DoJ eases agencies' FOIA filing process

Monday - 12/19/2011, 10:29am EST

Melanie Pustay, director of information policy, Department of Justice

Download mp3

By Michael O'Connell
@moconnellWFED
Web Editor
Federal News Radio

The Justice Department is gearing up to post details about your agency's compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. Federal agencies submitted their 2011 FOIA reports earlier this month, and all that information goes up on your agency's website and at FOIA.gov by Feb. 1.

The DoJ distributed an electronic tool that it had developed to agencies that has improved the quality of the annual report submissions.

"The quality of the submissions has been quite improved as a result of that tool," said Melanie Pustay, Justice Department's director of information policy. She spoke to The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris about how the DoJ has been trying to make it easier for agencies to file their annual FOIA reports.

"We have detailed instructions to walk agencies through the tool," Pustay said. "We have lots of attachments that are connected with our posting of the guidance to give specialized instructions for different aspects of the tool."

DoJ also released substantive guidance on the document referral process, focusing on improving customer service.

When agencies are processing FOIA requests, they often uncover documents that originated from a different agency. Typically, they forward those documents to the agency of origin so that the agency can process its own documents. The new guidance lays out, step-by-step, the process on how the agencies can keep the FOIA requester up to date on his or her request.

"The guidance ensures that the requesters aren't disadvangtaged in any way by this process," said Pustay. It also ensures requesters have a point of contact at the relevant agencies so that they can always know what's the status of the request and who they should contact if they have a question.

"So far, the requester community has been really pleased with this guidance on improving the customer service aspects of document referrals," Pustay said, adding that the concerns about the process came from the requester community. She saw this as an opportunity for the government to improve transparency in keeping with the Attorney General's guidelines and President's FOIA initiative.

Pustay's office also provided new formatting guidelines designed to make sure that all of the statistical data about FOIA requests is sent to the department in an open format. That way it can be made available to the public, who can sort, analyze and review the material with computer technology.

RELATED STORIES

FOIA.gov incentivizes agency disclosure

DoJ's updated FOIA policy emphasizes customer service

Agency FOIA backlog growing despite open government