U.S. Department of Labor
2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report
M. Patricia Smith
Solicitor of Labor/DOL Chief FOIA Officer
March 2015 - March 2016
Within DOL, day-to-day FOIA operation is decentralized. Each of the Department's 23 agency components has been given flexibility to design a program appropriate to the kinds of requests and records they have. Most agencies have delegated disclosure responsibilities to officials at the Office Director or Division Chief level in Washington, as well as to their regional offices. Others have delegated their field FOIA responsibilities to district or area offices. Conversely, some small agencies handle all of their FOIA requests centrally in Washington, DC. The differing agency practices are explained partly by the number of requests that agencies receive and partly by the nature of the programs they administer.
The Office of the Solicitor (SOL) serves as the focal point for FOIA activities within the Department. SOL houses the Department's Chief FOIA Officer, FOIA Public Liaison and the Office of Information Services (OIS), which is charged with Departmental-level FOIA coordination, guidance, training and reporting including the statutorily mandated FOIA Annual Report as well as the FOIA Public Liaison.
During Fiscal Year 2015, the U.S. Department of Labor received 16,792 FOIA requests and processed 17,104 requests. As demonstrated within the table below, the majority of the requests were by to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA - 54%), followed by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD - 16%), Employment and Training Administration (ETA - 9%), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA - 7%) and the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA - 3%). The remaining eight percent of the Department's requests were sent to DOL's 18 other FOIA agency components.
Section I: Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness
The guiding principle underlying the President's FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General's 2009 FOIA Guidelines is the presumption of openness.
Please answer the following questions in order to describe the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied to all decisions involving the FOIA. You may also include any additional information that illustrates 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) offered multiple substantive training opportunities as described below.
- If yes, please provide a brief description of the type of training conducted and the topics covered.
On April 28, 29, and 30, 2015, OIS hosted the Department's 7th Annual Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Training Conference in Washington, D.C. The guest speakers were M. Patricia Smith, Department of Labor - Chief FOIA Officer and Solicitor, and Christopher Lu, Deputy Secretary of Labor, and Melanie A. Pustay, Director of the Office of Information Policy at DOJ. The lecture style training was presented to a live audience and via webcast production, and made available to approximately 400 Department of Labor FOIA professionals nationwide.
The three day event was themed "Improving Collaboration and Transparency Through Effective FOIA Administration," and was designed to train Department of Labor access professionals on a variety of topics that included the following: FOIA Administrative Processing Overview; FOIA Exemptions Overview; Fee Assessments; Exemption 4; EO 12,600 Process; Redaction Workshop; Best Practices and Process Management; Exemption 5; Proactive and Discretionary Disclosures; Exemptions Overview; Privacy Act Overview; FOIA/Privacy Act Interface; Mediating FOIA Complaints with OGIS; Assessing Fees; FOIA Exemption 4; The Appeals Process; Practical Tips for Using SIMS-FOIA; Litigation Considerations; and Records Management. Questions and answer sessions were an integral part of the training.
Training materials from the FOIA conference are posted on DOL's intranet so that they are available as needed by DOL staff.
Quarterly FOIA Meetings.The Office of Information Services holds quarterly Departmental FOIA meetings for Lead FOIA professionals and FOIA contacts throughout the nation.
During each quarter of FY 2015 and the first quarter of FY 2016, the Office of Information Services 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.
- FOIA Bulletins During the reporting period, the Office of Information Services sent FOIA Bulletins to Departmental FOIA staff to serve as supplemental FOIA guidance in support of the President's agenda on FOIA.
- FOIA Bulletin 15-04 - FOIA Appeal Language (February 2015) - This FOIA Bulletin provided standard language for notifying requesters of their right to file and administrative FOIA appeal in response to an adverse FOIA determination.
- FOIA Bulletin 16-01 - FOIA Training Opportunities (November 2015) - 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). As the federal government's lead office for encouraging compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), OIP offers a number of regularly scheduled training opportunities designed to educate FOIA personnel on how to implement the various provisions of the statute.
- FOIA Bulletin 16-02 - Still Interested Letters (July 2015) - This FOIA Bulletin was distributed in an effort to offer guidance and address frequently asked questions regarding FOIA "Still-interested" letters.
- FOIA Bulletin 16-03 - FOIA Tolling Procedures (December 2015) - This FOIA Bulletin clarified the tolling provisions of the OPEN Government Act of 2007. The bulletin also provided guidance in relation to the functionality of tolling features found within the Department's tracking system used for FOIA requests.
- DOL Web The Departments intranet includes a page devoted to FOIA for use by FOIA professionals, which is full of resource materials including slides from prior training sessions, previously issued FOIA guidance and bulletins as well as other resources, including those issued by DOJ.
- If no, please explain why your agency did not hold training during the reporting period, such as if training offered by other agencies was sufficient for your agency's training needs.
- Did your FOIA professionals attend any FOIA training or conference during the reporting period such as that provided by the Department of Justice?
Yes. Department of Labor FOIA contacts also attended various training sessions offered by the American Society of Access Professionals and the U.S. Department of Justice.
- Provide an estimate of the percentage of your FOIA professionals and staff with FOIA responsibilities who attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period.
All FOIA personnel employed at DOL had the opportunity to participate in various training opportunities. Training opportunities are regularly advertised through bulletins and regularly occurring FOIA Coordinator meetings for those that are new to the FOIA process or would like refresher training. DOL's annual conference included both in-person and webcast participation where the total attendance was 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 Coordinators representing each of DOL's 23 FOIA components.
- OIP has directed agencies to "take steps to ensure that all of their FOIA professionals attend substantive FOIA training at least once throughout the year." If your response to the previous question is that less than 80% of your FOIA professionals attended training, please explain your agency's plan to ensure that all FOIA professionals receive or attend substantive FOIA training during the next reporting year.
- 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 in frequent contact with requesters and groups that include public advocacy and open government entities concerning requests and FOIA policy. A DOL agency component fostered outreach with the requester community via their FOIA Status Box. The Status Box served a critical role in outreach during the reporting period and kept the public abreast of the status of the backlog and progress made in resolving the backlog. Also, DOL's Director of the Office of Information Services serves as a member of the Presidentially established FOIA Advisory Committee.
- If you did not conduct any outreach during the reporting period, please explain why.
- Does your agency have a distinct process or system in place to review records for discretionary release?
Yes. All components within the U.S. Department of Labor have this process in place. 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 nine FOIA exemptions, DOL will nonetheless disclose the information because disclosure will not result in foreseeable harm to an interest protected under FOIA. In addition, 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 Attorney General, as well as Departmental guidance. Each request is analyzed on a case by case basis and considered for discretionary release.
- 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? For a discussion of the exemptions that allow for discretionary releases, please see OIP's guidance on implementing the President's and Attorney General's 2009 FOIA Memoranda.
FOIA exemptions (b)(2) and (b)(5) would have covered the material 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:
From the period of March 2015 through the first quarter of FY 2016, the Department of Labor made many discretionary disclosures of material it could have withheld under FOIA exemptions (b)(2) and (b)(5). Records released in full or in part include emails, accountability audit reports, inspector notes, investigative files, drafts, internal evaluation materials and training materials.
|DOL Component||Exemption 2||Exemption 5||Total Number of Discretionary Disclosures|
- If your agency was not able to make any discretionary releases of information, please explain why. For example, you should note here if your agency did not have an opportunity to make discretionary disclosures because you provided full releases in response to all requests or the only exemptions that were applied were those that do not lend themselves to discretionary disclosure.
- 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 expectation 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. This training is supplemented by training videos and slide decks from prior annual FOIA conferences which are available to all staff on the DOL intranet.
During the coming year, DOL will be launching two FOIA e-Learning Training modules provided by the DOJ. One of those modules is specifically designed to assist non-FOIA professionals learn more about FOIA and how they can assist the Department in carrying out its statutory responsibilities under the Act. Also, FOIA is included in the Department's mandatory training on Information Security and Records Management.
- If there are any other initiatives undertaken by your agency to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied, please describe them here.
As part of the overall operation of DOL's decentralized FOIA program, under the direction of the Chief FOIA Officer, OIS continues to promote initiatives that are aimed at improving FOIA administrative processes across DOL. As reported during the last reporting cycle, DOL is working to update its implementing FOIA regulations. In addition to the annual FOIA training conference, quarterly meetings, ongoing FOIA bulletins and agency administrative reviews, the Department's Office of Information Services has plans to continue with a series of FOIA forums that are scheduled to occur during FY 2016.
Section II: Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency Has an Effective System in Place for Responding to Requests
The Attorney General's 2009 FOIA Guidelines emphasized that "[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.
- For Fiscal Year 2015, what was the average number of days your agency reported for adjudicating requests for expedited processing?
For fiscal year 2015, the average number of days to adjudicate requests for expedited processing was 77.7 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.
The Office of the Solicitor's Office of Information Services has plans to continue to review the administrative practices of each agency component to address the overall effectiveness of existing administrative processes, including the processing of requests for expedited processing.
- 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.
The Department's Office of Information Services established a protocol to assist in handling misdirected requests. FOIA contacts have been briefed regarding proper protocol for routing all FOIA requests that are mistakenly received or assigned to an incorrect DOL component.
The FOIA contact within the agency that receives the misrouted request is to forward the request to the Office of Information Services for proper assignment within the SIMS-FOIA tracking data base.
- On July 2, 2015, OIP issued new guidance to agencies on the proper procedures to be used in the event an agency has a reason to inquire whether a requester is still interested in the processing of his or her request. Please confirm here that to the extent your agency may have had occasion to send a "still interested" inquiry, it has done so in accordance with the new guidelines for doing so, including affording requesters thirty working days to respond.
DOL agency components reported sending still interested letters only in limited circumstances. In accordance with FOIA Bulletin 16-02, OIS reminded staff that "still interested" letters and subsequent follow-up should be in writing, with a copy of the correspondence placed within the FOIA administrative file, along with an additional copy loaded for historical record onto the Department's FOIA tracking system, SIMS-FOIA. We have also instructed that the time period to allow requesters to respond to "still-interested" inquiries should be no shorter than thirty (30) working days.
- Agency FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons serve as the face and voice of an agency. In this capacity they provide a very important service for requesters, informing them about how the FOIA process works and providing specific details on the handling of their individual requests. The FOIA also calls on agency FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons to assist requesters in resolving disputes. Please explain here any steps your agency has taken to strengthen these services to better inform requesters about their requests and to prevent or resolve FOIA disputes.
If your agency has not taken any steps recently to strengthen these services, either because there has been no need to due to low demand or because these services are already robust, please briefly explain that that here.
Over the course of FY 2015 and the first quarter of FY 2016 there were 120 instances in which the FOIA Public Liaison was contacted for assistance. The majority of the inquiries were to inquire regarding the status of a pending request. This number is relatively low considering the Department processed 17,104 requests during FY 2015.
- 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.
Yes. DOL FOIA professionals continue to engage on a myriad of periodic, weekly and daily activities to ensure that the administration of FOIA at DOL is efficient and effective.
Quarterly FOIA Processing Milestones During the reporting period, the Chief FOIA Officer continued to focus on encouraging open government through responses to FOIA requests that promptly, accurately and completely release records; proactive and affirmative disclosures records through DOL's public facing websites and FOIA libraries; disclosures of records as a matter of discretion; enhanced administrative processes; and increased accountability across the Department for FOIA performance.
To advance the goals articulated by the Chief FOIA Officer, OIS actively monitored DOL's success against the FOIA related milestones and performance measures outlined in the SOL Operating Plan. Those goals relate to timely FOIA processing and backlog reduction. Through guidance, monitoring, and central administrative support, OIS promoted timely and complete FOIA responses and the reduction of the FOIA backlog by the 23 DOL FOIA components that directly process and respond to FOIA requests. OIS has also established office-specific milestones to ensure accountability for the implementation of its oversight role.
FOIA Administrative Reviews Throughout the reporting period, OIS conducted FOIA administrative reviews conducted to support best practices with regard to DOL's FOIA administrative process and to offer agency components the opportunity to discuss any issues related to their agency's implementation of FOIA. OIS staff meets with FOIA Coordinators and professional staff to obtain information regarding their FOIA practices. In advance of the meeting, the agency components are provided with a list of topics that may be discussed during the review. Responses from the questions enable OIS to analyze whether DOL components are properly implementing DOL FOIA regulations. It also allows OIS to consider whether changes are necessary to the current DOL FOIA regulations and/or DLMS Chapter related to disclosure of records under FOIA. Information gathered from the reviews is discussed at FOIA Coordinators quarterly meetings.
Monitoring FOIA Data On a monthly and quarterly basis OIS monitored SIMS-FOI data to ensure that requests are being processed on a timely basis, backlogged requests are being processed and closed out within the system, and that appropriate documentation is being loaded into the system. Data on timeliness and backlog are reported to agency FOIA Coordinators, key agency component staff and the DOL Chief FOIA Officer.
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.
Please answer the following questions to describe the steps your agency has taken to increase the amount of material that is available on your agency websites. In addition to the questions below, you should also describe any additional steps taken by your agency to make and improve proactive disclosures of information.
- Describe your agency's process or system for identifying "frequently requested" records required to be posted online under Subsection (a)(2) of the FOIA. For example, does your agency monitor its FOIA logs or is there some other system in place to identify these records for posting.
The Department of Labor encourages agency components to monitor the FOIA logs that are generated by the Secretary's Information Management System for FOIA (SIMS-FOIA) for frequently requested documents. In addition, FOIA contacts are encouraged to recognize materials that are the subject of multiple FOIA requests to determine if they are appropriate for posting under Subsection (a)(2).
- Does your agency have a distinct process or system in place to identify other records for proactive disclosure? If so, please describe your agency's process or system.
Yes. The Department of Labor remains committed to increasing proactive disclosures. Due to the decentralized nature of the Department's FOIA program, processes and systems to identify records for proactive disclosure vary. Most of the agencies within the Department actively post and update materials in their electronic reading rooms. This practice is in addition to the collaborative work of DOL agency components with the Department's Open Government initiatives. Most components report actively looking for ways to expand the information posted to their public facing web sites to better serve the public and ultimately reduce the public's need to file FOIA requests generally, but specifically requests seeking a same materials. In addition, the Office of Information Services continues to educate DOL FOIA professionals on ways in which to make records publicly available without waiting for a request for access under FOIA. Components are briefed on the importance of identifying frequently requested records. The Department's Open Government Team also collaborates with agency components to identify data that are appropriate for public posting. DOL is continually looking for ways to expand the information posted to our websites to better serve the public.
Examples of materials made proactively available:
- DOL's Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is proactively posting online the full data set of Form 5500 data, information which previously was only available through request.
- The Mine Safety Health Administration (MSHA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) are posting accident investigation information, program or enforcement statistics, inspection and violation history, safety and health legislation and regulations. MSHA also posts accident investigation reports and a listing of mine addresses in advance of FOIA requests.
- The Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs (OCIA) posts grant and Congressional information (including Congressional testimonies and notifications).
- OSHA posts weekly fatality reports; chemical exposure health data; employment specific injury and illness rates; worker fatality reports; and fatality and catastrophic investigation summaries.
- The Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) posts notices of proposed rule making changes, publication updates, Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (EEOICPA) Part B and Part E data statistics, Defense Base Act casualty statistics and Industry Report Cards showing insurance carrier timeliness results.
- The Office of Labor Management Standards (OLMS) posts Compliance Audit Program and International-Compliance Audit Program closing letters; Assistant Secretary decisions and orders in Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) cases; Form LM-2 Hardship Determinations; Transit Employee Protection determinations; and election and trusteeship case decisions.
- The Wage and Hour Division (WHD) posts the Registered Farm Labor Contractor Certification list. This list contains the name and physical address of all current certificate holders, as well as the expiration date and the certificate number generated by WHD. This list also indicates if a contractor has been authorized to house workers, to use vehicles to transport workers, or to drive such vehicles.
- Office of Administrative Law Judges (OALJ) posts all final ALJ decisions within one business day of issuance (except for Longshore decisions, which are held for five business days before posting to accommodate the regulatory requirement that OWCP rather than OALJ serve such decisions.
- Employment & Training Administration (ETA) Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance (OTAA) began the process of redacting all incoming petitions for trade adjustment assistance (TAA) eligibility. This process enables OTAA to proactively disclose TAA petitions and make them available to the public via the OTAA website: (http://www.doleta.gov/tradeact).
- ETA's Office of National Response publishes National Emergency Grants (NEG) application tools and NEG award information.
- ETA's Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) has redesigned its website to include the posting of several fact sheets, filing tips and an H-2A Employer Handbook, which contains a summary of process and tips to assist employers seeking agricultural workers through the H-2A temporary agricultural program. OFLC also actively coordinates with the DOL Open Government team by providing a link to OFLC Performance Data page that provides data sets for each program area (PERM program, H-2A, H-2B, H-1B) for the past five years. A new feature on the OFLC main page is the FY 2010 Annual Report and map that provides pertinent state-level data on foreign labor certification applications requested, processed and certified, as well as information on occupations for which employers sought foreign workers, and the wages paid.
- Unemployment Insurance (UI) - In September and October 2011, the Department used webinar technology to host the kickoff, state report-outs, and close of an UI Integrity "Institute-in-a-Box," whereby 41 states convened cross-functional task forces to review root causes of improper payments and to develop an integrity strategic plan to provide to the Department.
- When making proactive disclosures of records, are your agency's FOIA professionals involved in coding the records for Section 508 compliance or otherwise preparing them for posting? If so, provide an estimate of how much time is involved for each of your FOIA professionals and your agency overall.
Generally, agency components report that FOIA professionals are not actively involved in coding records for compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
- Has your agency encountered challenges that make it difficult to post records you otherwise would like to post?
- If so, please briefly explain those challenges.
- Provide examples of material that your agency has proactively disclosed during the past reporting year, including links to the posted material.
Each agency component's FOIA library can be accessed at http://www.dol.gov/dol/foia/.
The following are some examples of documents that have been posted over the past year to DOL component reading rooms:
|DOL Agency Component||Examples of Proactively Posted Documents|
|OALJ||Information regarding cases and court administration|
|OSHA||OSHA inspection materials|
|BLS||List of BLS Purchase Card Holders|
|OIG||Audit and other oversight reports, semi-annual reports, audit work plans, OIG strategic goals and investigative press releases.|
|OLMS||Four Labor Management reports are available through a web-based system.|
EBSA's dynamic Website is frequently updated, almost daily, with new, useful, materials.
See http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/ and http://www.dol.gov/ebsa/foia/current-foia.html
(Information Letter to Joseph Dunn; Form 5500 Data Sets; Settlement Agreement Between the Secretary of Labor and Consulting Services, LLC Trading services Group, Inc. and Joe David Meals; Request for Individual Exemption on Behalf of AT&T).
|OWCP||Procedures, statutes, statistical data, regulations, outreach updates, pharmacy fees schedules, and FOIA hot topics.|
|MSHA||Accident investigation information, program policy and procedure instruction letters, program or enforcement statistics, inspection and violation histories, mine data, accountability audits, safety and health legislation and regulations.|
Conciliation Agreements, Case Files and EEO-1 Data
In September 2015, OFCCP launched the Class Member Locator (CML) video and website. The new CML website is designed to help OFCCP locate affected class members and also provide individuals who believe that they may be part of a class to learn about the case by reading a brief summary, a redacted Conciliation Agreement, and press release, if available. In addition, the website provides regional email accounts and 1-800 numbers so that individuals can directly contact OFCCP if they have questions or need assistance. Through this website and its other case-specific outreach tools, OFCCP hopes to significantly increase its ability to locate applicants and workers who are negatively impacted by workplace discrimination. A key element of this new enforcement tool is providing proactive disclosure of many Conciliation Agreements that previously had been the subject of numerous FOIAs. The agency is now routinely posting discrimination settlement agreements in the FOIA reading room, and linking to them on the locator website.
- Did your agency use any means to publicize or highlight important proactive disclosures for public awareness? If yes, please describe those efforts.
|DOL Agency Component||Examples of Publicity/Public Awareness|
|OALJ||Uses GovDelivery to provide information about cases and court administration to an email subscriber list. Most postings are considered Section (a)(2) reading room material.|
|EBSA||EBSA's website invites visitors to subscribe to general EBSA updates or updates on a particular subject. The subscribers receive email blasts when new information is posted.|
|OWCP||Announcements at conferences, outreach events, twitter and email blasts.|
|MSHA||Email subscription services, news releases and within "In Focus" sections on the agency's homepage.|
|OPA||Office of Public Affairs Blog|
|OFCCP||The provision of information on the agency's home page, in press releases, stakeholder emails and social media.|
- 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 of the agency's webpage. A few components are in the process of improving their websites search engines to provide more enhanced online search tools and download functionality than is currently available. It is our belief that more robust search 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 and Appeals:
- Beyond posting new material, is your agency taking steps to make the posted information more useable to the public, especially to the community of individuals who regularly access your agency's website?
Yes. DOL is taking steps to make the posted information more useful to the public. The Office of Information Services works in conjunction with the Office of Public Affairs in an effort to post information in open formats. Working groups within individual agency components have been established to solicit feedback and improve the content and presentation of posted materials on agency website. This initiative has resulted in a streamlined, more user friendly version of DOL's main FOIA webpage.
- If yes, please provide examples of such improvements.
As mandated by the Department of Justice, all of DOL's FOIA annual reports are posted in an open, machine readable format. Also the Department has built on its initiative to make records and data more accessible on its public website. As noted above, the public is encouraged to post comments on DOL's blogs, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube platforms, which facilitate timely communication on issues raised.
- 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 maintain an ongoing working collaboration with the Office of Public Affairs to evaluate website analytics which provide a snap shot of trends, topics and other information that is of potential interest to the public. Using that information, components evaluate their web resources and plan ways in which they can post information that meets the needs of a critical mass of web visitors.
Use of Technology to Facilitate Processing of Requests:
- Did your agency conduct training for FOIA staff on any new processing tools during the reporting period, such as for a new case management system, or for search, redaction, or other processing tools.
No. The Department did not conduct training on specific electronic processing tools.
- Beyond using technology to redact documents, is your agency taking steps to use 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.
Some components have purchased or partnered with other components to purchase and use technology that increases efficiencies in the FOIA process overall, by enhancing the quality of search results performed among electronic records, providing archiving capability of search results, and automating the de-duplication of repetitive documents and emails. One component continues to use advanced software which allows the ability to convert multiple PST files into a single PDF file, resulting in a higher level of efficiency for redaction purposes. Several components also report the use of a common drive to facilitate the sharing of 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 that will allow them to redact non-textual records. At the Department level, as a part of the overall life cycle management of our existing FOIA tracking system, we are evaluating currently available tools for FOIA tracking.
- Did your agency successfully post all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2015?
Yes. The Office of Information Services posted all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2015. In addition, all reports were posted 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 2016.
- Do your agency's FOIA professionals use e-mail or other electronic means to communicate with requesters whenever feasible? See OIP Guidance, "The Importance of Good Communication with FOIA Requesters 2.0: Improving Both the Means and the Content of Requester Communications." (Nov. 22, 2013) If yes, what are the different types of electronic means that are utilized by your agency to communicate with requesters?
Yes. All DOL components use email, as well as other methods to communicate with requesters. 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 requests 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's FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General's 2009 FOIA Guidelines have emphasized the importance of improving timeliness in responding to requests. This section of 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.
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 2015, 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 in Fiscal Year 2015 was 26.4 days.
- Please provide the percentage of requests processed by your agency in Fiscal Year 2015 that were placed in your simple track.
Forty two percent of requests processed in in Fiscal Year 2015 were placed in the 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 Year 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.
- If your agency had a backlog of requests at the close of Fiscal Year 2015, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2014?
|FY2014 DOL FOIA Backlog||FY2015 DOL FOIA Backlog|
- 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:
The Department was not able to reduce its backlog by the end of FY 2015. DOL experienced an increase from 561 backlogged initial FOIA requests pending at the end of FY2014, up to 593 backlogged pending as of the end of FY2015. As explained in the FY FY2015 Annual FOIA Report, during fiscal year 2015, as part of DOL's continuing review of SIMS-FOIA data, DOL identified 428 FOIA requests that were received during FY2014 but that were not placed into active processing and tracking status until after the end of fiscal year 2014. Some of those requests are now a part of the existing backlog of FOIA request reported above. DOL's FOIA staff will continue to work toward more consistent use of the Department's FOIA tracking system and a 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 2015.
The Department received a total of 16,792 requests during FY 2015. The total backlog at the end of the fiscal year was 593 requests which is equivalent to 3.5% percent of the total requests received.
- If your agency had a backlog of appeals at the close of Fiscal Year 2015, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2014?
- 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:
DOL experienced an increase from 316 backlogged administrative appeals pending at the end of FY2014, up to 405 backlogged pending as of the end of FY2015. While the Department completed more FOIA appeals in FY2015 than in FY2014 (297 this year, vs. 277 in FY2014), the backlog nonetheless rose due to the continuing high number of incoming FOIA appeals (404 received during FY2015), the complexity of some appeal requests, and the limited number of staff available 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 2015. If your agency did not receive any appeals in Fiscal Year 2015 and/or has no appeal backlog, please answer with "N/A."
The Department received a total of 404 FOIA appeals during FY 2015. The total backlog at the end of the fiscal year was 405 requests which account for 100% percent of the total number of FOIA appeals received.
Backlog Reduction Plans::
- In the 2015 guidelines for Chief FOIA Officer Reports, any agency with a backlog of over 1,000 requests in Fiscal Year 2014 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 2015.
- If your agency had a backlog of more than 1,000 requests in Fiscal Year 2015, what is your agency's plan to reduce this backlog during Fiscal Year 2016?
Ten Oldest Requests
- In Fiscal Year 2015, did your agency close the ten oldest requests that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2014 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 2014 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest requests to close, please indicate that.
Of the requests reported in the FY2014 Annual Report, nine requests were closed by the end of FY2015. However, as a part of reviewing data in the Departmental FOIA tracking system, DOL located 428 initial FOIA requests that remained pending in the system as of the end of FY2014 and requiring further action, many of which were received in prior years. Whereas DOL's FY2014 report identified the 10 oldest pending requests it believed to be pending at that time, due to the review, DOL has identified two requests that should have been reported previously.
- 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?
Ten Oldest Appeals
- In Fiscal Year 2015, did your agency close the ten oldest appeals that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2014 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 2014 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest appeals to close, please indicate that.
The Department closed five of the ten oldest appeals.
Ten Oldest Consultations
- In Fiscal Year 2015, did your agency close the ten oldest consultations that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report?
The Department closed the three consultations that were reported as pending within the FY 2014 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 2014 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest consultations to close, please indicate that.
As part of the data review referenced above, DOL located five additional consultations originating with OSHA and one additional consultation originating with WHD, which should have been previously reported. Those consultations remain pending.
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 2014.
In addition to the challenges referenced above, some obstacles faced in closing the 10 oldest requests, appeals and consultations were limited staff, inconsistent use of the DOL FOIA tracking system, requests seeking access to voluminous records, ongoing litigation, and the need to consult with submitters of confidential, commercial information.
- If your agency was unable to close any of its ten oldest requests 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.
- 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 2016.
OIS will use its quarterly FOIA Coordinator meetings and administrative agency reviews to focus agency component attention on the ten oldest pending requests. Through guidance, 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 processing the requests.
Regarding FOIA appeals, the Appeals Unit regularly monitors both the oldest requests and its backlog for ways to implement efficient approaches to deal with the pending requests. The Appeals Unit is also dealing with staffing limitations by leverage resources via details and other creative staffing approaches.
- Does your agency have a system in place to provide interim responses to requesters when appropriate?
There is no formal system in place. However, agency FOIA professionals are encouraged to furnish interim responses whenever possible.
- If your agency had a backlog in Fiscal Year 2015, 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.
The Department does not currently have a mechanism in place that will capture data regarding interim responses.
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 2015?
No. DOL did not invoke any statutory exclusion during FY2015.
- If so, please provide the total number of times exclusions were invoked.
Spotlight on Success
The following success story was submitted by the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs:
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
- In September 2015, OFCCP launched the Class Member Locator (CML) video and website.
- The new CML website is designed to help OFCCP locate affected class members and also provide an opportunity for individuals who may be part of a class to learn about the case by reading a brief summary, a redacted Conciliation Agreement, and press release, if available.
- In addition, the website provides regional email accounts and 1-800 numbers so that individuals can directly contact OFCCP if they have questions or need assistance.
- Through this website and its other case-specific outreach tools, OFCCP hopes to significantly increase its ability to locate applicants and workers who are negatively impacted by workplace discrimination.
- A key element of this new enforcement tool is providing proactive disclosure of many Conciliation Agreements that previously had been the subject of numerous FOIAs.
- The agency is now routinely posting discrimination settlement agreements in the FOIA reading room, and linking to them on the locator website.