DoJ's updated FOIA policy emphasizes customer service

Tuesday - 12/6/2011, 11:55am EST

By Jolie Lee
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

The Department of Justice is putting greater emphasis on customer service in its updated policy for responding to Freedom of Information Act requests.

Most requests at DoJ are referred to another agency, based on where the documents originate. The updated FOIA policy states the department must advise the FOIA requester that their request has been referred and provide the name of the agency to the requester with that agency's FOIA contact.

When it receives a referred request, an agency should immediately assign the request a tracking number — in addition to the original tracking number — and send the FOIA requester an acknowledgment of receipt. The agency should also provide a telephone number or Internet service for the requester to track the FOIA status of the records.

The guidance states the original date of the request should be used — not the date an agency received a referral.

"In that way, the FOIA requester does not incur any timing disadvantage by virtue of the fact that a referral was made," the guidance said.

If an agency cannot provide a final response in 10 days or less, it must send a letter to the requester.

"These procedures ensure that agencies are making fully informed and consistent disclosure determinations, in a manner that maximizes efficiency," the guidance said. "They also ensure that FOIA requesters understand how their requests are being handled and always have a point of contact to obtain information about the status of any of the records subject to their requests."

DoJ's updated policy comes a month after it proposed updated regulation that would in rare instances allow federal law enforcement agencies tell FOIA requesters that no records on a subject exist — even if they do exist.

DoJ's Office of Information Policy will hold a training conference on the new guidance on Dec. 12.

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