The Justice Department has reminded agencies of their obligations under the Freedom of Information Act, saying that even amid disrupted operations due to the pandemic “agencies’ legal obligations under the FOIA continue” including timeframes for responding to requests and appeals of denials.
“Many agencies have faced challenges as a result of staffing and technology limitations, as well as challenges at various stages of the FOIA process, ranging from request intake to conducting searches, processing certain types of records, and providing final responses. Agencies with the capability to process records, even at a diminished pace, should do so, subject to appropriate safety precautions necessary to protect the health of their employees,” new guidance says.
It says that agencies:
* are encouraged to post notices on their FOIA websites and include language in their FOIA acknowledgment letters to inform requesters of any anticipated delays;
* should “do their best” to timely acknowledge requests and appeals, notify requesters of any unusual circumstances, and make timely determinations on requests for expedited processing;
* should use multiple processing tracks to process requests based on the amount of work and time involved in processing requests; and
* are “especially encouraged” to communicate with requesters directly about how their request could be reformulated or more narrowly tailored so that it can be processed most efficiently.