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Department of Labor Seal

U.S. Department of Labor

2020 Chief FOIA Officer Report

Solicitor of Labor/DOL Chief FOIA Officer

(March 12, 2019 through March 12, 2020)



EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Within the U.S. Department of Labor (the Department or 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, DC, 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, D.C. 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 and FOIA Public Liaison. In addition, the SOL Management and Administrative Legal Services Division (MALS) houses the Office of Information Services (OIS) and the Counsels for FOIA and Information Law and FOIA Appeals. These programmatic and counsel areas are responsible for providing department-wide guidance regarding FOIA compliance, making administrative appeal determinations, defending FOIA litigation as well as 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 department-wide responsibility for managing the FOIA program. 

During Fiscal Year 2019, the Department received 16,090 FOIA requests and processed 16,354 requests. As demonstrated within the table below, the majority of the requests received were by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA – 58%), followed by the Wage and Hour Division (WHD – 13%). Respectively, the Employment and Training Administration (ETA), the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) and the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) each responded to 5% of all incoming FOIA requests received by the Department. The remaining 14 percent of the Department’s requests were processed by the other 18 agency components.

Total Number of Requests Received: 16,090

16,090 FOIA Requests were received in FY2019.  Of these, 9,347 belonged to OSHA, 2,236 to WHD, 886 to ETA, 793 to MSHA and 857 to EBSA.  The remaining 1,971 were to all other matters.

Section I: Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness

The guiding principle underlying DOJ’s 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 Leadership

  1. The FOIA requires each agency to designate a Chief FOIA Officer who is a senior official at least at the Assistant Secretary or equivalent level. Is your agency’s Chief FOIA Officer at or above this level? 

Yes

  1. Please provide the name and title of your agency’s Chief FOIA Officer.

Kate S. O’Scannlain, Solicitor of Labor

B. FOIA Training

  1. Did your FOIA professionals or the personnel at your agency who have FOIA responsibilities attend any substantive 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 attended or conducted and the topics covered.

Learning Link On-line FOIA Training Module:

The Department of Labor requires that all new and current employees with FOIA responsibilities utilize the Learning Link On-line Module for annual FOIA training. FOIA professionals may choose one or two FOIA e-learning training courses that include courses entitled, “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 course is a brief module designed for all employees that provide limited FOIA support and highlights ways in which employees can assist their agencies in the administration of the FOIA statute. During the reporting period, staff representing the vast majority of DOL’s 23 free standing agency components logged in and completed the appropriate training module(s).

Use of the Department’s FOIA Tracking System, The Secretary’s Information Management System for FOIA (SIMS-FOIA):

On November 19, 2019, the Office of the Solicitor, Management and Administrative Legal Services Division – Office of Information Services hosted a SIMS-FOIA Overview Training. The training was designed to familiarize Departmental access professionals with a basic overview of FOIA administrative processes while navigating the SIMS-FOIA database. SIMS-FOIA is the current mechanism used to track and control FOIA requests that are submitted to the Department. With the exception of the Office of the Inspector General, all DOL agency components utilize the system to track and control FOIA requests. The lecture-styled training was presented in person, as well as via VTC web access, and was made available to approximately 600 DOL FOIA contacts nationwide.

Quarterly FOIA Coordinators Meetings:

The Office of the Solicitor’s Office of Information Services (OIS) is responsible for the management and implementation of FOIA for the Department. As part of this mission, OIS holds quarterly Departmental FOIA meetings for all designated FOIA coordinators and FOIA contacts throughout the nation. The purpose of these meetings is to offer guidance on a variety of ongoing FOIA administrative and legal issues. These meetings also serve as a forum to encourage Departmental FOIA personnel in their efforts to fully implement the provisions of the statute and provide opportunities for FOIA Service Center staff to speak with candor regarding ongoing issues and share best practices with respect to FOIA processing and the management of FOIA activities. During this reporting period, OIS along with the FOIA Counsels spent time discussing the implications of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media, 139 S. Ct. 2356 (2019), on documents containing information subject to withholding under exemption 4. Also, as a part of each meeting, OIS addressed common issues such as the presumption of openness; applying the foreseeable harm standard in disclosures; the publication of materials subject to the “Rule of 3;” the importance of reducing the overall FOIA backlog; and, the mandate to close the ten oldest pending FOIA requests held by each component

In addition to the training opportunities offered at the Departmental level, the following chart outlines additional training opportunities provided for staff within DOL’s agency components.

Agency Training Sessions
Component Training Session Descriptions
Bureau of Labor Statistics
(BLS)
The BLS FOIA Coordinator and other staff with FOIA-related responsibilities attended the American Society of Access Professionals Annual National Training Conference. One FOIA staff member attended the Advanced Freedom of Information Act Seminar hosted by DOJ’s Office of Information Policy.
Employee Benefits Security Administration
(EBSA)
FOIA staff within EBSA attended the Introduction to the Freedom of Information Act course hosted by DOJ’s Office of Information Policy. EBSA FOIA staff and regional contacts also attended the SIMS-FOIA Overview training hosted by the OIS. In addition to the training mentioned above, EBSA provided in-house, small group and individual training on the following topics: Adobe Acrobat; applying FOIA fees; FOIA exemptions; administrative FOIA processing; using the Department’s FOIA tracking system (SIMS-FOIA); and, comprehensive FOIA training for all access professionals (federal staff and support contractors).
Employment Training Administration
(ETA)
ETA conducted and participated in substantive FOIA training during the reporting period for the following personnel: ETA’s FOIA Program Manager; ETA’s program offices’ primary and backup FOIA Coordinators; non-FOIA staff; managers; and subject matter experts involved in the supervision or processing of FOIA requests. Specifically:
  • ETA’s FOIA Program Manager and program office’s FOIA Coordinator conducted various small group, regional, individual/desk-side, and forum/workshop styled training sessions for their FOIA personnel (Federal and contractors) on fees, redactions, processing, discretionary disclosures, denials, applying exemptions, and use of the existing FOIA tracking system (SIMS-FOIA) for new and existing access professionals (Federal and contractors).
  • ETA’s FOIA Program Manager prepared a FOIA Briefing for Senior Leadership, and also engaged in a Q &A session and followed up with those who needed additional information and assistance.
  • ETA-Office of Job Corps (OJC) participated in refresher FOIA training, which included panels on: processing FOIA requests; FOIA exemptions; records management; administrative appeals and litigation; fees and fee waivers; the Privacy Act; information systems security and privacy awareness, and mandatory training for the National Archives and Records Administration System (ARCIS).
  • ETA-Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) staff attended Introduction to FOIA as a refresher training. In addition, OFLC (national office and centers) participated in OFLC Redaction Best Practices Training conducted by the ETA FOIA Program Manager. Lastly, OFLC participated in Executive Order 12600 training.
  • For FY 20, ETA-Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance (OTAA), plans to send a portion of their FOIA personnel to training through ETA’s internal Office of Program Development Team (PDT).
Mine Safety and Health Administration
(MSHA)
The MSHA FOIA staff attended component specific quarterly FOIA meetings. The topics covered included administrative processing, FOIA exemptions fees, and records management.

MSHA also hosted component specific FOIA trainings in the headquarters and district offices to provide an overview of the MSHA FOIA program. The topics covered included running and reconciling overdue reports, proper application of the FOIA exemptions, use of the SIMS-FOIA database, applying FOIA fees and adjudicating fee requests for waivers, the appeals process, records management, coordinating FOIA requests within multiple program areas, and general challenges in FOIA processing. MSHA also provided Adobe Acrobat training to help with redacting and managing electronic files.
Office of the Administrative Law Judges
(OALJ)
The Chief ALJ authorized all OALJ Senior Staff Attorneys to attend the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy’s June 11 – 12 training program on the “Freedom of Information Act for Attorneys and Access Professionals” in Washington, D.C. Five of the seven attorneys attended.
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management
(OASAM)
OASAM hosted an internal FOIA training session that addressed the following topics: FOIA processing overview; FOIA exemptions; fee calculations; foreseeable harm standard in disclosures; Privacy Act/FOIA interface; SIMS-FOIA overview; “rule of 3” and proactive disclosures; mediation and dispute resolution services; effective customer service strategies; and, records management and FOIA. In addition, OASAM staff attending the following training courses hosted by DOJ’s Office of Information Policy: CFO Report Refresher; FOIA Litigation; and, Basic Introduction to FOIA.
Office of Congressional and Intergovernmental Affairs
(OCIA)
OCIA’s Lead FOIA Coordinator attended the Introduction to the Freedom of Information Act hosted by DOJ’s Office of Information Policy, which covered procedural requirements, an overview of exemptions, accountability and resources information, and a walk through of processing requests.
Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs
(OFCCP)
OFCCP staff attended FOIA training courses hosted by DOJ’s Office of Information Policy, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), and the American Society for Access Professionals (ASAP).
Office of Disability Employment Programs
(ODEP)
ODEP’s FOIA Coordinator attended the Annual FOIA Training session hosted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Occupational Safety and Health Administration
(OSHA)
OSHA provided webinar and in-person training that covered FOIA processing, fees, FOIA exemptions, SIMS-FOIA, determinations letters, and the Privacy Act. OSHA also provides quarterly training updates via conference call. OSHA regional offices also conduct in-person training with speakers either from the OSHA National Office or regional staff from the Office of the Solicitor.
Office of the Solicitor
(SOL)
SOL staff within the Office of Information Service and the FOIA & Information Law and FOIA Appeals Counsel areas attended the American Society for Access Professionals National Training Conference.

On July 2, 2019, SOL hosted a meeting for SOL attorneys who make disclosure determinations on SOL’s own records and provide legal advice to DOL agency components on FOIA and other matters. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the implications of the Supreme Court case, Food Mktg. Inst. v. Argus Leader Media, and how to make disclosure determinations under the new standard.

In addition, the Director of the Office of Information Services and the Counsel for FOIA Appeals are frequent lecturers on various topics related to the implementation of the FOIA and Privacy Act. During this reporting period, the Counsel for FOIA Appeals provided instruction on exemption 5 for DOJ’s FOIA courses. The Director of OIS trained multiple sessions on FOIA, the Privacy Act, and records management for the American Society of Access Professionals.
Veterans Employment Training Services
(VETS)
VETS’ Philadelphia Regional Office hosted a two-day FOIA Training Conference, September 24-25, 2019. Staff in VETS also attended the three-day Freedom of Information and Privacy Act training course offered by the Graduate School USA, Washington D.C. Campus, and FOIA for Attorneys and Access Professional offered by DOJ’s Office Information Policy
Wage and Hour Division
(WHD)
WHD hosted an Annual FOIA Training Session on September 24-27, 2019. Topics included: administrative FOIA processing; WHD specific standard operating procedures; understanding and invoking FOIA exemptions; and the Privacy Act. WHD staff also attended monthly internal training on Lean Six Sigma Continuing Process Improvement to find and implement efficiencies in the component’s existing FOIA-related workflow.
  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.

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.

N/A

C. 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.

Please describe any such outreach or dialogue, and, if applicable, any specific examples of how this dialogue has led to improvements in your agency’s FOIA administration.

The Director of the Office of Information Services attended the Chief FOIA Officer’s Council Meeting that took place on August 5, 2019. The DOL FOIA Public Liaison continues to provide outreach services to requesters, including public advocacy entities concerning varying aspects of FOIA processing on behalf of the free standing components of the Department. Most components consistently engage in outreach or dialogue with requesters as a part of processing incoming initial FOIA requests.

DOL agency components identified the following list of additional outreach activities that they conducted:

List of Additional Outreach Activities
Component FOIA Outreach
EBSA EBSA’s National and Regional Program Offices communicated with the requester community on an on-going basis to clarify questions, negotiate the scope of requests, and address fee-related questions.
ETA ETA FOIA professionals participated in dialogue and outreach with the requester community via the ETA FOIA status box, often with the assistance of the DOL FOIA Public Liaison, to address and resolve any concerns raised by ETA FOIA requesters, including to answer processing questions, negotiate the scope of requests, and to address fee matters.

ETA-Office of Job Corps National Office FOIA Coordinator communicated with their requesters on an on-going basis to clarify questions, negotiate the scope of incoming requests and to resolve other administrative processing matters. Job Corp Regional Coordinators and Center Records Managers process about 600 records requests each month. The vast majority of these requests are from former Job Corps students. Processing these requests not only involves outreach to the requester but also working directly with entities requesting information about former students, such as employers. In addition, OJC provides program promotional material referring interested individuals to the www.jobcorps.gov/ website for instructions on how to submit a FOIA request.

ETA-Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance FOIA personnel keeps open communication dialogue going with most of their “frequent requesters” that are looking for specific data related to their program and/or investigations related to information pertaining to their Trade Adjustment Assistance Benefits program. Every quarter, OTAA has a direct conversation between the “frequent requester” and their data subject matter expert (SME) to review the new trends in data that has progressed over time within their program.
ILAB ILAB engaged in successful dialogue sessions during FOIA consultations with requesters. For example, the Office of Trade and Labor Affairs had a consult with an international relations officer and an attorney for a Guatemala grants project where the requester was able to speak directly to the grants officer about each aspect of the request. In turn, the requester narrowed his request from 23 to five items.
MSHA MSHA’s outreach/dialogue included contacting requesters by email or phone to discuss clarifying or narrowing the scope of their initial request, provide status or interim updates on the progress of processing requests, follow-up to see if they were still interested in receiving the records, and to provide fee estimates. The general public would call into the district offices asking how to submit a FOIA request and instructions were provided. Throughout the year, in general conversations with stakeholders, when they have questions regarding certain documentation, MSHA informs them of their right to request subject information by means of the FOIA and explains the procedure in which to do it. In the past, several stakeholders have been unaware of their ability to do so. MSHA FOIA coordinators also direct requestors to publicly available data on MSHA’s website if publicly available information will sufficiently respond to the request. These interactions helped ensure that FOIA requests were responded to in the most efficient and timely fashion.

A specific example is when MSHA staff recently reached out to a requester to clarify what information was being requested or to potentially narrow the scope of information being requested. The FOIA request submitted was for “as much information possible for all mines sites in Texas.” MSHA is actively working with the requester to determine what specific information the requester is seeking (e.g., mine location, production, violations) and whether the request includes all mines or only active mines.
OASAM As multiple requests are received, FOIA liaisons reach out to the requester to clarify processing issues, including narrowing of the scope of the request. OASAM has also updated its public-facing webpage to provide frequently requested information to assist DOL, other federal agencies, the public, and the media.
OWCP The OWCP, Division of Energy Employees' Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC)–Outreach and Technical Assistance Branch (BOTA) Chief discusses general FOIA-related issues during EEOICPA Outreach Town-Hall events for EEOICPA claimants & authorized representatives (many of whom are FOIA requesters). The discussions involved explaining how to submit FOIA requests, referring them to the DOL website FOIA Home Page for specific FOIA request submitting instructions, and providing helpful tips regarding how to provide clarity in describing records that one may request. In addition, the discussion included what is not covered under FOIA, such as the lack of obligation to create records or answer questions. Many of the FOIA requests that the DEEOIC receives are from the EEOICPA advocate community with whom DEEOIC has regular one-on-one interaction. Occasionally, the DEEOIC BOTA Chief and the FOIA Specialist provide general FOIA guidance to FOIA requestors on specific requests.

Additionally, FOIA professionals within the Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation communicated with requesters by telephone, email, and Acknowledgment letters regarding the administration of their FOIA requests.
VETS VETS conducted outreach to non-government customers/clients regarding the application of exemption 4 and the EO 12600 process. VETS also frequently works with FOIA requesters to offer opportunities to the narrow scope of pending requests, negotiate alternative time frames for processing large requests, and offer clarification on other administrative processing issues
WB The Women’s Bureau engaged with requesters and potential requesters through follow-up communications and the dissemination of information provided via phone and email.
WHD On a daily basis, WHD FOIA staff engage in dialogue with FOIA requesters, community groups, and enforcement entities regarding the FOIA process and make stakeholders aware of information available on the WHD enforcement database.

D. Other Initiatives

  1. Describe any efforts your agency has undertaken to inform non-FOIA professionals of their obligations under the FOIA.
Agency components that include FOIA-related performance standards in employee work plans
Component Other Initiatives
Adjudicatory Boards
(ADJ BOARDS)
The Boards’ FOIA Coordinator met periodically with various “non-FOIA” professionals to discuss FOIA related issues such as application of FOIA exemptions and making disclosure determinations.
EBSA EBSA’s National Office staff coordinates and tracks the FOIA obligations of the National and Regional offices. These efforts also include informing non-FOIA professionals of their FOIA obligations, such as apprising them of the Learning Link trainings that are available for non-FOIA professionals. EBSA personnel, including contractors, must complete annual training on information systems security and privacy awareness and records management.
ETA Efforts within ETA include training for non-FOIA professionals, providing FOIA updates, distributing FOIA bulletins, and advising of FOIA training opportunities through DOL-OIS, DOJ, and the American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP).

ETA has also conducted one-on-one or group briefings to inform new staff with FOIA roles of the expectations, timelines, and analysis necessary to properly respond to the request. Higher level briefings are also held to discuss FOIA requests that relate to rule making or other high-profile matters.

ETA conducts FOIA overview sessions with management and supervisory staff to advise them of their offices’ responsibilities under the FOIA. Specifically:
  • ETA-Office of Apprenticeship (OA) informs its non-FOIA staff of their obligations under the FOIA through a number of records management activities and mandatory Learning Link trainings. OA staff is made aware that all records maintained by OA are subject to FOIA and are advised of their obligations when FOIAs are assigned to them. Efforts include, but are not limited to, notifying non-FOIA personnel of the FOIA protocols with regard to filing, access to FOIA applications through Learning Link, as well as interoffice briefings regarding the impact of FOIA on the records they maintain.
  • ETA-Office of Trade Adjustment Assistance (OTAA) meets regularly with management and staff on various requests received throughout the fiscal reporting period to ensure that all staff is aware of how to process FOIA requests and how to search for responsive records. OTAA has also conducted mini workshops and brown bag sessions, as needed, regarding FOIA protocols and division impacts, resulting in reduction of the staff uncertainty.
  • ETA-Office of Unemployment Insurance (OUI) advises its non-FOIA professionals of their obligations when FOIAs are assigned to them to process.
  • ETA-OJC reviews applicable portions of the FOIA with staff who have responsive documents as well as with support contracting staff. All Federal staff employees within ETA-OJC are reminded on a regular basis that any request for information from the public must be routed through the FOIA Coordinator for review and determination of the nature of the request. The National Office and Regional Office professionals coordinate FOIA and Privacy Act requests for 123 Job Corps center records staff members on a daily basis. During this process, they conduct official and unofficial training to non-FOIA colleagues about FOIA and Privacy Act requirements and processes. In addition, the National Office coordinators send instructions, through regional offices, to Job Corps center operators to ensure student records are archived in a timely and appropriate manner.
  • ETA Region IV (Dallas) implemented cross-training for their staff members and Region IV managers ensure that all regional staff complete all mandatory training.
  • ETA staff in Region V (Chicago) provides information to their staff through Standard Operating Procedures.
MSHA MSHA employees are encouraged to complete the FOIA training available online in Learning Link. Non-FOIA professional program staff are notified of upcoming FOIA training events, and MSHA encourages participation and cross-training experience on the FOIA process and redacting documents. Non-FOIA professionals also work with the Subject Matter Expert (SME) to gain a better understanding of FOIA processes and procedures. These staff members have been given guidance on their obligation to know what records are subject to the FOIA, how to conduct a proper search for responsive records, and how to evaluate records on whether they can be disclosed under discretionary disclosure.
OALJ OALJ has orientation for new judges and new law clerks. During that orientation a session is given about the relationship between FOIA and administrative hearings, and what judges and law clerks should do when receiving a FOIA-related issue or assignment.
OAWCP Within OWCP, the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation’s (DEEOIC) Outreach and Technical Assistance routinely (BOTA) Branch Chief and FOIA Specialist communicate with the DEEOIC District Directors, Assistant District Directors, and managers regarding overlapping Privacy Act and FOIA related issues. All FOIA requests received by the program are processed by BOTA staff in the DEEOIC National Office. Additionally, the FECA program reached out to the District Offices to ensure that they are providing proper guidance to claimants on FOIA and Privacy Act appeal rights.

Lastly, the Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation routinely engages in dialogue with non-FOIA professionals, within the Division, and requests their timely assistance and compliance with FOIA requests.
WHD New WHD employees are provided an overview of the WHD FOIA program, including a quick reference guide that provides information on FOIA processing. Additional information is shared within the component through emails, meetings, phone conversations and one-on-one FOIA training.

  1. Optional – If there are any other initiatives undertaken by your agency to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied, please describe them here.

The Department uses every opportunity available to remind FOIA professionals of the importance of applying the presumption of openness while processing FOIA requests and performing routine FOIA tasks. The subject is addressed during quarterly meetings and as a part of administrative agency reviews of components’ FOIA processes.

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

DOJ’s FOIA Guidelines emphasize 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.

  1. For Fiscal Year 2019, 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 2019 Annual FOIA Report.
FY 2019 - Requests for Expedited Processing
  Average Number of Days to Adjudicate
DOL TOTAL 53.5
  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.

During upcoming quarterly FOIA Coordinators Meetings, trainings and administrative reviews, the Office of Information Services will remind FOIA professionals on the importance of making timely decisions with respect to expedited processing. Additionally, OIS staff will include a segment regarding timely adjudication of expedited processing requests as part of our FY2020 training schedule.

  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.

    • Note: In September 2017, OIP released a FOIA Self-Assessment Toolkit as a resource for agencies conducting a self-assessment of their FOIA program. The Toolkit is available on OIP’s website for all agencies to use.

Yes

FOIA Administrative Reviews.

At the Departmental level, the Office of Information Services (OIS) conducts administrative reviews of each DOL agency component to assess the efficiency of DOL agency components in implementing the provisions of FOIA, identify best practices, and offer agency components the opportunity to discuss any issues related to their agency’s handling of FOIA requests, including the implementation of statutory and regulatory provisions, as well as new and ongoing policy initiatives. During this reporting period, the Office of Information Services has conducted 20 administrative agency reviews. OIS utilized all aspects of the 13 programmatic areas identified in OIP’s “Self-Assessment Tool” as a template to help guide the reviews and promote best practices among each of DOL’s free standing agency components.

In conducting these reviews, OIS staff meet with FOIA Coordinators and other agency staff to obtain information regarding the component’s FOIA practices. In advance of the meeting, the agency components are provided with a list of topics that may be discussed during the review. The responses to OIS’ questions allow OIS to assess whether DOL components are properly implementing the statute, DOL’s FOIA regulations, and existing policy guidance. Information gathered from the reviews is discussed with the parties involved in the reviews. Additionally, best practice solutions are shared in a generalized fashion during standing quarterly FOIA Coordinator Meetings.

In addition to OIS’s Departmental reviews, many components conducted internal agency specific self-assessments of their FOIA programs to promote uniformity in applying the provisions of the statute. Most components reported that these initiatives involved issuing new or revised standard operating procedures, promoting accurate response letters, consistently looking for records to post to the component FOIA library, and developing more robust customer service initiatives. Each component confirmed that they regularly review annual and quarterly report data to ensure that they are aware of the pending workload. As outlined below, DOL agency components have taken additional actions to conduct self-assessments of their unique FOIA processes.

Agency components that have taken additional actions to conduct self-assessments of their unique FOIA processes
Component Agency Self Assessments
EBSA The EBSA National Office tracks all FOIA requests assigned to EBSA. The National Office’s Lead Coordinator routinely communicates with the Regional and National Office staff and informs them of the correct processes and procedures for handling initial FOIA requests. Within EBSA, all offices are given instructions on how to: handle misdirected requests; process payments; use Adobe Acrobat Pro for redactions; and apply FOIA exemptions. The National Office Lead Coordinator and EBSA’s Office of Enforcement staff routinely meet with regional FOIA coordinators and investigators regarding frequently requested records to ensure timely and accurate processing and disclosure. In addition, the National Office staff review all open requests, including those in Regional offices, to ensure that they are being handled appropriately. If questions arise in any EBSA office, the FOIA personnel are instructed to contact the National Office FOIA Coordinator for guidance.
ETA ETA’s FOIA Program Manager ensures that all incoming requests, referrals, or consultations are promptly assigned to the proper ETA program office for action and ensures that all requests are processed on a first-in, first-out basis. In addition, the ETA FOIA Program Manager: stresses the importance of responding to FOIA requests in a timely manner and ETA’s commitment to the presumption of openness; monitors and evaluates workflow processes to ensure there are no hindrances preventing the timely response to a FOIA request; routinely runs weekly reports ensuring the accuracy of the data and that it is entered into the Department’s FOIA Tracking System (SIMS-FOIA); reviews the Annual Report data, using active workflows and track management; audits the practices of each ETA program office to ensure compliance with statutory time limits in responding to FOIA requests; obtains status updates from ETA’s FOIA Coordinators and discusses and resolves any issues encountered; conducts training for ETA’s FOIA personnel to increase efficiency and accuracy in FOIA responses; reviews and updates ETA’s standard operating procedures and FOIA Library to ensure that they comply with the changes made in the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.
MSHA MSHA’s individual program areas have conducted self-assessments of their FOIA program and are in the process of finalizing internal FOIA standard operating procedures as they continue to review and strengthen internal processes and tracking methods.

MSHA conducts quarterly and annual certification data reviews of the SIMS-FOIA database to ensure that all FOIA information has been entered, properly coded, all letters and correspondence have been uploaded, tolls are entered and closed correctly, and once completed all requests were properly closed out in the system.

Excel spreadsheets are utilized to track active and closed FOIA requests. The spreadsheets include the date the request was received, the estimated completion date, dates of acknowledgment letter and status update letters, due date, date it is closed, fee information, exemptions that were applied and any outstanding issues with the request.
OASAM Based upon SOL’s administrative review, OASAM developed standard operating procedures for processing FOIA requests, which provide step-by-step instructions so any employee can review and understand the timelines and tracking procedures for a FOIA. Training and guidance was conducted for those OASAM FOIA liaisons responsible for conducting searches for responsive records.
OSHA OSHA’s internal audit unit incorporates FOIA processing as part of its audit review. When FOIA concerns are noted, the issues are brought to the attention of the National Office for consultation. The OSHA Office of Communications (OOC) monitors each region’s backlog on a bi-weekly basis and uses the longitudinal data to look for trends.
OFCCP OFCCP performs a weekly self-assessment where it reviews and tracks all open cases to see if they can be processed more efficiently.
OIG The OIG routinely conducts self-assessments by running reports on the overall backlog, number of open cases, and number of complex cases.
OLMS OLMS maintains an EXCEL spreadsheet outside of SIMS-FOIA to track FOIA requests. This enables the agency to measure caseload for timeliness and accuracy on a quarterly basis. For FY 2020, OLMS converted the spreadsheet to an ACCESS database to track requests, prompt for due dates, and measure performance.
SOL The Office of the Solicitor holds regular “Backlog and Active FOIA Requests” briefings. In addition, the SOL Lead FOIA Coordinator performs monthly soft audits to check that all requests are accounted for and being processed in an efficient and timely manner.
WB During FY2019, WB re-evaluated its FOIA program in an effort to identify any potential deficiencies. As a result, WB utilized a comprehensive internal FOIA communication tool, based in EXCEL, which also served to capture data for quarterly and annual performance reporting.
WHD WHD’s National Office conducted assessments of four of the five Regional Office FOIA programs using the FOIA Self-Assessment Toolkit issued by the Department of Justice. WHD also uses the following methodologies to keep track of FOIA related performance:
  • Annual Report: On a weekly basis, WHD analyses the annual report data in SIMS-FOIA to identify any data anomalies. Based on the results of that review, performance and processing goals are set at the beginning of the fiscal year and tracked on an ongoing basis. WHD leadership is regularly informed of the results of these reviews.
  • Monthly Meetings: During the monthly meetings, one of the standard agenda items is to review data from the annual report and provide feedback and guidance.
  • Opportunistic Reviews: When issues are discovered, the issue is discussed and training is performed to improve the deficiency. Recurrent issues are elevated to ensure closer monitoring of the issue until resolution.
  • WHD has also participated in the Department’s Lean Six Sigma Black Belt program to evaluate the WHD FOIA Program. The training and mentoring will identify efficiencies as well as improve other aspects of the FOIA program. Additionally, this will transition to process improvements and improved customer service.
  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 the number of times requesters sought assistance from your agency’s FOIA Public Liaison during FY 2019 (please provide a total number or an estimate of the number).
2019 FOIA Liaison Inquiries
Inquiry Type Inquiry Count
Number of inquiries (status/customer service/other) 715
Requests for Mediation 8
Total Number of Inquiries 723
  1. Optional -- Please describe:
  • Best practices used to ensure that your FOIA system operates efficiently and effectively
  • Any challenges your agency faces in this area

The Office of the Solicitor, with the support of the Office of the Deputy Secretary and the Office of the Chief Information Officer, continues to monitor and evaluate the Department’s existing FOIA tracking system, the Secretary’s Information Management System for FOIA (SIMS-FOIA) to ensure that it operates as efficiently and effectively as possible.  The Department continues to assess the system’s ability to allow for necessary modifications to address IT matters and ensure that the system is able to tabulate all of the data points necessary to meet any new or existing reporting requirements mandated by the statute and/or the Department of Justice. On a parallel track, OIS regularly communicates with FOIA staff to address user errors and promote the completion of all mandatory data fields so that there is accurate information regarding the disposition of each request logged in the system. While the existing tracking system allows the Department to meet its mandated quarterly and annual FOIA reporting requirements, the Department also recognizes that the existing tracking methodology has certain limitations.  Accordingly, the Department has purchased FOIAXpress and is preparing the business and migration procedures necessary to replace SIMS-FOIA in its entirety.

Outside of the tracking system, and as more FOIA requesters submit requests that require extensive searches of email and other forms of electronically stored information, the Department is looking for ways to effectively leverage e-discovery tools, such as those that can help with processing data for review, de-duplicating, and other aspects to promote efficiencies in FOIA searches and responses. In addition to more robust tracking and reporting, the Department anticipates that FOIAXpress will bring new administrative efficiencies to the processing of voluminous amounts of electronic data.

Section III: Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures

The Department of Justice has long 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.

  1. Provide examples of any material that your agency has proactively disclosed during the past reporting year, including records that have been requested and released three or more times in accordance with 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(2)(D). Please include links to these materials as well.

The following chart demonstrates the types of proactive disclosures that have been posted by agency components to the DOL website:

Examples of proactive disclosures posted to the DOL Website
Agency Component Proactive Disclosures
EBSA
ETA
MSHA
OSHA OSHA continues to post its FOIA logs at https://www.osha.gov/foia
OALJ
OASAM While OASAM receives many requests for employment information, most of the requests are for information not maintained by the Department but rather by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM). Because of this, some of the DOL links can be found on the OPM website, as well as, OASAM’s FOIA webpage.
ODEP

During the reporting year, ODEP continued to maintain and update its webpage to provide the public with a detailed overview of its most important policy initiative – a joint $80 million effort with ETA and the Social Security Administration to test the impact of early intervention projects on Stay at Work/Return to Work outcomes. The Retaining Employment and Talent After Injury/Illness Network (RETAIN) webpage contains detailed links to six different topics including News and Events, FAQs, and About RETAIN.

In addition, ODEP regularly updates its website to provide a comprehensive approach to providing the public with pertinent information on its programs as well as targeted pages for its customers, such as the page for employers at https://www.dol.gov/odep/topics/Employers.htm.

Note: By posting its guidance and reports for targeted audiences, ODEP has not received any FOIA requests for previously published material during the fiscal year.

OFCCP OFCCP posts its conciliation agreements in its FOIA Reading Room at https://www.dol.gov/ofccp/foia/foialibrary/index.html.
OCFO DOL-OCFO financial, audit, performance, strategic and performance reporting at https://www.dol.gov/general/aboutdol#budget.
OIG The OIG publishes the status for all DOL OIG Audit Report recommendations using the recommendation dashboard on the agency website at https://www.oig.dol.gov/recommendationdashboard.htm.
OLMS OLMS makes disclosures at:
OSEC To provide ready information to requestors, OSEC has now posted calendars and travel itineraries pertaining to agency leadership. The information is updated on a monthly basis.
SOL The Office of the Solicitor routinely posts legal briefs to its “Brief Bank” found on the DOL-SOL page at https://www.dol.gov/sol/media/briefs_new/index.htm
OWCP Within OWPC, the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC), Division of Coal Mine Workers Compensation (DCMWC) and Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation (DLHWC) have proactively posted the following information on OWCP’s website as described below.

DEEOIC Program

During FY 2019, the DEEOIC proactively disclosed and posted records in 7 categories of EEOICPA records on the DEEOIC Public Reading-room webpage, which include:
Specifically, DEEOIC posted a total of 19 items or records under these categories on the Public Reading Room during FY2019. The web-link for the DEEOIC FOIA Public Reading Room is: https://www.dol.gov/owcp/energy/regs/compliance/efoia.htm

The DEEOIC National Office has implemented a team process, consisting of a number of DEEOIC National Office staff members in our Branch of Policy, Regulations & Procedures (BPRP Policy Branch), Branch of Automated Data Processing Systems (BAS), and Branch of Outreach and Technical Assistance (BOTA). The team reviews, redacts, and uploads documents on the DEEOIC Public Reading Room webpage. The documents are ones that have been previously requested and/or are likely to be the subject of future FOIA requests due to the subject matter.

DCMWC Program

DCMWC proactively discloses claim data related to the number and type of claims processed quarterly on the following website: https://www.dol.gov/owcp/dcmwc/statistics/statistics.htm

DLHWC Program

Program Summary is available at https://www.dol.gov/owcp/dlhwc/LongshorePresentation-ProgramOverview1.pdf.

DBA Industry Report Card is available at https://www.dol.gov/owcp/dlhwc/IndustryDBAPerformanceResults.htm
VETS
WHD Field Operating Handbook is available at https://www.dol.gov/whd/FOH/index.htm

Opinion Letters and Interpretations are available at https://www.dol.gov/whd/opinion/guidance.htm

WHD Compliance Action Data, Metadata, Dictionary and WHISARD Data is available at https://enforcedata.dol.gov/views/data_summary.php
  1. Beyond posting new material, is your agency taking steps to make the posted information more useful to the public, especially to the community of individuals who regularly access your agency’s website?

Yes

  1. If yes, please provide examples of such improvements.

As demonstrated within the chart above, during the reporting period, agency components continued to proactively post a wide variety of information on their public-facing websites that document, explain, and provide data on the Department’s programs and activities.

  1. Optional -- Please describe:
  • Best practices used to improve proactive disclosures
  • Any challenges your agency faces in this area

At a minimum, agency components are briefed quarterly regarding the importance of making proactive disclosures of information. To the extent possible, each agency component works to proactively publish information not only in their FOIA libraries but in other segments of the Department’s public facing webpages. The biggest challenge reported by agency components has been addressing Rehabilitation Act (Section 508) compliance matters.

Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology

A key component of FOIA administration is using technology to make information more accessible. 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.

  1. Is your agency leveraging or exploring any new technology to facilitate efficiency in its FOIA administration that you have not previously reported? If so, please describe the type of technology.

Yes.

In response to FOIA requests and other legal demands, the Department’s Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) is called upon to collect and deliver email and other electronically stored information (ESI) for various purposes. To standardize the process, the Department developed an ESI eDiscovery request process and launched it as a pilot program in 2017. Now available department-wide, the DOL ESI eDiscovery request process is a standardized approach for agency components to submit requests for criteria-based content searches and/or holds of ESI in response to investigation, litigation, and informational needs.

The Deputy Secretary of Labor has instituted a Departmental FOIA Modernization Initiative to promote more effective, efficient, and improved FOIA operations. As part of the initiative, DOL has purchased FOIAXpress which is a commercial off-the-shelf tool for receiving, tracking, and processing FOIA requests. Once the system has been implemented, all DOL agency components will be utilizing FOIAXpress for FOIA workflow management, online redaction, and electronic document review.

  1. OIP issued guidance in 2017 encouraging agencies to regularly review their FOIA websites to ensure that they contain essential resources and are informative and user-friendly. Has your agency reviewed its FOIA website(s) during the reporting period to ensure it addresses the elements noted in the guidance?

Yes.

  1. Did your agency successfully post all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2019?

Yes.

However, DOL is working with OIP to ensure that future postings are fully compliant with the required format.

  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 2019.

N/A

  1. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires all agencies to post the raw statistical data used to compile their Annual FOIA Reports. Please provide the link to this posting for your agency’s Fiscal Year 2018 Annual FOIA Report and, if available, for your agency’s Fiscal Year 2019

All of the Department’s Annual FOIA Reports can be found online at: https://www.dol.gov/sol/foia/reports.htm.

  1. Optional -- Please describe:
  • Best practices used in greater utilizing technology
  • Any challenges your agency faces in this area
Best practices to leverage technology to facilitate overall FOIA efficiency
DOL Agency Component 2019 Best Practices to Leverage Technology
EBSA The National and Regional FOIA staff continue to use a common drive to share FOIA records between EBSA offices for redaction purposes. EBSA routinely uses cloud-based secure file sharing technology including with requestors to reduce the response times associated with the receipt of postal mail. Several FOIA requests involved e-discovery searches conducted by the Department’s technology office, including massive email searches that produced enormous amounts of responsive and non-responsive material. Reviewing, redacting, and processing these voluminous electronic records has been time consuming and costly.
MSHA One MSHA program area has purchased the AutoPortfolio plug-in software for Adobe. The software de-duplicates emails, extracts email file attachments and converts them to PDF format, converts portfolios, and exports email metadata into Excel or HTLM formats. This software has significantly decreased the review time of records and allows the easier removal of duplicates.

MSHA’s FOIA coordinators have used a shared drive to share standardized letters, responsive records for consultation, and Excel spreadsheets to track overdue requests. Sharing files facilitates efficiency by organizing files and making them easier to access. MSHA’s FOIA Officer consults with OCIO to conduct complex email searches.
OASAM Although OASAM uses SIMS-FOIA as its portal for FOIA requests, OASAM developed the Electronically Stored Information (ESI) program to efficiently search for and deliver data as requested by requestors. ESI searches both Cloud based and network searches. Cloud based searches consist of e-mail and other cloud based data. These searches are executed using e-discovery tools within Microsoft Office 365. Other searches of physical machines and other network storage are executed via the use of dtSearch software.

OASAM’s use of the DOL Online Opportunities Recruitment System (DOORS) system is critical to access applicant’s information to include resumes. Those FOIA liaisons who have access also use internal DOL databases, i.e. HR Connect, WebTA, Outlook, and other such systems to conduct searches.
OASP OASP is utilizing the new Service Central Portal (ESI Online) that will facilitate and further enhance the component’s ability to request cloud searches for documents that are potentially responsive to pending FOIA requests.
OFCCP OFCCP uses SharePoint and Adobe Acrobat to facilitate the processing of its requests. In FY 2020, OFCCP is implementing a document management system for case files, which is expected to facilitate records search and retrieval.
OIG The OIG is leveraging technology and has implemented a formal process for email searches via forensic staff using FTK and Axiom tool kits as well as BOX for cloud based file exchange systems.
SOL The Office of the Solicitor in its role as FOIA manager for the Department is working with the Deputy Secretary and the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Administration and Management on a new FOIA Modernization Initiative, including the implementation of FOIAXpress.
OWCP Within OWCP, the Division of Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation (DEEOIC) National Office has implemented the use of a shared-drive that will allow DEEOIC officials and staff members can upload responsive emails and other records to a central location to facilitate document sharing and review. Uploading responsive emails and other records to a shared-drive reduces the number of duplicative records and saves valuable search time for others. In addition, DEEOIC National Office has implemented the use of SharePoint in the FOIA response review process, which is a more time-efficient process than passing FOIA request paper folders back and forth regarding needed edits to finalize responses to FOIA requests.

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

The Department of Justice has 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 2019 Annual FOIA Report and, when applicable, your agency’s 2018 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.
  2. If your agency uses a separate track for simple requests, was the agency overall average number of days to process simple requests twenty working days or fewer in Fiscal Year 2019? No.
  3. 3. Please provide the percentage of requests processed by your agency in Fiscal Year 2019 that were placed in your simple track.
Simple Requests - FY 2019
  Number of Simple Requests Processed Total Number of Requests Processed Percentage of Total Requests
DOL OVERALL 5,421 16,350 33%
  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 2018 and Fiscal Year 2019 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 2019, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2018?

No.

Backlog year over year comparison
Fiscal Year Number of Backlogged FOIA Requests
2018 816
2019 991
  1. If not, did your agency process more requests during Fiscal Year 2019 than it did during Fiscal Year 2018?

Yes.

Processing year over year comparison
Fiscal Year Number of Processed Initial Requests
2018 14,679
2019 16,350
  1. If your agency’s request backlog increased during Fiscal Year 2018, please explain why and describe the causes that contributed to your agency not being able to 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.

The Department’s FOIA backlog has increased during FY2019. There are several factors that contributed to the increase in the FOIA backlog. The majority of the requests received during FY2019 were processed in the Department’s complex queue and required more time to process because of the volume and sensitivity of the responsive documents, including an increase in the number of requests seeking electronic records. Likewise, DOL’s overall response times were longer for the increased number of incoming FOIA requests where the Chief FOIA Officer has made a determination that there should be a level of coordination among components consistent with the provisions in DOL’s FOIA regulations (see 29 C.F.R. § 70.20(a)), for example where the subject matter of the FOIA request implicated records held by multiple DOL agency components and required a uniform approach to searching, reviewing, and responding to the requester. Further, DOL FOIA Coordinators have cited the need for additional staff resources to accommodate the extra steps required to process incoming FOIAs. In addition, there have been times where there has been a loss of FOIA personnel, which has slowed the pace of processing both backlogged and active requests.

To further address the Department’s backlog of FOIA requests, on January 10, 2020, Deputy Secretary Pizzella, in conjunction with the Department’s Chief FOIA Officer, issued a memorandum to all DOL Agency Heads, addressing the Department’s FOIA backlog. The Deputy Secretary underscored that message in a meeting held on January 21, 2020, in which he stressed the importance of working to fully process FOIA requests and make strides toward eliminating the volume of backlogged FOIA requests, particularly those that have been pending with the Department prior to September 30, 2019.

Specifically each DOL agency component was asked to:

  • Identify the number and subject of all open FOIA requests that predate September 30, 2019;
  • Send “still interested” letters or email to, or communicate by phone with, requesters with whom the agency component has had no communication to verify the requesters continued interest in their FOIA request; and
  • Report back to the Deputy Secretary and the Office of the Solicitor by February 28, 2020, on how many contacts the agency component issued and by which method, how many of those requesters chose to discontinue their FOIA request or did not respond, and how many of those requesters designated continued interest in the requested documents.

Implementation of the Deputy Secretary’s updated mandate is ongoing.

  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 2019. If your agency has no request backlog, please answer with “N/A.”
FY 2019 Backlog Percentage Chart
  Total Number of Requests Received Total Number of Backlog at End of FY 2019 Percentage of Total Requests
DOL OVERALL 16,090 991 6%

Backlogged Appeals:

  1. If your agency had a backlog of appeals at the close of Fiscal Year 2019, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2018?

Yes.

  1. If not, did your agency process more appeals during Fiscal Year 2019 than it did during Fiscal Year 2018?

N/A.

  1. If your agency’s appeal backlog increased during Fiscal Year 2019, please explain why and describe the causes that contributed to your agency not being able to reduce its backlog. When doing so, please also indicate if any of the following were contributing factors:

N/A.

  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 2019. If your agency did not receive any appeals in Fiscal Year 2019 and/or has no appeal backlog, please answer with "N/A.
Year Over Year Appeal Backlog
Fiscal Year Total Number of Appeals Received in FY2019 Number of Backlogged Appeals at End of FY Percentage of Appeals Received
2019 253 245 96%

C. Backlog Reduction Plans

  1. In the 2019 guidelines for Chief FOIA Officer Reports, any agency with a backlog of over 1000 requests in Fiscal Year 2018 was asked to provide a plan for achieving backlog reduction in the year ahead. Did you 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 2019?

N/A

  1. If your agency had a backlog of more than 1,000 requests in Fiscal Year 2019, what is your agency’s plan to reduce this backlog during Fiscal Year 2020?

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 2018 and Fiscal Year 2019 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.

OLDEST REQUESTS

  1. In Fiscal Year 2019, did your agency close the ten oldest requests that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2018 Annual FOIA Report?

No.

  1. 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 2018 Annual FOIA Report. If you had fewer than ten total oldest requests to close, please indicate that.

The Department closed six of the ten oldest requests during FY 2019 as indicated by the yellow shading and bolding within the chart below.

Ten oldest requests that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2019 Annual FOIA Report
  FY 2018 - Ten Oldest FOIA Initial Requests FY 2019 - Ten Oldest FOIA Initial Requests
Request Date Days Date Days
10th Oldest 02-26-2015 887 01-13-2017 688
9th Oldest 11-18-2014 966 07-20-2016 806
8th Oldest 07-30-2014 998 05-18-2016 851
7th Oldest 06-24-2014 1,001 02-01-2016 928
6th Oldest 06-24-2014 1,017 08-19-2015 1,038
5th Oldest 02-07-2014 1,045 05-18-2014 1,347
4th Oldest 01-28-2014 1,053 02-10-2014 1,416
3rd Oldest 01-28-2014 1,061 01-28-2014 1,425
2nd Oldest 07-22-2013 1,303 01-28-2014 1,425
Oldest Request 03-13-2013 1,500 03-13-2013 1,645

* As addressed in the FY2019 Annual FOIA Report, after reviewing its data, DOL adjusted the number of requests pending as of the start of the Fiscal Year for the following components: ADJ BDS, ALJ, EBSA, ETA, ILAB, MSHA, OASAM, OCIA, OFCCP, OIG, OLMS, OPA, OSEC, OSHA, OWCP, SOL, VETS, WB, WHD. This adjustment resulted in the identification of FOIA requests that had not been previously accounted for. Among those is the 5th oldest pending request noted in the chart above for FY2019.

  1. Beyond work on the ten oldest requests, please describe any steps your agency took to reduce the overall age of your pending requests.

There are many complexities that affect 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. Despite these complexities, the Department and the agency components continue to make significant efforts to close these requests and appeals.

As the Department's FOIA operations are decentralized, most agency components have developed unique plans aimed at closing their oldest requests, appeals, or consultations. These plans go beyond the mandate of the Deputy Secretary to close FOIA requests that predate September 30, 2019. Most DOL agency components plan to ensure ongoing oversight, communication, and support for the program areas handling backlogged requests to assist in the review of responsive documents. Other components have committed to making management aware of the issues impacting their ability to close older cases and establishing deadlines to ensure that such requests are being placed as a top priority.

DOL notes that there are some pending requests/appeals that are still “open” due to litigation, and the components will continue to monitor the progress of the matter and stand ready to implement the resolution based on the determination of the court. Once these matters are resolved, the underlying FOIA request can be fully processed and closed in our tracking system.

Each quarter, the Office of Information Services reminds FOIA coordinators regarding the importance of closing the ten oldest initial requests, FOIA appeals, and FOIA consultations. The same guidance is provided while engaging in other forms of communication with FOIA professionals throughout the year. For example, during administrative agency reviews, OIS discusses with FOIA components their oldest and backlogged requests and the steps that need to be taken to close them.

TEN OLDEST APPEALS

  1. In Fiscal Year 2019, did your agency close the ten oldest appeals that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2018 Annual FOIA Report?

Yes. The Department closed all 10 of the oldest pending FOIA 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 2018 Annual FOIA Report. If you had fewer than ten total oldest appeals to close, please indicate that.

N/A

  1. Beyond work on the ten oldest appeals, please describe any steps your agency took to reduce the overall age of your pending appeals.

NA

TEN OLDEST CONSULTATIONS

  1. In Fiscal Year 2019, did your agency close the ten oldest consultations that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2018 Annual FOIA Report?

As indicated in yellow highlighting and bolding below, during FY 2019, the Department was able to close all four of the pending consultations from FY 2018.

Ten Oldest Consultation Requests
  FY 2018 - Ten Oldest FOIA Initial Requests FY 2019 - Ten Oldest FOIA Initial Requests
Request Date Days Date Days
10th Oldest     09-30-2019 1
9th Oldest     09-23-2019 3
8th Oldest     09-23-2019 5
7th Oldest     09-16-2019 11
6th Oldest     09-16-2019 11
5th Oldest     08-30-2019 14
4th Oldest 09-11-2018 4 08-30-2019 14
3rd Oldest 09-08-2018 34 07-17-2019 54
2nd Oldest 08-06-2018 38 04-25-2019 113
Oldest Request 04-05-2016 374 09-06-2018 234
  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 2018 Annual FOIA Report. If you had fewer than ten total oldest consultations to close, please indicate that.

N/A

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

  1. Briefly explain any obstacles your agency faced in closing its ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations from Fiscal Year 2019.

The primary obstacle for not closing the ten oldest initial requests, appeals and consultations has been available FOIA resources throughout DOL, and the complexity of requests from the stakeholder community and in the backlog. In addition, DOL has had a significant increase in FOIA litigation over the past two years, most involving large volumes of complex electronic records, which has also diverted resources away from addressing the FOIA backlog. Pending litigation also contributes to the backlog, as there are FOIA requests that are directly or indirectly related to litigation.

  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 2019.

Overall, the Department has done an exceptional job in processing the ten oldest appeals and consultations from FY 2019. As of the first quarter of FY 2020, DOL has no consultations and no appeals pending from the ten oldest requests listing. However, there are still four initial FOIA requests remaining from last fiscal year’s ten oldest listing. As a result, the Office of Information Services has plans to conduct agency reviews within the specific agency components in which the requests reside, in order to gain additional insight regarding the obstacles that are preventing the requests from being processed.

F. Success Stories

Out of all the activities undertaken by your agency since March 2019 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, OIP will highlight these agency success stories during Sunshine Week. 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.

Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP)

OFCCP committed a significant amount of resources to bring a 42,000-page request to closure. Namely, OFCCP secured a contractor with document review and FOIA experience to complete the second-level review of the responsive records. This aged FOIA stood out in the agency’s statistics. The requested documents were also responsive to a second request. OFCCP used the first response to answer the second (also aged) FOIA request.