U.S. Department of Labor
2015 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 conduct FOIA training during the reporting period for FOIA professionals?
Yes. The Department of Labor (DOL) held multiple FOIA training sessions during this reporting period as described below.
- If yes, please provide a brief description of the type of training conducted and the topics covered.
On June 23, 24 and 25, 2014, the Office of the Solicitor hosted its 6th Annual Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Training Conference in Washington, D.C. The guest speaker was M. Patricia Smith, Department of Labor – Chief FOIA Officer. The lecture styled training was presented via webcast production and made available to approximately 400 Department of Labor FOIA contacts nationwide.
The three day event was themed “Promoting Effective FOIA Administration.” It was designed to train Department of Labor access professionals on a variety of topics that included the following: Administrative Processing Overview; FOIA Exemption Overview; Fee Assessments; Best Practices in Process Management; FOIA Exemption 5; Privacy Act Overview; Anatomy of a Systems of Records Notice; Proactive and Discretionary Disclosures; Resolving Disputes and Negotiating with Requesters; FOIA/Privacy Act Interface; Utilizing the Secretary’s Information Management System for FOIA (SIMS-FOIA); The Appeals Process; Litigation Considerations; and FOIA Exemption 4.
To ensure that every DOL employee with FOIA responsibilities has access to the training materials, the training material for this conference was then proactively made available on the Department’s internal website for future viewing.
In addition to the annual conference, OIS held a series of small, informal training sessions commonly referred to as "FOIA Forums." These forums were specifically designed to enhance FOIA administrative processes at the Department of Labor. The following is a description of the sessions during the course of the year:
- Forum on Fee Assessments - On April 23, 2014, OIS hosted a FOIA Forum on Fee Assessments. The forum provided FOIA professionals the opportunity to present and discuss any questions or issues they may have had with regard to charging fees to FOIA requesters. The primary topics of discussion were the categorization of requesters; costs associated with processing FOIA requests; and fee waivers.
- Forum on the Chief FOIA Officer Report - On November 17, 2014, OIS conducted a forum on the preparation of the Chief FOIA Officer Report. The purpose of the session was to guide agency FOIA Coordinators through each segment of the report in order to ensure the most accurate and reliable reporting possible.
During this reporting period, OIS issued FOIA Bulletins to Departmental FOIA staff to serve as supplemental FOIA guidance in support of the President’s agenda on FOIA. The following are examples of the subject matter contained within the bulletins.
- FOIA Bulletin 15-01 - Reminder Concerning the Importance of Making Disclosures as a Matter of Discretion -This FOIA Bulletin was sent to remind FOIA professionals about the importance of making Discretionary Disclosures. In accordance with the President's January 19, 2009, memos on the “FOIA” and “Open Government,” and the Attorney General's March 19, 2009, memo on the FOIA, the Department of Labor (DOL) is committed to the goal of an open government.
- FOIA Bulletin 15-02 - FOIA Training Opportunities - This FOIA Bulletin was sent to inform agency FOIA professionals of training opportunities offered by the Department of Justice through its Office of Information Policy (OIP).
- FOIA Bulletin Number 15-03 - Enhancing Communication between the Agency and the Requester Community - The purpose of this bulletin was to remind and clarify to FOIA personnel the resources available to enhance communication and improve customer service to the requester community in the administration of FOIA. The Department wants to ensure that FOIA personnel understand that each DOL agency component must have a “functional” Requester Service Center to assist with issues related to FOIA requests. The service center serves as the initial point of contact for requesters to obtain information about their FOIA request. The requester can use the service center if they have a question about the provisions of the FOIA or the FOIA requests they have submitted.
These are just some of the many training sessions, forums, bulletins and outreach conducted by DOL’s Office of Information Services. Some agency components report that they have provided regular and recurring component- specific training to FOIA staff in their agency on various issues including stages of processing FOIA requests, fees, exemptions, redaction tools, discretionary disclosures, records management, exemption 4 and EO12,600.
- Did your FOIA professionals attend any FOIA training or conference during the reporting period such as that provided by the Department of Justice?
Yes. In addition to the multiple DOL-sponsored training opportunities discussed above, Departmental FOIA Coordinators attended FOIA related courses and briefings offered by DOJ and the American Society of Access Professionals.
- Provide an estimate of the percentage of your FOIA professionals and staff with FOIA responsibilities who attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period.
Training opportunities are regularly advertised through bulletins and staff meetings for those that are new to the FOIA process or would like refresher training. All FOIA personnel employed at DOL had the opportunity to participate in the various FOIA training opportunities referenced above. DOL’s annual conference included both in-person and webinar participation where the total attendance is approximately 95% of agency FOIA professionals at each session. Some sessions included both FOIA and non-FOIA personnel. This information has been certified by registration and verification by the National Office FOIA Coordinators representing each of DOL’s 23 FOIA components.
- In the 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines, OIP asked agencies to provide a plan for ensuring that core, substantive FOIA training is offered to all agency FOIA professionals at least once each year. Please provide the status of your agency’s implementation of this plan.
As discussed in greater detail in response to question 2 above, in FY14 DOL hosted its 6th annual conference in which Departmental staff received essential FOIA training. In addition to the annual conference, during this reporting period OIS hosted a series of FOIA forums, issued FOIA bulletins and advised staff of the various training opportunities.
- Did your FOIA professionals engage in any outreach or dialogue with the requester community or open government groups regarding your administration of the FOIA?
Yes, the DOL FOIA Public Liaison is frequently in contact with requesters, including public advocacy and open government groups, concerning the Department’s FOIA policy. DOL FOIA professionals attended a workshop titled “Discussing Using Technology to Improve FOIA Processes at Best Practices Panel” hosted by DOJ’s Office of Information Policy. This workshop included staff within the agency’s open government group.
Other example from the past year include that a representative of an agency component discussed with a member of the Whistleblower Protection Advisory Committee how the component’s office handles exemption 4 predisclosure notification in regard to whistleblower settlement agreements. Another agency component participated in dialogue and outreach with the requester community via their FOIA Status box. The status box served a critical role in outreach during this reporting period and kept the public abreast of the status of the backlog and the progress made in resolving the backlog. Some agency components conducted outreach activities throughout the year concerning their mission, including discussion of transparency and Open Government initiatives.
In addition to outreach efforts, DOL FOIA professionals are making concerted efforts to establish a line of communication early on with the requester community upon receipt of a FOIA request in order to make the process work better for all parties involved. The use of electronic acknowledgment letters also fostered several opportunities to dialogue with requesters and escalate matters that were of concern.
- If you did not conduct any outreach during the reporting period, please describe why?
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 distinct process or system 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 of your agency have such a process or system in place?
Yes. A "discretionary disclosure" will occur when DOL decides that, although information could be withheld from disclosure because it falls under one or more of the FOIA exemptions, DOL will nonetheless disclose the information because disclosure will not result in foreseeable harm to an interest protected under FOIA. A “discretionary disclosure” occurs when the answer to both of the following questions is "yes."
- Is there a FOIA exemption that could properly be applied to withhold this information?
- Although the information could be withheld under FOIA, is it possible to release this information without causing foreseeable harm to an interest protected by the FOIA exemption?
If the answer to both questions is "Yes", then a DOL agency component may make a discretionary disclosure. DOL’s FOIA tracking system includes 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.
A number of the large DOL agency components report that they have a tier review process to ensure that records for public release, and application of all FOIA exemptions, are treated in accordance with the guidelines set forth in the 2009 Memoranda issued by the President and the Attorney General, as well as departmental guidance. Each request is analyzed on a case by case basis and considered for discretionary release. Audits of records from regional offices are also conducted to verify the same kind of compliance with the FOIA is being established.
- During the reporting period, did your agency make any discretionary releases of information?
- What exemption(s) would have covered the material released as a matter of discretion?
FOIA exemptions 2 and 5 would have covered the materials released as a matter of discretion.
- Provide a narrative description, as well as some specific examples, of the types of information that your agency released as a matter of discretion during the reporting year.
During the reporting year, the DOL made numerous discretionary releases. Most records previously withheld would have been covered by exemptions 2 and 5. Records released on a discretionary basis are usually from investigative files, emails and draft documents. Specifically, DOL agency components report that the following types of records have been disclosed as a matter of discretion:
- Information from investigative or inspection files that lacked the specificity needed to harm or impede a particular investigation.
- Accountability audit reports.
- Training materials for various personnel including audit.
- Modifications, Statements of Work, and abstracts for funded SGAs.
- Case notes for labor certification files.
- If your agency was not able to make any discretionary releases of information, please explain why.
- Describe any efforts your agency has undertaken to inform non-FOIA professionals of their obligations under the FOIA?
Agency components report that non-FOIA professionals are routinely reminded of their obligations under the FOIA. Meetings and briefings with senior staff, informative emails and training on relevant FOIA topics were held. Standard Operating Procedures were prepared and distributed to guide and inform non-FOIA professionals of their obligations throughout the processing of requests. Proper routing procedures were provided to inform personnel inexperienced with FOIA processing of the expectations to ensure timely assigning of misrouted requests. Some agency components train all new employees on FOIA in case they are called upon to assist in processing a request.
The Department also conducted trainings on Information Systems Security and Records Management which addressed the topic of FOIA and were mandatory for all departmental employees.
- If there are any other initiatives undertaken by your agency to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied, please describe them here. If any of these initiatives are online, please provide links in your description.
As a part of the overall operation 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 of Labor’s FOIA regulations have been placed on the DOL unified regulatory agenda to be updated in FY15. Planned revisions include addressing new statutory terms and the use of discretionary disclosures. To encourage the routine and consistent application of the presumption of openness, agency components report that the clear presumption in favor of disclosure is shared with senior management during staff meetings. In addition to routine meetings, consultations are held with the offices from which records originate to determine whether the records should be released. DOL FOIA libraries are online at http://www.dol.gov/dol/foia/.
FOIA Bulletin 15-01 - Reminder Concerning the Importance of Making Disclosures as a Matter of Discretion - This FOIA Bulletin was sent to remind FOIA professionals about the importance of making Discretionary Disclosures. In accordance with the President's January 19, 2009, memos on the "FOIA" and "Open Government", and the Attorney General's March 19, 2009, memo on the FOIA, DOL is committed to the goal of an open government.
Quarterly FOIA Meetings - During each quarter of FY 2014 and the first quarter of FY 2015, the OIS held official FOIA meetings for lead Departmental FOIA representatives. The purpose of the gatherings was to offer guidance regarding a variety of ongoing FOIA issues. The sessions also served as excellent opportunities to encourage Departmental FOIA personnel during their efforts to support the President’s agenda regarding the application of transparency in government; the presumption of openness; and the spirit of cooperation. In addition, Coordinators consistently receive support and encouragement regarding their efforts to reduce overall FOIA backlog, as well as to close the ten oldest FOIA requests.
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.
- In the 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Report Guidelines, OIP asked agencies about the status of converting all eligible FOIA professionals to the new Government Information Series. If your agency reported that its staff was eligible for conversion but had not yet converted all professionals to the new series, what is the current proportion of personnel that have been converted?
In the 2014 Chief FOIA Officer Report, DOL reported all eligible FOIA professionals were converted to the new Government Information Series.
- If your agency has not converted all of its eligible employees yet, what is your plan to ensure that all FOIA professionals’ position descriptions are converted?
- For Fiscal Year 2014, what was the average number of days your agency reported for adjudicating requests for expedited processing? Please see Section VIII.A. of your agency's Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report. Please note if your agency did not adjudicate any requests for expedited processing during Fiscal Year 2014.
For fiscal year 2014, the average number of days to adjudicate requests for expedited processing was 51.1 days.
- If your agency's average number of days to adjudicate requests for expedited processing was above ten calendar days, please describe the steps your agency will take to ensure that requests for expedited processing are adjudicated within ten calendar days or less.
DOL continues its process of monitoring the timely processing of FOIA requests in the expedited queue. The Office of the Solicitor’s Office of Information Services has plans to conduct a round of Administrative Agency Reviews in FY15. These reviews will focus on the overall effectiveness of each agency components’ FOIA program and administrative processes and will include attention to expedited processing procedures. Other agency components plan to establish a system of reminding FOIA staff of the need to timely adjudicate requests for expedited processing rather than addressing them in the final response to the underlying FOIA requests.
- If your agency has a decentralized FOIA process, has your agency taken steps to make the routing of misdirected requests within your agency more efficient? If so, please describe those steps.
Agency components monitor and track their FOIA requests to ensure that misdirected requests are routed to the proper component in an efficient manner. Standard Operating Procedures, templates and other types of guidance are provided which detail the process FOIA professionals must follow to handle a misdirected request.
- If your agency is already handling the routing of misdirected requests in an efficient manner, please note that here and describe your process for these requests.
DOL FOIA professionals strive to forward requests in a timely manner in consideration of the timeframes established under the FOIA. Routine meetings are held to discuss the status of pending requests which ensures proper routing and assignment of misdirected requests. As a decentralized processing agency, FOIA personnel, non-FOIA, and subject matter experts are periodically reminded to quickly identify whether or not there are other agency components which will need to respond with records. This topic is among those regularly addressed in the Department’s annual conference and quarterly FOIA Coordinator meetings.
- Does your agency notify requesters of the mediation services offered by the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at the National Archives and Records Administration?
Yes, when a requester’s concerns cannot be resolved by the FOIA Disclosure Officer, the mandated customer service centers or DOL's Public Liaison, the requester is advised that they can seek assistance from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). Some agency components include language in all final response letters which notifies requesters of OGIS’ mediation services. In addition, the OIS issued a FOIA Bulletin 15-03 to Departmental FOIA staff as a reminder of the services offered by OGIS.
- When assessing fees, does your agency provide a breakdown of how FOIA fees were calculated and assessed to the FOIA requester? For example, does your agency explain the amount of fees attributable to search, review, and duplication?
Yes, DOL FOIA professionals provide requesters a breakdown of FOIA fees throughout various stages of processing a FOIA request, including the final response letter. Some agency components use spreadsheets, forms, and email notifications to delineate between search, review, and duplication fees. As DOL's search and review fees are calculated by the hour the fee explanations include the number of hours, or fractions thereof, the level of the staff member who performed the action and the fees chargeable. If fees charged include reproductions, DOL’s components provide the per page fee cost and the total. Likewise, we will explain the costs associated with CD's or other media based on the type of reproduction requested. Explanation of the estimated amounts attributed to the three types of fees has often allowed the requester to narrow the scope of the request in an effort to seek the most useful information in a timely manner at a minimized cost.
- If estimated fee estimates are particularly high, does your agency provide an explanation for the estimate to the requester?
Yes, DOL FOIA professionals communicate with FOIA requesters when estimated fees are particularly high, the estimate exceeds $250.00 or any limitation set by the requester. Advanced informal communication and the written follow up always includes an explanation of costs and provides a breakdown of search, review and duplication so that the requester understands how much time and expense is involved.
- If there are 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., please describe them here.
OIS conducts quarterly audits to ensure that requests are being processed on a timely basis and that the appropriate documentation is loaded on the SIMS-FOIA tracking system for a thorough historical record. OIS has continued to post guidance on the intranet, and also held monthly FOIA coordinator meetings to assess the efficiency of DOL's FOIA process, problem-solve on challenges, and to share best practices. DOL FOIA professionals continue to engage in a myriad of periodic, daily, and weekly activities to ensure that the administration of the FOIA is efficient and effective. Examples of efforts reported by various DOL FOIA components are listed below:
- Established best practices guidance, performance reports, and SOPs for handling complex or routine FOIA requests.
- Increased oversight of backlog reduction initiatives.
- Hands on training and processing lessons were provided weekly and in response to incoming FOIA requests.
- An electronic spreadsheet was used to track all FOIA requests and capture information including requester’s name, date of request, subject matter of request, number of days to close request, and whether information was provided in full or withheld under a FOIA exemption.
- FOIA FAQs were added to the Intranet, providing employees with access to answers concerning common FOIA questions.
- Various audits were conducted, annual reports were maintained, several trainings were developed and delivered, and open lines of communication were sustained and encouraged.
- DOL FOIA professionals attended quarterly and ad-hoc departmental meetings, training conferences, seminars, etc. in an effort to stay abreast of relevant FOIA matters, and administer any new guidance, directives, and DOL/DOJ policies.
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.
- Does your agency have a distinct process or system in place to identify records for proactive disclosure? If so, please describe your agency’s process or system.
Yes. OIS continues to educate DOL FOIA professionals on ways to make records publicly available without waiting for specific requests from the public. Within the DOL, agency components identify records for proactive disclosure in a number of different ways. The larger agency components proactively engage in a campaign to identify those items of public interest. Agency components continually review internal processes, recently received FOIAs, and current events. The components use these reviews to proactively disclose as much information as possible. The Open Government Team Leader continues to work with agency components to identify records and data that are appropriate for public posting. All documents of interest to stakeholders and cleared for public release are posted on our websites, FOIA libraries and open government portals.
Making frequently requested information available on the webpage decreases the number of incoming requests and therefore allows for more resources to be dedicated to answering existing requests and appeals in a timely manner. DOL is continually looking for ways to expand the information posted to better serve the public and hopefully reduce the number of FOIA requests.
- Does your process or system involve any collaboration with agency staff outside the FOIA office? If so, describe this interaction.
Yes, the process involves collaboration with various other agency personnel to identify material appropriate for proactive disclosures. These collaborative efforts vary by component. DOL FOIA professionals collaborate with records management staff and the Office of Public Affairs to identify material that would be of interest to the public, and then collaborates with IT staff to find the best method of disclosure to the public. The DOL is an active participant in the Data.gov working group. The OpenGov page contains links to Data Sets and sheds light on government transparency, collaboration, and innovation.
- Describe your agency’s process or system for identifying “frequently requested” records that should be posted online.
Each year, the Office of the Solicitor identifies the most frequently requested records and currently has a web page that contains proactively posted documents that are available to the general public. In addition, draft guidance was prepared in which all FOIA professionals within the agency will be polled regarding which documents pertinent to their specific area of legal expertise should be proactively posted online. Consistent with subsection (a)(2) of the FOIA, several agency components follow the rule of three. When there are three or more requests for the same information deemed to be a matter of significant public interest, the component will post information.
Lead FOIA Coordinators instruct all FOIA staff to monitor incoming FOIA requests to identify records that are frequently requested. When requests for particular records/data sets become frequent, they are brought to the attention of the FOIA Coordinator to determine whether the records should be posted online. In addition, routine audits of the FOIA tracking system are conducted to ensure frequently requested records are posted online.
- Provide examples of material that your agency has proactively disclosed during the past reporting year, including links to the posted material.
Each DOL agency component is responsible for posting and updating its own web content, including affirmative disclosures posted in its FOIA library. During the past reporting period, various DOL components posted grant awards, settlement agreements, audit reports, quarterly performance data, abstracts and technical proposals, administrative law judge decisions, approved labor certification applications, accident investigation materials, apprenticeship program statistics, petitions, program policy and procedure instruction letters, program or enforcement statistics, inspection and violation history, mine data, accountability audits, safety and health legislation and regulations. Each component’s FOIA library can be found at http://www.dol.gov/dol/foia/. As mentioned above, datasets concerning enforcement actions, employment, wages and other high value materials that have been made publicly available as part of the Department’s Open Government initiatives can be found at http://www.dol.gov/open/.
- If there are any other steps your agency has taken to increase proactive disclosures, please describe them here.
DOL has utilized blogs, YouTube, Twitter and other electronic communication channels, as well as specific pages or sections of the website devoted to a particular topic to proactively disclose information. Some agency components highlight significant information of public interest through News Releases and “Hot Topics” sections on the agency’s homepage. A few components are in the process of improving their websites search engines to provide more enhanced on-line search and download functionality than is currently available. Enhancing the search and download functionality will increase accessibility to online data and is expected to reduce the number of requesters who request customized data sets through the FOIA process.
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.
Online tracking of FOIA requests:
- Can a member of the public track the status of his or her request or appeal electronically?
Yes, a requester can electronically track the status of his/her FOIA requests made to any component of the agency.
- If yes, how is this tracking feature provided to the public? For example, is it being done through the regular posting of status logs, an online portal, or through another medium?
The general public is able to track the status of requests via a web portal that is linked to the Secretary’s Information Management System for FOIA (SIMS-FOIA). SIMS-FOIA is a Departmental database that component agencies utilize to assign, track and control requests. Requesters are able to access the portal by clicking a link found within the Department of Labor FOIA Home Page. In addition, requesters are welcome to submit written, telephonic and electronic inquiries regarding the status of a request to the FOIA Service Center mailbox or if applicable directly to one or more of the agencies.
- If your agency does provide online tracking, please describe the information that is provided to the requester through this feature. For example, some online tracking features may tell the requester whether the request is "open" or "closed," while others will provide further details throughout the course of the processing, such as "search commenced" or "documents currently in review."
The Department’s FOIA web portal provides the following information to requesters: (1) Request Tracking Number; (2) Date of Receipt in the Department of Labor; (3) Estimated Date of Completion; (4) List of specific agencies to which the request was assigned; (5) Status (In-progress or decision made); and (6) Date of Completion.
- If your agency does provide online tracking for requesters, does this feature also provide an estimated date of completion?
Yes, the online portal provides an estimated date of completion.
- If your agency does not provide online tracking of requests or appeals, is your agency taking steps to establish this capability? If not, please explain why?
Yes, online tracking of appeals is currently being investigated.
Making Material Posted Online 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? Steps can include soliciting feedback on the content and presentation of posted material, improving search capabilities on your agency website, posting material in open formats, making information available through mobile applications, providing explanatory material, etc.
Yes, DOL is taking steps to make the posted information more useful to the public. Working groups within individual agency components were established to solicit feedback and improve the content and presentation of posted material on agency websites.
- If yes, please provide examples of such improvements. If your agency is already posting material in its most useful format, please describe these efforts.
In 2014 DOL continued its initiative of making additional information more accessible to the public on its website. In addition, the public is free to post comments on DOL blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. These technology platforms allow DOL to respond quickly and directly to the public. During FY 2015, the Office of the Solicitor is planning to update the types of materials that will be available in the future for frequent requesters, as well as the general public. Several agency components report their website is currently being updated to better meet the needs of the public, making information more accessible through easier and quicker methods. Examples of such improvements are listed below:
- Several agency components have an online feedback tool where the public can give feedback on any information listed on their website. The smaller component libraries are not structured to allow feedback from the public. However, the public may send comments to the FOIA Public Liaison or the individual agency components with recommendations.
- A website usability study was conducted to solicit feedback from constituents, access professionals, and researchers to make information more accessible and useful for them. In addition, feedback from the public was routinely reviewed from the “Was this Helpful” button on DOL’s Web pages as well as comments received through the Webmaster.
- A new search appliance was implemented which provides a more robust full-text search functionality and speed as compared to the application it replaced. It includes filters that permit users to search for material by topic, and organizes results by document type.
- Efforts are ongoing to ensure all website information is 508 compliant. The agency components received feedback from the Webmaster, FOIA Status mailbox, the DOL Public Liaison, as well as “Ask the Secretary” on a variety of website related matters.
- Several bulletins were published and proactively posted during the reporting period to notify stakeholders about highlights critical to the agency’s mission.
- As a result of meetings held with advocates and Outreach Town Hall meetings agency components used the feedback to make the materials posted on their website more useful to the public.
- Have your agency’s FOIA professionals interacted with other agency staff (such as technology specialists or public affairs or communications professionals) in order to identify if there are any new ways to post agency information online?
Yes, DOL FOIA professionals maintained ongoing coordination and collaboration with the Office of Public Affairs to evaluate website analytics which provided a clear-cut snapshot of trends, topics, and other information potentially of interest to the public.
- Did your agency use any means to publicize or highlight important proactive disclosures for public awareness? If yes, please describe those efforts.
Yes, several agency components highlight significant information of public interest through News Releases and "Hot Topics" sections on the agency's homepage. Also, a Listserv application is used to highlight recent and important disclosures. This is a service on the Internet that provides an electronic mailing to subscribers on a particular subject.
- Has your agency encountered challenges that make it difficult to post records you otherwise would like to post?
Yes, some agency components experienced challenges that made it difficult to proactively post information online.
- If so, please briefly explain what those challenges are.
Some agency components have many categories of records that contain uniquely sensitive financial, personally identifiable information and law enforcement information. Such records are not appropriate for proactive disclosures. Often times, there is a need to redact a high volume of material which makes it difficult to proactively post information. The most common challenge, however, is the ability to convert documents into formats that are ADA/508 compliant.
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? If yes, describe the technological improvements being made.
Yes, one agency component has purchased and uses technology that increases efficiencies in the FOIA processes overall. The software enhances quality assurance of searches performed among electronic records; provides search archiving capabilities; automates de-duplication functions; and, promotes data integrity. The agency component is also utilizing advanced software which allows the ability to convert multiple PST files into a single PDF file, resulting in a higher level of efficiency. Several components use a common drive to share FOIA records between staff for review and redaction purposes.
- Are there additional tools that could be utilized by your agency to create further efficiencies?
Some agency components are researching tools to allow the ability to redact video recordings.
- Did your agency successfully post all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2014?
Yes, the DOL has posted all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2014. In addition, all reports were submitted timely in accordance with the dates given by the Department of Justice.
- If your agency did not successfully post all quarterly reports, with information appearing on FOIA.gov, please explain why and provide your agency’s plan for ensuring that such reporting is successful in Fiscal Year 2015.
- Do your agency's FOIA professionals use e-mail or other electronic means to communicate with requesters whenever feasible? If yes, what are the different types of electronic means that are utilized by your agency to communicate with requesters?
Yes, when a requester provides an email address or submits a request electronically, DOL provides confirmation via email that the request was received. We also use email as an opportunity to communicate back and forth with requesters during the course of processing the FOIA request and to respond to any general concerns or feedback relating to the request.
- If your agency does not communicate electronically with requesters as a default, are there any limitations or restrictions for the use of such means? If yes, does your agency inform requesters about such limitations?
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 your Chief FOIA Officer Report 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 the numbers contained in the specified sections of your agency's 2014 Annual FOIA Report and, when applicable, your agency's 2013 Annual FOIA Report.
Simple Track: 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, some agency components utilize a separate track for simple requests
- If so, for your agency overall in Fiscal Year 2014, was the average number of days to process simple requests twenty working days or fewer?
No, the average number of days to process simple requests in Fiscal Year 2014 was 23.4 days.
- Please provide the percentage of requests processed by your agency in Fiscal Year 2014 that were placed in your simple track.
Forty-one percent of requests processed in Fiscal Year 2014 were placed in simple track.
- If your agency does not track simple requests separately, was the average number of days to process all non-expedited requests twenty working days or fewer?
Backlogs: 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. You should refer to these numbers from your Annual FOIA Reports for both Fiscal Years 2013 and Fiscal Year 2014 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.
- If your agency had a backlog of requests at the close of Fiscal Year 2014, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2013? If not, explain why and describe the causes that contributed to your agency not being able reduce its backlog. When doing so, please also indicate if any of the following were contributing factors: a) An increase in the number of incoming requests, b) A loss of staff, c) An increase in the complexity of the requests received.
FOIA Backlog Comparison Chart
Percentage of Reduction
DOL was able to achieve a 9% drop in backlogged initial requests, despite having added to the data 550 pending requests that had not, but should have, been included in the FY2013 Annual FOIA Report (as discussed in the Executive Summary to the FY2014 Annual FOIA Report). The reduction in the overall backlog is attributed to the substantial decrease in the number of incoming FOIA requests, 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.
- If you had a request backlog please report the percentage of requests that make up the backlog out of the total number of requests received by your agency in Fiscal Year 2014. To calculate your agency’s percentage, you must divide the number of backlogged requests reported in Section XII.A. of your Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report by the number of requests received in Fiscal Year 2014, which can be found in Section V.A. of your Annual FOIA Report. Once divided, you can multiply that number by 100 to get the percentage.
The backlog was equivalent to 3.5 percent of the total number of requests received by DOL in Fiscal Year 2014.
- If your agency had a backlog of appeals at the close of Fiscal Year 2014, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2013? If not, explain why and describe the causes that contributed to your agency not being able reduce backlog. When doing so, please also indicate if any of the following were contributing factors: a) An increase in the number of incoming appeal, b) A loss of staff and c) An increase in the complexity of the appeals received.
DOL experienced an increase from 186 backlogged administrative appeals pending at the end of FY2013, up to 316 backlogged pending as of the end of FY2014. This increase in backlogged administrative appeals is attributed to a substantial increase among the number of incoming FOIA appeals received, and a decrease in the number of staff available in FY2014 to address FOIA appeals.
- If you had an appeal backlog please report the percentage of appeals that make up the backlog out of the total number of appeals received by your agency in Fiscal Year 2014. If your agency did not receive any appeals in Fiscal Year 2014 and/or has no appeal backlog, please answer with "N/A." To calculate your agency’s percentage, you must divide the number of backlogged appeals reported in Section XII.A. of your Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report by the number of appeals received in Fiscal Year 2014, which can be found in Section V.A. of your Annual FOIA Report. Once divided, you can multiply that number by 100 to get the percentage.
FOIA Appeals Backlog Comparison Chart
Number of Backlogged Appeals at the End of the Fiscal Year
Number of Appeals Received
Percentage of Appeals Received
Backlog Reduction Plans::
- In the 2014 guidelines for Chief FOIA Officer Reports, any agency with a backlog of over 1000 requests in Fiscal Year 2013 was asked to provide a plan for achieving backlog reduction in the year ahead. Did your agency implement a backlog reduction plan last year? If so, describe your agency’s efforts in implementing this plan and note if your agency was able to achieve backlog reduction in Fiscal Year 2014?
- If your agency had a backlog of more than 1,000 requests in Fiscal Year 2014, what is your agency’s plan to reduce this backlog during Fiscal Year 2015?
Status of Ten Oldest Requests, Appeals, and Consultations: 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 2013 and Fiscal Year 2014 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.
Ten Oldest Requests
- In Fiscal Year 2014, did your agency close the ten oldest requests that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2013 Annual FOIA Report?
- 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 2013 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 six of them, you should note that you closed six out of seven "oldest" requests.
Of the requests reported in the FY2013 Annual Report, 6 were closed by the end of FY2014. As a part of the audit of data in Departmental FOIA tracking system, DOL located 550 initial FOIA requests that remained pending in the system and requiring further action, many of which were received in prior years. In FY2013 DOL reported the 10 oldest pending requests it believed to be pending at that time. However, due to the audit results, DOL is now reporting 8 requests that should have been previously reported.
- Of the requests your agency was able to close from your ten oldest, please indicate how many of these were closed because the request was withdrawn by the requester. If any were closed because the request was withdrawn, did you provide any interim responses prior to the withdrawal?
Of the requests DOL was able to close from the ten oldest, two requests were withdrawn. Yes, the agency provided interim responses for both requests prior to withdrawal.
Ten Oldest Appeals
- In Fiscal Year 2014, did your agency close the ten oldest appeals that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2013 Annual FOIA Report?
- If no, please provide the number of these appeals your agency was able to close by the end of the fiscal year, as listed in Section VII.C.(5) of your Fiscal Year 2013 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest appeals to close, please indicate that. For example, if you only had seven appeals listed as part of your "ten oldest" in Section VII.C.(5) and you closed six of them, you should note that you closed six out of seven "oldest" appeals.
The DOL Appeals Unit closed nine out of the ten of the oldest appeals.
Ten Oldest Consultations
- In Fiscal Year 2014, did your agency close the ten oldest consultations that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2013 Annual FOIA Report?
- If no, please provide the number of these consultations your agency was able to close by the end of the fiscal year, as listed in Section XII.C. of your Fiscal Year 2013 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest consultations to close, please indicate that. For example, if you only had seven consultations listed as part of your "ten oldest" in Section XII.C. and you closed six of them, you should note that you closed six out of seven "oldest" consultations.
Additional Information on Ten Oldest Requests, Appeals, and Consultations & Plans:
- Briefly explain any obstacles your agency faced in closing its ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations from Fiscal Year 2013.
Some obstacles faced in closing DOL’s ten oldest requests were the government shutdown, reduction of staff, requests seeking access to a voluminous amount of records, ongoing litigation, and consultations with submitters of information.
Regarding appeals, the principle obstacle was staff shortages within the Appeals Unit.
- Briefly explain any obstacles your agency faced in closing its ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations from Fiscal Year 2013.
- If your agency did not close its ten oldest pending requests, appeals, or consultations, please provide a plan describing how your agency intends to close those “ten oldest” requests, appeals, and consultations during Fiscal Year 2015.
OIS will use its quarterly FOIA Coordinator meetings and administrative audits to focus agency component attention to the ten oldest requests. DOL FOIA professionals will be encouraged to contact requesters for clarification of their requests and to consult with OIS or the assigned DOL legal counsel to resolve any issues involved with the requests.
Regarding FOIA appeals, the FOIA Appeals Unit in the Office of the Solicitor is regularly monitoring both the oldest requests and backlog, and implementing approaches to create efficiencies where possible. Recognizing the correlation between the increase in FOIA Appeals and the limited number of staff available during FY 2014 to process appeals, the agency has sought additional capacity through details and other creative staffing approaches.
- Does your agency have a system in place to provide interim responses to requesters when appropriate?
Agency components employ numerous methods to provide partial releases to requesters whenever possible. DOL FOIA professionals track all pending requests with particular focus of those requests which are overdue and maintain frequent contact with requesters. Status letters and emails are sent to those requestors awaiting a response.
- If your agency had a backlog in Fiscal Year 2014, 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 are researching ways to collect 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"
- Did your agency invoke a statutory exclusion, 5 U.S.C. § 552(c)(1), (2), (3), during Fiscal Year 2014?
DOL did not invoke the statutory exclusions during fiscal year 2014.
- If so, please provide the total number of times exclusions were invoked.
Spotlight on Success
Out of all the FOIA activities undertaken by DOL during this reporting period, the success stories listed below highlight those areas that were emblematic of the agency’s efforts.
- The Department of Labor achieved an overall reduction of 9% in the agency's backlog. 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.
- The Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) performed a thorough review of all FOIA requests for their agency components and initiated a mass clean-up project to eliminate all backlogs. A massive clean-up project was performed which resulted in clearance of all backlogged requests dating back to 2006. During the review process, they noted the master program report was not capturing all data for all of OWCP's sub-components. OWCP was then able to link most of the program district and regional offices to the master list for continued maintenance and monitoring. In preparation for end of the year reporting, and as a result of the massive clean-up efforts, OWCP is pleased to report that each of their programs have established new processes for monitoring their FOIA inquires on a regular bases.
Increased FOIA Awareness:
- The Mine Safety and Health Administration worked closely within the agency, with both FOIA professionals and those outside of the FOIA office, to significantly improve communications regarding the presumption of openness and proactive disclosures when providing records to requesters. As a result of these communications, enhanced guidance has been provided to employees to ensure all would be involved in this effort. The guidance is descriptive in nature so that responses would be provided with accuracy, maintaining the integrity of FOIA, while promoting the government's commitment to accountability and transparency. The agency continues to exceed the goals set forth by the department in responding to 84% of complex requests within 20 days during FY 2014.
Customer Service Initiatives and Discretionary Disclosures:
- The Office of Labor-Management Standards (OLMS) received a FOIA request from a news reporter, asking for information pertaining to a specific investigation. After reviewing the responsive documents, the FOIA Coordinator determined that the specific investigation was related to multiple investigations. Additionally, without information on all the investigations involved, the requestor would not be able to understand the information regarding the specific investigation that he originally asked for. The FOIA Coordinator proactively spoke with the requestor and made the decision to include in the disclosure documents from other investigations, demonstrating OLMS’s commitment to transparency and the District Office’s diligent search in looking for responsive documents. OLMS also made a discretionary release of an important memorandum from OLMS’s Division of Interpretations & Standards, which was deliberative in nature. The FOIA Coordinator, DIS Chief, and Deputy Director made the decision to release the document so that the requestor could understand the agency’s final decision, after carefully and appropriately performing the foreseeable harm analysis. The requestor was satisfied with the disclosure and appreciated OLMS’s efforts to give additional information on related investigations.