Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), federal agencies must generally provide access to their information, enabling the public to learn about government operations and decisions. To help ensure proper implementation, the act requires that agencies report annually to the Attorney General on their processing of FOIA requests. For fiscal year 2006, agencies were also to report on their progress in implementing plans to improve FOIA operations, as directed by a December 2005 Executive Order. A major goal of the order was reducing backlogs of overdue FOIA requests (the statute requires an agency to respond to requests within 20 or, in some cases, 30 working days with a determination on whether it will provide records). For this study, GAO was asked, among other things, to determine trends in FOIA processing and agencies' progress in addressing backlogs of overdue FOIA requests since implementing their improvement plans. To do so, GAO analyzed 21 agencies' annual reports and additional statistics.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|General Services Administration||To help ensure that FOIA data in the annual reports are reliable, the Administrator of General Services should ensure that appropriate internal controls are put in place to improve the accuracy and reliability of FOIA data, including processes, such as checks and reviews, to verify that required data are entered correctly.|
|Department of Housing and Urban Development||To help ensure that FOIA data are reliable, the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development should ensure that appropriate policies and procedures are put in place to improve the accuracy and reliability of FOIA data, including procedures to ensure that all FOIA offices use tracking systems consistently and that information is entered accurately and promptly.|
|Department of Justice||The Attorney General should, to help ensure that its oldest requests receive appropriate attention, direct the Criminal Division to establish goals and time frames for closing its oldest requests, including those over 6 years old.|
|Department of Justice||The Attorney General should, to help agencies achieve the backlog reduction goals planned for fiscal years 2008, 2009, and 2010 and to ensure that comparable statistics on backlog are available governmentwide, direct the Office of Information and Privacy to provide additional guidance to agencies on (1) developing plans or modifying existing plans to achieve these goals and (2) tracking and reporting backlog.|