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The Archive's method for measuring the backlog of Freedom of
Information Act ("FOIA") requests submitted to the Federal
Government was to file a FOIA request, by fax on January 31, 2003,
to each of the 35 agencies that are part of the overall National
Security Archive FOIA Audit (the "Audit"), seeking:
Copies of the [Agency's] ten oldest open or pending Freedom
of Information Act requests currently being processed or held
pending coordination with other agencies.
(the "Ten Oldest FOIA Requests"). The request went
to the central FOIA processing office of each agency. For agencies
with highly decentralized FOIA programs, the Archive limited the
request to the Ten Oldest FOIA Requests pending in the Office
of the Secretary, Solicitor, or other principal processing office.
The statutory 20-business day time limit for a FOIA response expired
on March 3, 2003. Each of 28 agencies with an outstanding Ten
Oldest FOIA request was contacted by telephone between February
24, 2003 and March 10, 2003 to ask for an update on the status
of the request.
Several agencies, including the Department of State and the Federal
Bureau of Investigation explained that their databases were not
capable of searching for their oldest pending requests and that
locating these aged, open FOIA requests was a burdensome task.
Agencies that expressed this difficulty typically were not contacted
again until April or May 2003, while other agencies were contacted
on average once every four to six weeks.
Several agencies that received the request informed us that their
FOIA programs are completely decentralized and that it is virtually
impossible to amalgamate their oldest FOIA requests. The main
FOIA office refers requests to components that independently process
requests and also refer requests to their own components that
independently process FOIA requests, and so on. For example, the
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as a single
component of the Department of Labor, advised that it would have
to contact at least 100 separate FOIA officers in order to find
its Ten Oldest FOIA Requests. Others, such as the General Services
Administration (GSA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
have regional offices that operate independent FOIA programs.
At many military agencies, the central FOIA offices serve as mail
stops to organize requests, determine which components may maintain
responsive documents and forward requests to these components.
These central offices typically do not keep track of FOIA requests
forwarded to components or requests that were sent directly to
components by FOIA requesters. Army, Air Force, Navy, the Department
of Labor, and the Department of Transportation are all extremely
decentralized, and would have to do a substantial amount of work
in order to locate their Ten Oldest FOIA Requests. It was not
practicable for the Archive to file the several hundred additional
FOIA requests necessary to obtain the actual Ten Oldest FOIA Requests
from these agencies. In light of these practical problems, the
Archive sent a FOIA request for the Ten Oldest FOIA Requests to
the five components at each of these decentralized agencies that
received the most FOIA requests for that agency in 2002. If there
was an extraordinary degree of decentralization at any of these
agency components, such as OSHA, the Archive further limited the
scope of the request. Thus, the number of business days that have
passed since the filing of the FOIA request with many of these
components is far shorter than with the majority of the agencies.
One additional caveat regarding decentralization is that some
of the FOIA requests that the agencies identified as still-pending
may have been completed to the satisfaction of the requester by
a different component than the one that responded with a copy
of the FOIA request. The Archive did not track down all of the
individual requesters to determine whether they agree that their
request remains pending.
In the time taken to receive responses to the FOIA requests,
some agencies may have completed processing of the oldest requests.
Such is the case with respect to at least one request made by
the Archive to the CIA in 1989; it was responded to on April 22,
2003 after the CIA had identified it as one of the CIA's Ten Oldest
Despite persistent inquiries, and after more than 190 business
days, the Archive never received a complete, substantive response
from the following agencies initially served with the FOIA request:
- The Department of Housing and Urban Development;
- The Department of Labor;
- The Department of State;
- The Department of Transportation;
- The Drug Enforcement Administration; and
- The Department of Veterans Affairs.
The explanations provided by the agencies for their inability
to respond are discussed below and in the individual agency summaries.
As noted below, in some cases we followed up by making the FOIA
request directly to departmental components, some of which have
responded. The Archive decided to publish this report even with
some agencies' data missing because over nine months have passed
since initially submitting the requests on January 31, 2003.
As the Archive received responses to the FOIA requests, we looked
at the Ten Oldest FOIA Requests still pending with each of the
surveyed agencies and the annual FOIA report statistics reported
by the agencies over the last five fiscal years. The Archive supplemented
its analysis with a review of official guidance concerning annual
reporting requirements and other publicly reported information,
as referenced in the Audit Report.
In addition to our findings, this report provide a detailed summary
for each agency reviewed regarding: (1) Recordkeeping Issues;
(2) the Ten Oldest FOIA Requests; (3) Workload Statistics; (4)
Backlog Statistics; and (5) Processing Time. Supporting materials
for this report include the responses
to our FOIA requests for the Ten Oldest FOIA Requests
and a chart summarizing the agencies 1998-2002
annual FOIA report statistics. (Note