns raised by the "open government" requester community with regard to executive branch agencies carrying out the President's initiative on Open Government. OIS used information gained from that meeting to establish an agenda, training materials and learning objectives for our FOIA Forum on Customer Service.
In his 2009 FOIA Guidelines, the Attorney General strongly encouraged agencies to make discretionary releases of information even when the information might be technically exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. OIP encourages agencies to make such discretionary releases whenever there is no foreseeable harm from release.
- Does your agency have a formal process in place to review records for discretionary release? If so, please briefly describe this process. If your agency is decentralized, please specify whether all components at your agency have a process in place for making discretionary releases.
Yes. The Office of the Solicitor issued Departmental guidance on making discretionary disclosures. This guidance builds on the general guidance issued by DOJ on when and how to make "discretionary disclosures" under FOIA, providing detailed information to assist in guiding decisions on discretionary disclosures based on knowledge of Departmental programs and the nature and character of the records DOL creates in carrying out its mission. It reminded DOL's FOIA professionals that in response to specific FOIA requests, DOL agency components should not only disclose the information that the FOIA requires to be disclosed, but also make every effort to make discretionary disclosures of information where there is no foreseeable harm in doing so. This message had been underscored by the DOL Chief FOIA Officer in her keynote address at the DOL FOIA Conference as well as in formal and informal sessions conducted by the Office of Information Services and agency component specific forums. To help ensure that an appropriate analysis of whether to make a discretionary disclosure is considered as a part of processing each FOIA request received, DOL also modified its FOIA tracking system to add a mandatory field that tracks, for each request, whether a disclosure was made as a matter of discretion. If the user indicates that a discretionary disclosure was made, the user must also identify which FOIA exemption could have been applied to withhold the information in question from disclosure. The large agency components report that they have established processing protocols to help their FOIA staffs make informed determinations regarding the assessment of a foreseeable harm in disclosure. Others report auditing reporting data to make sure that subordinate staffs are complying with the existing guidance on discretionary disclosures.
- During the reporting period did your agency make any discretionary releases of otherwise exempt information?
Yes. DOL routinely makes disclosures of otherwise exempt information as a matter of discretion.
- What exemptions would have covered the information that was released as a matter of discretion?
Discretionary disclosures were made of material that could have been withheld under FOIA exemptions 2 and 5 among others.
- Provide a narrative description, or some examples of, the types of information that your agency released as a matter of discretion.
DOL FOIA professionals report that the following types of records have been disclosed as a matter of discretion: training materials; climate surveys (office morale) for processing centers; draft, unpublished or incomplete reports; technical proposals for grants; notes and recommendations in case files; inspector's notes; accident investigation materials; incident settlement agreements; documents related to ongoing investigations; drafts; and, pre-decisional policy documents.
- If your agency was not able to make any discretionary releases of information, please explain why.
- Did your agency post all of the required quarterly FOIA reports for Fiscal Year 2013? If not, please explain why not and what your plan is for ensuring that such reporting is successfully accomplished for Fiscal Year 2014.
Yes. The Department of Labor posted all of the required quarterly FOIA reports for Fiscal Year 2013 to our public facing FOIA webpage. In addition to the DOJ requirement to post those reports in a machine readable format, DOL has chosen to publish them in a human readable format as well. The quarterly reports are available at http://www.dol.gov/general/foia. It is our understanding that technical difficulties identified by the Department of Justice prevented these reports from appearing on FOIA.gov. The technical issues have now been resolved.
- Describe any other initiatives undertaken by your agency to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied. If any of these initiatives are online, please provide links in your description.
As a part of the overall improvement of DOL's decentralized FOIA program, under direction of the Chief FOIA Officer, OIS continues to promote initiatives that are aimed at improving the FOIA administrative processes across DOL. The Department continues to work towards: improved customer service to our internal and external customers by providing clear and consistent FOIA responses; increased transparency by continuing to make discretionary disclosures of information where there is no foreseeable harm; and expanding DOL affirmative disclosures through the agency website and other mechanisms. Our FOIA websites, including our enhanced FOIA Libraries, are online at http://www.dol.gov/general/foia.
Section II: Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency Has an Effective System in Place for Responding to Requests
As the Attorney General emphasized in his FOIA Guidelines, "[a]pplication of the proper disclosure standard is only one part of ensuring transparency. Open government requires not just a presumption of disclosure, but also an effective system for responding to FOIA requests." It is essential that agencies effectively manage their FOIA program.
Describe here the steps your agency has taken to ensure that your management of your FOIA program is effective and efficient. To do so, answer the questions below and then include any additional information that you would like to describe how your agency ensures that your FOIA system is efficient and effective.
During Sunshine Week 2012 OPM announced the creation of a new job series entitled the Government Information Series, to address the work performed by FOIA and Privacy Act professionals. Creation of this distinct job series was a key element in recognizing the professional nature of their work.
- Has your agency converted all of its FOIA professionals to the new Government Information Specialist job series?
Yes. Consistent with Office of Personnel Management's Position Classification Flysheet for Government Information Series, GS-0306, issued in March 2012, DOL agency components have converted all full time FOIA professionals to the new Government Information Specialist job series. Please note, however, that each DOL agency has unique programmatic priorities and that most staff are actively involved in many other areas besides FOIA. In those cases, conversion to the Government Information Specialist job series would not be feasible.
- If not, what proportion of personnel has been converted to the new job series?
- If not, what is your plan to ensure that all FOIA professionals' position descriptions are converted?
- For Fiscal Year 2013 did your agency maintain an average of ten or less calendar days to adjudicate requests for expedited processing? If not, describe the steps your agency will take to ensure that requests for expedited processing are adjudicated within ten calendar days or less.
No. Labor did not maintain an average of 10 less calendar days to adjudicate requests for expedited processing. DOL will continue to monitor the progress of our agency components to encourage prompt responses to requests seeking expedited processing, issue additional guidance on this topic and offer training to help staff make determinations on when to grant or deny such requests.
- Has your agency taken any steps to make the handling of consultations and referrals more efficient and effective, such as entering into agreements with other agencies or components on how to handle certain categories or types of records involving shared equities so as to avoid the need for a consultation or referral altogether, or otherwise implementing procedures that speed up or eliminate the need for consultations. If so, please describe those steps.
No. The agency receives a limited number of requests that require consultation or referral outside the Department and those that we do receive are typically processed in a timely manner. Accordingly the agency has not taken steps to change our processes regarding records requiring consultations with other agencies. DOL does not have original classification or declassification authority; therefore, establishing inter-agency agreements on shared equities are not applicable to DOL's FOIA program.
- Do you use e-mail or other electronic means to communicate with requesters when feasible?
Yes. DOL agency components communicate with requesters via email.
- Does your agency notify requesters of the mediation services offered by the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at NARA?
Yes. When requester's concerns come to the attention of the DOL FOIA Public Liaison and the matter cannot be resolved within the Department, requesters are advised that they can seek assistance from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). DOL does not routinely notify requesters of OGIS's services in our letters affirming denials on appeals.
- Describe any other steps your agency has undertaken to ensure that your FOIA system operates efficiently and effectively, such as conducting self-assessments to find greater efficiencies, improving search processes, eliminating redundancy, etc.
DOL, through its Office of Information Services, continues to monitor all aspects of SIMS-FOIA to assure that the system operates efficiently and effectively. As explained in the FY2013 Chief FOIA Officer report, DOL conducted an audit of data in SIMS-FOIA to ensure complete processing of FOIA requests received by the Department as well as to obtain the most accurate data for FOIA reporting purposes. As part of this audit, we located a large number of records that had been improperly listed in the FOIA request system with a pending "Action Required" or "AR" code. When records are in an "AR" status, SIMS-FOIA does not track them for timeliness or any other processing milestone. An early review of our progress to reconcile the data indicated that the FY2012 efforts were successful. However, as we began preparing data for the FY2013 report, we located an additional number of requests that remained in "AR" status at the close of FY2012; meaning requests were received by DOL in FY2012, but were not converted for processing and tracking purposes until after the close of the fiscal year. Those additional requests have been reconciled. We now believe that the Department has accounted for all outstanding requests as part of this ongoing audit of the system.
Section III: Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures
Both the President and Attorney General focused on the need for agencies to work proactively to post information online without waiting for individual requests to be received.
Describe here the steps your agency has taken both to increase the amount of material that is available on your agency website, and the usability of such information, including providing examples of proactive disclosures that have been made during this past reporting period (i.e., from March 2013 to March 2014). In doing so, answer the questions listed below and describe any additional steps taken by your agency to make and improve proactive disclosures of information.
- Do your FOIA professionals have a system in place to identify records for proactive disclosures?
- If so, describe the system that is in place.
Many agency components report targeted efforts within their agencies to monitor FOIA requests to determine when responsive records may generate interest in the public at large. This effort has helped agency components make determinations on when to affirmatively publish information and data to their public facing websites. The Office of Public Affairs (OPA) leads DOL's Open Government initiatives, which embraces the expanded utilization of websites and social media tools to proactively engage stakeholders and the public at large in the work of the Department. 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. While each DOL agency is responsible for the quality of its own web content, OPA has facilitated the implementation of several enterprise solutions to improve accessibility, accuracy and ongoing improvements in the information DOL makes publicly available. DOL continues to look for opportunities to make affirmative and proactive disclosures through our websites and FOIA Libraries, as well as through our open government portals.
- Provide examples of material that your agency has posted this past reporting period, including links to where this material can be found online.
With more frequency and in greater volume, components posted FOIA logs, annual reports, policy guidance, historical reports, mission reports, government purchase card holder lists, strategic plans, contracts information, contract listings, lists of accessioned documents, press releases, testimonies and speeches, workplace accident reports, investigations, audit reports, proposals and abstracts for grant applications, reports to Congress, Congressional hearings, Equal Employment Opportunity (EEO) complaint data, veterans information and links on worker healthy living. The Office of the Solicitor, Office of Information Services has enhanced the Department's FOIA main page by updating and adding materials such as the Freedom of Information Act Desk Reference Guide and National FOIA Directory. Several links have been updated to assist the general public in obtaining FOIA information and guidance from sources other than the U.S. Department of Labor.
As indicated, each DOL agency component is responsible forposting and updating its own web content, including affirmative disclosures posted in its FOIA Library. Information posted in each component's FOIA Library can be found at http://www.dol.gov/general/foia. Data sets concerning enforcement actions, employment, wages, and other high value materials that have been made publicly available as part of the Departments Open Government initiatives can be located at http://www.dol.gov/open.
Making Posted Material More Useful:
- Beyond posting new material, is your agency taking steps to make the posted information more useful to the public, especially to the community of individuals who regularly access your agency's website, such as soliciting feedback on the content and presentation of posted material, improving search capabilities on the site, posting material in open formats, making information available through mobile applications, providing explanatory material, etc.?
- If so, provide examples of such improvements.
The Department of Labor, through its Open Government initiatives as well as the work of individual agency components, is actively working to make the information posted to our public facing websites more useful and accessible to the public. DOL encourages users to share their thoughts as they relate to topics discussed on DOL blogs, our social media pages as well as the pages of individual agency components or programs. Each of our websites includes links allowing users to provide feedback and recommendations to the appropriate webmasters regarding information and web content. As noted above, DOL's Open Government team continues to modernize its approach toward sharing information, including through mobile applications. More information concerning the mobile applications and the publication of records in an open or native format is available online at http://www.dol.gov/dol/apps/.
- Did your agency use any means to publicize or highlight important proactive disclosures for public awareness? If so, was social media utilized?
Yes, the agency routinely issues press releases and/or publicizes the disclosure of new data sets to social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube.
- Has your agency encountered challenges that make it difficult to post records you otherwise would like to post? If so, please briefly explain what those challenges are.
- Describe any other steps taken to increase proactive disclosures at your agency.
DOL continues to look for opportunities to increase proactive disclosures through our websites and FOIA Libraries, as well as through our open government portals.
Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology
A key component of the President's FOIA Memorandum was the direction to "use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government." In addition to using the internet to make proactive disclosures, agencies should also be exploring ways to utilize technology in responding to requests. Over the past several years agencies have reported widespread use of technology in receiving and tracking FOIA requests and preparing agency Annual FOIA Reports. For 2014, as we have done over the past years, the questions have been further refined and now also address different, more innovative aspects of technology use.
Online tracking of FOIA requests:
- Can a FOIA requester track the status of his/her request electronically?
- If yes, how is this tracking function provided to the public? For example, is it being done through regularly updated FOIA logs, online portals, or other mediums?
Tracking of all incoming FOIA requests are managed through the Departmental FOIA tracking system, the Secretary's Information Management System for FOIA (SIMS-FOIA). Once a request has been assigned within the system and a FOIA Start Code has been implemented, the requester is able to track the status of requests via a web portal that is linked to the SIMS-FOIA. Requesters are able to access the portal on our FOIA webpage at http://www.dol.gov/foia/.
- Describe the information that is provided to the requester through the tracking system. For example, some tracking systems might tell the requester whether the request is "open" or "closed," while others will provide further details to the requester throughout the course of the processing, such as "search commenced" or "documents currently in review." List the specific types of information that are available through your agency's tracking system.
Requesters are able to access the portal by clicking a link found within the Department of Labor FOIA Home Page. Please note the following information that the portal provides to requesters: Request Tracking Number; Date of Receipt in the Department of Labor; Estimated Date of Completion; List of Specific agencies in which the request was assigned; Status (In-progress or decision made); and Date of Completion.
- In particular, does your agency tracking system provide the requester with an estimated date of completion for his or her request?
Yes. As indicated above, the Departmental tracking system provides the requester with an estimated date of completion.
- If your agency does not provide online tracking of requests, is your agency taking steps to establish this capability? If not, please explain why.
Use of technology to facilitate processing of requests:
- Beyond using technology to redact documents, is your agency taking steps to utilize more advanced technology to facilitate overall FOIA efficiency, such as improving record search capabilities, utilizing document sharing platforms for consultations and referrals, or employing software that can sort and de-duplicate documents?
Yes, in a limited manner.
- If so, describe the technological improvements being made.
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, issuing electronic acknowledgements and disclosure responses to requesters. As noted, DOL has a decentralized FOIA program. Some agency components, based on available resources and the volume of FOIA requests, have been able to invest in technologies that have streamlined their FOIA work processing, including the use of SharePoint and similar platforms. 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.
- Are there additional technological tools that would be helpful to achieving further efficiencies in your agency's FOIA program?
Yes. DOL is looking toward replacing its ageing FOIA tracking system, which is nearing the end of its lifecycle. We believe that developing a new system would be helpful to achieving further efficiencies in the DOL FOIA program.
Section V: Steps Taken to Improve Timeliness in Responding to Requests and Reduce Backlogs
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?
Yes. DOL utilizes 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?
On average, DOL processed simple requests within 20.4 working days.
- 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. DOL was able to achieve a substantial drop in the number of backlogged initial FOIA requests despite the addition of 191 pending requests that had not, but should have, been included in the FY2012 Annual FOIA report. By the end of FY2013, we were able to achieve an overall reduction of 16% in the agency's backlog. This is attributed to the continuing oversight of the Departmental FOIA program, the hard work of DOL's FOIA staff, consistent monitoring of FOIA related performance measures, and sustained effort toward backlog reduction throughout the Department's 23 FOIA components. Please see the backlog comparison from FY2012 to FY2013 below. As indicated in footnote 3 in the FY2013 Annual FOIA Report, "In the FY2012 Annual FOIA Report, DOL reported this number as 735 backlogged requests. That number was tabulated incorrectly in the human readable format of the report published to our webpage. We are correcting that number here to report 740 requests."
Backlog Comparison of Initial FOIA Requests
740 (as amended)
- If your agency had a backlog of administrative appeals in Fiscal Year 2013, did that backlog decrease as compared to Fiscal Year 2012?
No. DOL experienced an increase from 139 backlogged administrative appeals pending at the end of FY2012, up to 183 backlogged FOIA appeals pending as of the end of FY2013. This is attributed to a substantial increase among the number of incoming FOIA appeals received, combined with a decrease in the number of staff available to address FOIA appeals.
Backlog Comparison of FOIA Appeals
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?
Yes. DOL closed the ten oldest initial FOIA 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?
Yes. DOL closed 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?
Yes. DOL closed the ten oldest consultations that were 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?
Yes. Please see explanation provided in response to the question regarding backlogged appeals in item 2 b. above.
- Was the lack of a reduction in the request and/or appeal backlog caused by a loss of staff?
Yes. Please see explanation provided in response to the question regarding backlogged appeals in item 2 b. above.
- 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?
"Ten oldest" Not Closed
- 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 you 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?
OIS issued Best Practices guidance in September 2013 encouraging agency components to make interim responses to extremely large and/or complex cases. Agency components report providing interim responses in instances where the requester has specifically asked for responsive records on a "rolling basis," or when the volume of responsive documents is extremely large. Offers of interim responses have also been used when the request requires a search among multiple offices or divisions, the recall of records from remote storage or when the requester has specifically agreed to accept interim responses when a component will not complete processing within the statutory time limit.
- 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.
DOL has no way of tracking this information for this reporting period. We will begin collecting this information so that we will be able to provide data regarding this question in response to future inquiries.
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. 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 our Chief FOIA Officer Report.
The Department of Labor has highlighted success stories that are emblematic of the transparency and openness objectives established by the President and the Attorney General. We believe that our success in making records proactively available underlie the core principles of the FOIA.
- MSHA posted nearly 37,000 pages of documents related to the Crandall Canyon mine accident to its public facing webpage at https://arlweb.msha.gov/Fatals/2007/CrandallCanyon/CrandallCanyonreport.asp. Documents posted include the Fatal Accident Report and the Independent Review interview transcripts. Posting this information online substantially reduced the number of FOIA requests that MSHA anticipated regarding this high profile mine investigation. Statistics show that the agency received approximately 99,427 hits against its web page and that users downloaded over 1,690 files. This initiative furthered the spirit of openness and transparency mandated by FOIA memoranda issued by President Obama and Attorney General Holder.
- ETA's Grants Transparency Initiative mandated disclosure of all abstracts and funded technical proposals (the No#1 type of FOIA request received within the component). FOIA personnel worked closely with a support contractor to ensure that all proprietary information within the technical proposals was protected or properly waived. FOIA personnel also provided information support to differentiate between the required voluntary publication and the more stringent disclosure requirements of formal FOIA requests. Overall, this transparency initiative reduced incoming requests received by ETA from 114 to 77, from FY13 to FY14. Excluding improper FOIA requests, the decrease of actionable FOIA requests is actually 86 down to 45, a reduction of nearly 50%.
- At the Department level, DOL was able to achieve a 19% reduction in the agency's backlog of pending FOIA requests. This is attributed to the continuing oversight of the departmental management of the FOIA program, the hard work of DOL's FOIA staff, consistent monitoring of FOIA related performance measures, and sustained effort toward backlog reduction throughout the Department's 23 FOIA components.