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DOL Seal

U.S. Department of Labor


2017 Chief FOIA Officer Report
(March 17, 2016 through March 15, 2017)


EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Within DOL, day-to-day FOIA operation is decentralized. As a result, each of the 23 agency components has been given flexibility to design a program that meets its needs. Most agencies have delegated their disclosure responsibilities to officials at the Office Director or Division Chief level in Washington, as well as to their regional offices. 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, as the Solicitor serves as the Department's Chief FOIA Officer. In addition, SOL's Management and Administrative Legal Services (MALS) Division houses the Office of Information Services (OIS), the FOIA Public Liaison, and the Counsel for FOIA and Information Law, as well as the Counsel for FOIA Appeals. These programmatic and counsel areas are responsible for providing department-wide guidance regarding FOIA compliance, making administrative appeal determinations and defending FOIA litigation as well as handling FOIA performance measurement and reporting requirements, including the statutorily-mandated FOIA Annual Report. Although FOIA operations are decentralized, the Office of Information Services functions as the Department's central FOIA office and has agency-wide responsibility for managing the FOIA program.

During the course of FY 2016 and into the first quarter of FY 2017, the Department engaged in several activities in an effort to enhance FOIA operations. DOL issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in August 2016 to update DOL's FOIA regulations, and finalized the updated regulation in January 2017. The updates to the regulations are intended to reflect changes in DOL processes as well as the statutory changes to the FOIA under the Open Government Act of 2007 and the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. Additionally, DOL is actively working to fully implement the provisions of the FOIA Improvement Act in its FOIA operations.

During 2016, the Government Accountability Office completed a review of DOL's FOIA program, in which GAO found DOL in compliance with all statutory mandates of the FOIA but also identified five recommendations for improving DOL's program. DOL has already addressed four of these recommendations, including updating our FOIA regulations, accommodating individuals with disabilities by implementing Section 508 requirements for both the Department's FOIA tracking system as well as the public facing on-line FOIA portal, and providing requesters with information concerning the availability of mediation services offered by the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) within the National Archives and Records Administration. Related to another recommendation from the GAO, the Chief FOIA Officer issued guidance regarding the importance of documenting the basis for delays in processing of FOIA requests, stressed the importance of notifying requesters regarding delays, and directed FOIA professionals to load all correspondence and notes onto the Secretary's Information Management System for FOIA (SIMS-FOIA).

Furthering its efforts to improve DOL's management of FOIA, the Office of Information Services issued guidance to DOL FOIA contacts and service center personnel requiring the inclusion of updated appeal language within DOL FOIA response letters. DOL policy is that FOIA responses must reflect that requesters have the option to contact the National Archives and Records Administration's (NARA) Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) for mediation services as an alternative to litigation.

During Fiscal Year 2016, the U.S. Department of Labor received 16,196 FOIA requests and processed 16,466 requests. As demonstrated within the table below, the majority of the requests received were directed to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA - 56%), followed by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD - 16%), Employment Training Administration (ETA - 8%), Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA - 6%) and the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA - 4%). The remaining 10 percent of the Department's requests were processed by the other 18 agency components.

FY 2016 - Total Number of Requests Received: 16,196

16,196 FOIA Requests were received in FY2016.  Of these, 9,126 belonged to OSHA, 2,589 to WHD, 1,360 to ETA, 1,037 to MSHA and 674 to EBSA.  The remaining 1,410 were to all other matters.

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.

A. FOIA Training

  1. Did your FOIA professionals or the personnel at your agency who have FOIA responsibilities attend any FOIA training or conference during the reporting period such as that provided by the Department of Justice? Yes
  1. If yes, please provide a brief description of the type of training conducted and the topics covered.
    • DOL Annual FOIA Conference. On April 26, 27, and 28, 2016, the Office of the Solicitor hosted its 8th 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 Melanie Pustay, Director, Office of Information Policy within the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and Carrie McGuire, Mediation Team Lead from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). The lecture-styled training was presented to a live audience and through webcast production. Through these means, DOL was able to make this training available to approximately 400 Department of Labor FOIA contacts nationwide.

      The three day event was themed "Ensuring an Informed Citizenry - FOIA at 50" 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; FOIA at DOL - Looking Ahead; Fees and Fee Waivers; Exemption 5; FOIA & Records Management Interface; Administrative Appeals & Litigation Considerations; Resolving FOIA Disputes with the Assistance of the FOIA Ombudsman (OGIS); Department of Justice Update; Exemption 4; EO 12,600 Process; Privacy Act Overview; FOIA/Privacy Act Interface; FOIA Best Practices and Process Management; Exemption 7(D) and Investigative Files; Roles and Responsibilities of DOL FOIA Coordinators; and, Practical Tips for Using SIMS-FOIA.

      Training materials from the FOIA conference are posted on DOL's intranet so that they are available as needed by DOL staff.
    • Learning Link On-line Training Modules. In an ongoing effort to ensure that all Department of Labor FOIA personnel receive appropriate training, the Office of Information Services, in conjunction with the Department's Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management (OASAM - OCIO), coordinated and provided access to two FOIA e-Learning Training Courses. As of February 29, 2016, DOL staff now has ready access to "FOIA e-Learning Professionals Training" and "FOIA e-Learning Employees Training." The first module is an in-depth course specifically designed for FOIA professionals, addressing all of the major procedural and substantive requirements of FOIA. The second is a brief module designed for all employees that provides a primer on the FOIA and highlights ways in which employees can assist their agency in the administration of the law.
    • Quarterly FOIA Meetings. The Department of Labor holds quarterly Departmental FOIA meetings for lead FOIA professionals and FOIA contacts throughout the nation.

      During each quarter of FY 2016 and the first quarter of FY 2017, the Office of Information Services held official FOIA meetings for lead Departmental FOIA representatives. The purpose of these meetings was to provide guidance to DOL's FOIA professionals regarding a variety of ongoing FOIA issues. The sessions also served as excellent opportunities to encourage Departmental FOIA personnel in their efforts to support 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. This year, an overview of the FOIA Improvement Act was discussed, as well as the status and results of the Government Accountability Office (GAO)'s audit, and the best practices identified by GAO.
    • Individual Internal Trainings. Throughout the relevant time period, various Departmental components conducted internal trainings to their offices that were tailored to the specific needs of those agencies.
  1. Provide an estimate of the percentage of your FOIA professionals and staff with FOIA responsibilities who attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period.
  2. Approximately, 90% of all Lead FOIA Coordinators and FOIA staff were trained during the 2016 Annual FOIA Training Conference and e-Learning training courses that were made available to DOL employees.

    The chart below indicates specific percentages reported by 14 agency components regarding the number of FOIA staff that received training.

    Agency Component

    Percentage of Employees Trained

    MSHA
    (Mine Safety and Health Administration)
    100%
    OFCCP
    (Office of Federal Contracts Compliance Programs)
    100%
    OASAM
    (Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management)
    99%
    ODEP
    (Office of Disability Employment Policy)
    100%
    OPA
    (Office of Public Affairs)
    100%
    BLS
    (Bureau of Labor Statistics)
    100%
    WB
    (Women's Bureau)
    100%
    OWCP
    (Office of Worker's Compensation Programs)
    60%
    OIG
    (Office of the Inspector General)
    100%
    ETA
    (Employment Training Administration)
    90%
    EBSA
    (Employee Benefits and Security Administration)
    85%
    ARB
    (Administrative Review Boards)
    100%
    VETS
    (Veterans Employment and Training Service)
    100%
    SOL
    (Office of the Solicitor)
    90%
  1. 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. Not applicable

B. Outreach

  1. 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 continues to provide outreach services to requesters and groups that include public advocacy and open government entities concerning requests and FOIA policy. Additionally, DOL's Director of the Office of Information Services served as a member of the Presidentially-established Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee.

Most Departmental components engage in outreach or dialogue with the requesters via email, written, or telephone communications. In addition, OFCCP reached out to frequent requesters to assess the utility of its FOIA library. OWCP's Division for Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program (DEEOIC) annually meets with Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation Program Act (EEOIPA) advocates where FOIA is a topic of discussion.

  1. If you did not conduct any outreach during the reporting period, please describe why. N/A

C. Other Initiatives

  1. Describe any efforts your agency has undertaken to inform non-FOIA professionals of their obligations under the FOIA.
  2. The Office of Information Services issued several messages to managers, supervisors and others who are tangentially involved in the FOIA process regarding their obligations under FOIA. The following bullets outline some of the topics that were covered in various communiques:

    • Memorandum Dated August 16, 2016 - Guidance on FOIA Processing and Implementation of Best Practices - Requirement to Notify Requesters of Delays and to Document Rationales for Delays in SIMS-FOIA
    • Email Communications Dated August 17, 2016 - Hard Copy of the Department of Labor FOIA Regulations from the Federal Register
    • Email Communications Dated September 16, 2016 - FOIA Public Liaison and FOIA Requester Service Centers Training PowerPoint Presentation
    • Email Communications Dated February 29, 2016 - Access to FOIA e-Learning Training Courses

Non-FOIA Professionals are also encouraged to attend the Department's annual FOIA training conference and internal component trainings as well. Department components regularly share FOIA related information during their internal meetings or briefings as new guidance is issued from OIS. As previously mentioned, one of the online training modules was made available to both FOIA and Non-FOIA Professionals.

  1. If there are any other initiatives undertaken by your agency to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied, please describe them here.
  2. Yes. The Department of Labor updated its FOIA regulations to reflect changes to the FOIA laws and to ensure the presumption of openness when responding to FOIA initial requests, consultations and appeals.

    During FY2016 and the first quarter of FY 2017, the Office of the Solicitor, Office of Information Services issued "FOIA Bulletins" to Departmental FOIA staff in an effort to supplement FOIA guidance that supports the presumption of openness. The following are examples of the subject matter contained within the bulletins:

    • FOIA Bulletin 16-04 - New Requirements for FOIA Response Letters Pursuant to the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016
    • FOIA Bulletin 16-05 - FOIA Public Liaison Training and FOIA Service Center Training
    • FOIA Bulletin 16-06 - DOJ Announces FOIA Training Opportunities for the Beginning of FY 2017
    • FOIA Bulletin 17-01 - Provisions of the FOIA Improvement Act that Impact FOIA Processing
    • FOIA Bulletin 17-02 - Provisions of the FOIA Improvement Act that Impact FOIA Oversight

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

The DOJ'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.

Please answer the following questions to describe the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the management of your FOIA program is effective and efficient. You should also include any additional information that that describes your agency's efforts in this area.

A. Processing Procedures

  1. For Fiscal Year 2016, 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 2016 Annual FOIA Report.
  2. FY 2016 - Requests for Expedited Processing

    Average Number of
    Days to Adjudicate

    DOL Total

    48.2

  1. 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.
  2. Although the Department average is above 10 days, about 50% of DOL component's adjudicated expedited requests within the 10 day processing time.

    On December 15, 2016, the Office of Information Services held a first quarter FY 2017 Departmental FOIA Coordinators Meeting. At that time, the issue of making timely expedited processing determinations was addressed. Further guidance is forthcoming during the upcoming Annual FOIA Training Conference that is scheduled to take place in April of 2017.

  1. During the reporting period, did your agency conduct a self-assessment of its FOIA program? If so, please describe the methods used, such as reviewing Annual Report data, using active workflows and track management, reviewing and updating processing procedures, etc.
  2. Yes.

    DOL used the following methods to assess its FOIA programs:

    • FOIA Administrative Agency Reviews. The purpose of the FOIA administrative reviews conducted by the Office of Information Services is to (1) determine best practices related to DOL's FOIA administrative process and (2) offer agency components the opportunity to discuss any issues related to their agency's implementation of FOIA. As part of these reviews, OIS staff meets with the specific agency's FOIA coordinators and professional staff to obtain information regarding their FOIA practices. The agency components are provided, in advance, with a list of topics that may be discussed during the review. When applicable, OIS shares any identified best practices or lessons learned during the standing quarterly FOIA Coordinator meetings.
    • Internal Agency Self-Assessments. Many components conducted internal agency specific self-assessments in 2016. OFCCP engaged in a Six Sigma Continuous Project Improvement program to map and streamline its work flow. MSHA reviews FOIA requests weekly and updates a variety of spreadsheets which give a snapshot of its FOIA program at that particular moment in time. Most components regularly review its annual report data (quarterly) and update their processing procedures as needed.
  1. Please provide an estimate of how many requests your agency processed in Fiscal Year 2016 that were from commercial use requesters. If your agency is decentralized, please identify any components within your agency that received a majority of their requests from commercial use requesters.
  2. During FY 2016, the Department of Labor received 16,196 FOIA initial requests. Of the 16,196 requests received, commercial requesters accounted for 8,774 requests. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was the DOL component that received the majority of the commercial requests with a total of 6,546 requests received from commercial entities.

    FY 2016

    Total Initial Requests Received

    Total Number of Commercial Requesters

    16,196

    8,774

B. Requester Services:

  1. Does your agency provide a mechanism for requesters to provide feedback about their experience with the FOIA process at your agency? If so, please describe the methods used, such as making the FOIA Public Liaison available to receive feedback, using surveys posted on the agency's website, etc.
  2. Several components have established a requester customer service e-mail account, where requesters can submit inquiries, questions or concerns about their requests. In addition, consistent with the amended statute, DOL agency components now include language in each FOIA response notifying requesters of the availability of our FOIA Public Liaison and providing contact information for NARA's OGIS.

  1. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires additional notification to requesters about the services provided by the agency's FOIA Public Liaison. Please provide an estimate of how often requesters sought assistance from your agency's FOIA Public Liaison.
  2. FY 2016

    DOL Agency Component

    Number of Times FOIA Public
    Liaison Services were Provided

    ADJ Board

    2

    ASP

    9

    BLS

    4

    EBSA

    11

    ETA

    47

    ILAB

    3

    MSHA

    3

    OASAM

    29

    OCIA

    3

    ODEP

    4

    OFCCP

    4

    OIG

    6

    OLMS

    7

    OPA

    27

    OSEC

    5

    OSHA

    43

    OWCP

    6

    VETS

    13

    WB

    2

    WHD

    66

    OALJ

    4

    OCFO

    1

    Total

    299


  1. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires agencies to make their reference material or guide for requesting records or information from the agency electronically available to the public. Please provide a link to your agency's FOIA reference guide.
  2. The link for DOL's guide for requesting records or information is as follows:

    https:www.dol.gov/dol/foia/guide6.htm

C. Other Initiatives

  1. If there are any other steps your agency has undertaken to ensure that your FOIA system operates efficiently and effectively, such as improving search processes, eliminating redundancy, etc., please describe them here.
  2. Several components have focused on streamlining coordination efforts between their National and Regional offices on responses to requesters. In addition, components have worked on improving search processes and keeping standard operating procedures up–to-date and in accordance with OIS guidance. For example, MSHA periodically sends out FOIA tips via email as a way of communicating with the FOIA professionals in its agency about developments. In addition, OIG hired additional staff to allow OIG's disclosure officer to focus more on FOIA responsibilities.

Section III: Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures

Both the President's and DOJ's FOIA memoranda 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.

A. Posting Material

  1. Describe your agency's process or system for identifying "frequently requested" records that should be posted online.
  2. As indicated, DOL's FOIA program is decentralized. Accordingly, the process for identifying "frequently requested" records varies between DOL FOIA components. Moreover, now that the statute has been amended to require the "rule of three,"" agency components are working to establish standard operating procedures to ensure that "frequently requested" records are consistently identified across the component and published in compliance with the law. Currently, however, most components indicate that upon recognition that a request for the same record(s) has been received three times from three different requesters, the component works to post the records to their public facing FOIA library.

  1. 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.
  2. No. The Department does not have a distinct process in place to identify records for proactive disclosure. DOL as a whole and DOL's agency components regularly post on their websites voluminous information related to mission, policies, enforcement actions, and compliance materials. And, the Office of Information Services encourages each component to look for instances where it can proactively disclose information related to component specific initiatives or programs that may be of interest to the general public. OIS also makes recommendations on the types of information that components should consider when planning for updates to their public facing webpages.

  1. Has your agency encountered challenges that make it difficult to post records you otherwise would like to post?
  2. Yes.

  1. If so, briefly explain those challenges and how your agency is working to overcome them.
  2. Several components and the Department as a whole face challenges that impact their ability to post records electronically. 1) Many components within DOL maintain records systems that are paper-based in whole or in part. Several component agencies have investigatory files, for example, which contain media ranging from paper, pictures, handwritten notes, charts, graphs and video recordings. To post such records likely would require converting these documents to an electronic form, and that this form or format be fully compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. These processes would require a significant amount of effort that extends beyond the existing technical capabilities and resources available within the Department. 2) As reported in the 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report, DOL's FOIA professionals are not typically involved in converting records from their native formats to more accessible formats suitable for public posting. To move to public posting would require more direct involvement by FOIA staff in ensuring compliance with Section 508 and related matters, which would divert time and resources away from the over 17,000 FOIA requests that DOL processes on average each fiscal year. Further, it would likely require training and other developmental opportunities to equip staff to meet these challenges. 3) Electronic posting of FOIA responses would also impose a large burden on staff outside of FOIA offices, as FOIA professionals would have to work with their agency specific IT professionals, the Department's Office of Public Affairs, the Department's webmaster, the lead on Open Government initiatives, and various components of the Office of the Chief Information Officer, as part of the implementation. This work would be necessary to leverage existing resources and overcome platform and network variances to build a framework for implementation. It is clear that such an initiative would require additional IT infrastructure, technical expertise, dedicated staffing resources and restructured work processes. 4) Departmental guidance mandates that an accessibility coordinator be assigned within each component to work on accessibility issues, however, this work is not centralized. Electronic posting of FOIA responses would result in an increasing and unpredictable volume of work to upload documents, in a readable format (e.g., OCR), which could prove unworkable if the goal is simultaneous processing, disclosure and publication. 5) Electronic posting of data would cause additional stress on existing data storage capacity across the network.

    Across the Department, agency components are looking for viable solutions to deal with the challenges impacting the ability to post records consistent with the mandates of the amended statute. Each component reports that they are looking at this from a lifecycle approach. First, assessing how records are created to determine if there is a systematic way of creating records that are format neutral and, therefore, would allow for easier conversion to web based postings that are generally accessible. Others are working toward identifying technologies that will assist in the conversion of paper based and unique non-textual documents for the purposes of meeting publication requirements in light of the "rule of three." Finally, the OIS is facilitating a dialogue across the agency to share ideas and benchmark best practices from within the Department as well as industry solutions that may be leveraged to help deal with the existing challenges that impact our ability to post documents on our public facing websites.

  1. Provide examples of material that your agency has proactively disclosed during the past reporting year, including links to the posted material.
  2. Each agency component's FOIA library can be accessed at http://www.dol.gov/foia/.

    The following are some examples of documents that have been posted over the past year to FOIA Libraries of DOL agency components:

    DOL Agency Component

    Examples of Proactively Posted Documents

    OFCCP

    Conciliation Agreements

    BLS

    Purchase Card Holders

    OIG

    Audits and Oversight Reports

    OWCP

    EEOICPA and DEEOIC related materials

    ETA

    OFA Budget Information/ OFLC FAQ Rounds

    VETS

    VETS 4212


  1. Did your agency use any means to publicize or highlight important proactive disclosures for public awareness? If yes, please describe these efforts.
  2. Yes.

    DOL Agency Component

    Examples of Publicity/Public Awareness

    MSHA, BLS, OWCP, EBSA Email Subscription Service
    OFCCP Class Member Locator (CML)
    OIG Email Subscription Service, Twitter
    VETS Federal Register

B. Other Initiatives

  1. If there are any other steps your agency has taken to improve proactive disclosures, please describe them here. For example, has your agency engaged requesters in determining how and what to post? Has your agency used web analytics to inform your proactive disclosures?
  2. The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is working to provide enhanced on-line search and download functionality beyond what is currently available for Form 5500 data and images. Enhancing the search and download functionality will increase accessibility to Form 5500 data and images among users who are less technically savvy and is expected to reduce the number of requesters who request customized data sets through the FOIA process. EBSA utilized usability testing, website feedback (from the "Was This Helpful" tool and comments to the webmaster) as well as web metrics to determine additional information to post in response to website visitors' requests. For example, as a result of responses in the usability testing and website feedback, EBSA is working to post guidance looking back to the enactment of ERISA law.

    The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) collaborates with offices both within and out of the component to identify and produce a greater number of appropriate materials for proactive disclosures. Working with these offices enables MSHA to identify material that is of interest to the public, as well as determine the best method of disclosure to the public. MSHA has also engaged with FOIA requesters to greater meet their needs in information they seek. The ability to outreach and work with a multitude of resources enables the component to increase proactive disclosures both in quantity and quality.

    The Office of Workers' Compensation Programs (OWCP) has a survey posted on its websites for individuals to provide comments on the ease of use and the value of the information available. OWCP also solicits feedback through its public email box.

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.

Please answer the following questions to describe how your agency is utilizing technology to improve its FOIA administration and the public's access to information. You should also include any additional information that that describes your agency's efforts in this area.

A. Making Material Posted Online More Useful

  1. 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.
  1. If yes, please provide examples of such improvements.
  2. The Office of Workers Compensation Programs (OWCP) created a "Public Reading Room" section to specifically post materials of interest to its stakeholders.

    The Employees' Compensation Appeals Board (ECAB) has improved/upgraded the search engine for its "Decision" website.

    The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) offers requesters assistance with navigating the agency's public website to obtain the information they are seeking and also clarification of the information is provided as needed.

    The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) conducted a website usability study to solicit feedback from its constituents, access professionals, and researchers to make information more accessible and useful for them. In addition, EBSA routinely reviews feedback received from its "Was this Helpful" button on its Web pages as well as comments received through the Webmaster. This year, the website content was reorganized based on the usability testing results. The reorganization included a Public Disclosure Web page providing easy access to online public disclosure materials frequently requested, as well as information on FOIA. The agency also features key topics such as ongoing rulemaking and Form 5500 filings and data, on a highlighted page.

    The Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) has developed an updated website which addresses concerns of the public and has several improvements including the presentation of posted material, better search capabilities, more content, and easier navigation.

    The Veterans Employment and Training Service (VETS) continues to improve presentation and search capabilities on the VETS FOIA website.

  1. 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?
  2. Yes, the Department's components regularly interact with IT specialists. As an example, ETA has been working with the Office of Public Affairs (OPA) to improve communications and transparency so that they can proactively provide appropriate data, and thus reduce the number of FOIA requests. FOIA staff within ETA have also been working with Departmental IT professionals who manage their public facing websites in order to recommend improvements.

B. Use of Technology to Facilitate Processing of Requests

  1. 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?
  2. Yes. Upon request, the Office of Information Services provided training to staff on how to use Adobe Acrobat for redactions.

  1. 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 please describe:
    • The technological improvements being made
    • The impact of using these technologies on your agency's request processing

    While many of the Department's components are efficiently operating their FOIA programs using SIMS-FOIA for assignments and tracking purposes, Share Point and shared computer drives, some other agencies have started exploring further options. MSHA has been conducting market research on FOIA case management systems that are capable of facilitating FOIA efficiency through document sharing platforms for consultations and referrals; routing records for review; producing standard FOIA letters; and storing responsive records. OFCCP is currently involved in a pilot program at DOL to implement a new electronic case management system.

  1. Are there additional tools that could be utilized by your agency to create further efficiencies?
  2. Yes. DOL continues to search for and identify potential additional tools that could be utilized by the agency to create further efficiencies, with resources being a major constraint. For example, DOL has started conducting market research for a cloud-based solution for FOIA tracking.

C. Other Initiatives

  1. Did your agency successfully post all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2016?
  2. Yes. The Office of Information Services posted all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2016.

  1. 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 2017.
  2. N/A

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

The President's FOIA Memorandum and the DOJ'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.

For the figures required in this Section, please use the numbers contained in the specified sections of your agency's 2016 Annual FOIA Report and, when applicable, your agency's 2015 Annual FOIA Report.

A. 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.

  1. Does your agency utilize a separate track for simple requests? Yes.
  1. 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?
  2. Simple Requests - FY 2016

    Number of Simple Requests Processed

    Average Number of Days

    Total Number of Requests Processed

    Percentage of Total Requests

    DOL OVERALL 6,165 20.9 16,466 37%

  1. Please provide the percentage of requests processed by your agency in Fiscal Year 2016 that were placed in your simple track. 38%
  1. 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? N/A

B. 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 2015 and Fiscal Year 2016 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.

Backlogged Requests:

  1. If your agency had a backlog of requests at the close of Fiscal Year 2016, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2015? If not, explain why and describe the causes that contributed to your agency not being able reduce its backlog.
  2. No. The Department was not able to reduce its backlog by the end of FY 2016.

    FY 2015 DOL FOIA Backlog

    FY 2016 DOL FOIA Backlog

    DOL OVERALL 593 685

    Although the Department did not reduce its overall FOIA backlog, there were some agency components that were able to do so. The following agencies reported a reduction in FOIA backlog during FY 2016:

    • Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) - 12% reduction
    • Office of Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) - 50% reduction
    • Office of the Solicitor (SOL) - 29% reduction
    • OIG
    • ETA
    • EBSA

    Despite the increase in the backlog, the graph below demonstrates that, for the last five consecutive years, the Department of Labor has processed more FOIA requests than the total number of requests received each year.

    2017 Backlog of requests received and processed
  1. 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:
    • An increase in the number of incoming requests
    • A loss of staff
    • An increase in the complexity of the requests received. If possible, please provide examples or briefly describe the types of complex requests contributing to your backlog increase.
    • Any other reasons - please briefly describe or provide examples when possible.

    Factors that have contributed to DOL not being able to reduce its overall backlog include personnel shortages; complexity of requests requiring collaborative research from several entities or officers; compliance with the Exemption 4/ EO 12600 process; and required review of particular types of documents within components.

  1. 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 2016.
  2. The Department received a total of 16,196 requests during FY 2016. The total backlog at the end of the fiscal year was 685 requests are equivalent to 4.2% percent of the total requests received.

    FY 2016 - FOIA Backlog

    Total Number of Reuests Received

    Total Number of Backlog at End of FY 2016

    Total Number of Backlog at End of FY 2016

    DOL OVERALL 16,196 685 4.2%

Backlogged Appeals:

  1. If your agency had a backlog of appeals at the close of Fiscal Year 2016, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2015? No.
  1. 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:
    • An increase in the number of incoming appeals
    • A loss in staff
    • An increase in the complexity of the requests received. If possible, please provide examples or briefly describe the types of complex requests contributing to your backlog increase.
    • Any other reasons - please briefly describe or provide examples when possible

    During FY 2016, the Department's FOIA appeals backlog increased by 17 cases. The increase in backlog is due to several factors including the continuing high number of incoming FOIA appeals, the complexity of some appeal requests, and the limited number of staff available to address FOIA appeals.

  1. 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 2016. If your agency did not receive any appeals in Fiscal Year 2016 and/or has no appeal backlog, please answer with "N/A."
  2. Fiscal Year

    Number of Backlogged Appeals at the End of the Fiscal Year

    Number of Appeals Received

    Percentage of Appeals Received

    2016 422 332 127

C. Backlog Reduction Plans

  1. In the 2016 guidelines for Chief FOIA Officer Reports, any agency with a backlog of over 1,000 requests in Fiscal Year 2015 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 2016. N/A
  1. If your agency had a backlog of more than 1,000 requests in Fiscal Year 2016, what is your agency's plan to reduce this backlog during Fiscal Year 2017? N/A

D. 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 2015 and Fiscal Year 2016 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.

Ten Oldest Appeals

  1. In Fiscal Year 2016, did your agency close the ten oldest appeals that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Report?
  2. Note: FY 2015 requests highlighted in yellow were closed in FY 2016.

    FY 2015 and 2016 Ten Oldest Appeals
  1. 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 2015 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest appeals to close, please indicate that.
  2. As demonstrated in yellow highlights within the table above, five of the ten oldest FY 2015 FOIA pending initial requests were closed during FY 2016.

  1. 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? N/A

Ten Oldest Consultations

  1. In Fiscal Year 2016, did your agency close the ten oldest consultations that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Report?
  2. Note: FY 2015 appeals highlighted in yellow were closed in FY 2016.

    FY 2015 and 2016 Ten Oldest Appeals
  1. 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 2015 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest consultations to close, please indicate that.
  2. As demonstrated in yellow highlights within the table above, four of the ten oldest FY 2015 FOIA appeals were closed during FY 2016.

Ten Oldest Consultations

  1. In Fiscal Year 2016, did your agency close the ten oldest consultations that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Report?
  2. Note: FY 2015 appeals highlighted in yellow were closed in FY 2016.

    FY 2015 and 2016 Ten Oldest Appeals
  1. 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 2015 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest consultations to close, please indicate that.
  2. As demonstrated in yellow highlights within the table above, three of the oldest FY 2015 FOIA consultations were closed during FY 2016.

E. Additional Information on Ten Oldest Requests, Appeals, and Consultations & Plans

  1. 20. Briefly explain any obstacles your agency faced in closing its ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations from Fiscal Year 2015.
  2. Some of the obstacles agency components faced in closing its ten oldest requests, appeals and consultations from FY 2015 are listed below.

    • Pending litigation;
    • Staff turnover;
    • Consultations with other agencies;
    • Large requests made for voluminous data, often requiring extensive research and collaborative responses;
    • Requests for clarification;
    • Fee matters; and,
    • EO 12600 Process.
  1. 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. N/A
  1. 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 2017.
  2. There are many complexities that contributed to the Department's ability to close requests, appeals and consultations that are backlogged, particularly those that are among the oldest cases still pending with agency. As the Department's FOIA operations are decentralized, most agency components have developed unique plans aimed at closing their oldest requests, appeals or consultations. Most plan to ensure ongoing oversight, communication and support for the program areas handling the requests to assist in the review of responsive documents. Other components have committed to making management aware of the issues impacting a component's ability to close older cases and establishing deadlines to ensure that such request are being placed as a top priority. With regard to several cases that remain pending due to litigation, the components will continue to monitor the progress of the matter to determine when or if documents may be disclosed and the underlying FOIA request can be fully processed and closed in our tracking system.

F. Interim Reponses

  1. Does your agency have a system in place to provide interim responses to requesters when appropriate? See OIP Guidance, "The Importance of Good Communication with FOIA Requesters." (Mar. 1, 2010). Yes.
  1. If your agency had a backlog in Fiscal Year 2016, 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.
  2. Component

    Percentage of Interim Responses

    MSHA 70%
    OFCCP 50%
    OWCP 5%
    OIG 35%
    EBSA 9%
    VETS One case (no percentage data)

G. Success Stories

Out of all the activities undertaken by your agency since March 2016 to increase transparency and improve FOIA administration, please briefly describe here at least one success story that you would like to highlight as emblematic of your agency's efforts. The success story can come from any one of the five key areas. As noted above, these agency success stories will be highlighted during Sunshine Week by OIP. To facilitate this process, all agencies should use bullets to describe their success story and limit their text to a half page. The success story is designed to be a quick summary of key achievements. A complete description of all your efforts will be contained in the body of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.

The Department does not have a specific success story that it would like to highlight this year. However, we continue to work to ensure that our FOIA program works efficiently to fully and completely process each request received, make disclosures of information in compliance with the statute and to reduce our backlog of pending requests.