U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs

OJP's FOIA Plan Under Executive Order 13,392

Nature of OJP's FOIA Operations

The Office of Justice Programs is the primary grant-making component within the Department of Justice. The FOIA requests received at OJP are primarily for information and documents pertaining to grant funding, training, programs, statistics, and research on technology to fight crime. FOIA requests are submitted by criminal justice agencies, researchers, organizations, law firms, media, inmates, and state agencies.

In Fiscal Year 2005, OJP received 370 requests and completed the processing and closing of 314 requests. Since the beginning of 2006, the FOIA Officer has devoted her time to eliminating the backlog of 8 requests pending since FY 2004 and 37 requests pending since FY 2005, in addition to processing 159 current requests received thus far this year. During this time, the FOIA Officer has also been training the current clerical contract employees. So far, we have completed the processing of, and closed, 4 of the FY 2004 requests and completed the processing of, and closed, 32 of the FY 2005 requests.

In 2002, OJP began receiving FOIA requests electronically through fax and FOIAOJP e-mail. We receive approximately five or six requests monthly electronically. The majority of our requests are received through regular mail. OJP now daily monitors the "FOIAOJP" e-mailbox to retrieve all FOIA requests and acknowledge receipt within two days, and to assign a FOIA tracking number. If the request is too vague, the FOIA Officer contacts the requester by e-mail, fax, telephone, or regular mail and requests additional information before assigning a FOIA tracking number. Upon receipt of the additional information, a FOIA tracking number is assigned and the request is again acknowledged by e-mail, fax, telephone, or regular mail. OJP now has the capability to scan documents into our office network and create adobe files. The staff has been trained on the use of this feature. OJP now responds to some requests by e-mailing responses and documents to the requester.

In August 2005, a meeting was convened with the OJP's General Counsel, a Senior Counsel from the Office of the General Counsel (OGC), and the FOIA Officer to discuss improving the OJP FOIA operations. The General Counsel met with the OJP Assistant Attorney General (AAG) to discuss plans to conduct FOIA/PA training for OJP employees. The AAG mandated that each OJP bureau identify a senior management official as the liaison between the bureau and OGC. As a result of OJP's in-house training in September and November 2005 of all OJP FOIA contacts and senior management officials, response times to document requests from the FOIA Officer to OJP's bureaus and offices have been reduced dramatically. OJP has the assistance of a Senior Counsel in OGC with 12 years of FOIA experience, who will, if necessary, contact the senior management officials in the bureaus or offices, if a response has not been forwarded to OGC within the time allotted. OJP, in conjunction with OIP, conducted in-house FOIA/PA training for its employees in September and November 2005.

Areas Selected For Review

OJP reviewed the following potential improvement areas:

  • Electronic FOIA - receiving requests electronically
  • In-house training
  • Proactive disclosure of information
  • Backlog reduction/elimination
  • Timeliness
  • Plan for increased staffing
  • System of handling referrals and consultations
  • Communications with requesters
  • Response time from OJP bureaus and offices
  • Politeness/courtesy

Narrative Statement Summarizing Results of Review

OJP conducted a review of its FOIA operations and identified several areas for improvement. We determined that the primary concerns regarding OJP's FOIA operation include limited staffing, slow responses to document requests from internal program offices, increasingly demanding requesters, and an increase in the number of requests for highly technical and highly sensitive documents.

OJP now releases all releasable documents maintained in the grant file, unless otherwise noted by the requester that only specific documents are needed. OJP will be utilizing part-time law clerks to assist with processing voluminous FOIA documents. OJP will utilize e-mail to send referrals and consultations to Department of Justice components, and to request a read receipt to verify that the e-mail was received.

Because of the nature of some of OJP's requested documents, we often meet with subject-matter experts in the appropriate bureau to obtain their assistance in the review of documents. OJP modified its procedures for distributing requests for documents to the bureaus and offices by utilizing e-mail and fax. OJP's bureaus will continue to post on their Web pages the grant recipients, award amounts, and project periods of all funded grants. Often, the requesters obtain this information from the OJP Web page before submitting a request, thereby eliminating the need to send a search letter to several different bureaus to determine where the documents may be housed.

OJP plans to eliminate or reduce its backlog by utilizing law clerks and by hiring a temporary paralegal to assist in processing requests. OJP will refer requests for consultation to some Department of Justice components via e-mail. OJP will request assistance from the OJP IT staff to incorporate a tickler system to alert us to the pending due date that a response from the component is due.

OJP proposes to respond to referrals for consultations received in this office within five working days from receipt of the memorandum. If the referral(s) consists of voluminous documents and/or the subject matter requires multiple consults throughout OJP, the component will be notified within five working days. OJP has increased interactions with requesters as necessary. This has included having the Senior Counsel call requesters to assist in clarifying or narrowing requests and helping requesters understand some of the statutory limitations restricting release of certain information.

Currently, two contract employees have access to the FOIA tracking database in order to respond to callers to the OJP FOIA service center on the status of his/her request. The contract employees also have access to the FOIA contacts within the Department of Justice, in the event that a requester is seeking this information. OJP will grant access to the FOIA tracking database to other OJP/OGC employees, as needed, so that anyone who answers the telephone at the FOIA service center will have the information needed to assist a requester on the status of a request.

Areas Chosen as Improvement Areas for Plan

  • Backlog reduction/elimination
  • Plan for increased staffing
  • Communications with requesters
  • Response time from OJP bureaus and offices
  • Politeness/courtesy

Improvement Area Plans

Backlog Reduction/Elimination

Goal: Respond to all requests that were filed during Calendar Years 2004 and 2005. Target completion: 12-31-06.

Steps:

  • Part-time law student interns will be assigned to assist in the processing of older requests from 2004 and 2005. To be completed by 12-31-06.
  • Discuss with subject matter experts on highly technical documents that originated within outside companies, not federal agencies, and to provide contact name(s) and telephone number(s) to the FOIA Officer in order to expedite the consultation process. To be completed by 8-1-06 (and continuing thereafter).
  • Upon receipt of a FOIA request for voluminous or technical-related documents the FOIA Officer will meet with the Senior Counsel and the appropriate subject-matter expert in the OJP bureau to identify options for the requester to narrow the request, and immediately contact the requester to discuss those options. To be completed by 9-1-06 (and continuing thereafter).
  • Revise statement of work for a temporary FOIA paralegal. To be completed by 9-1-06.

Goal: Reduce the processing time for FOIA requests to 20 days as provided by the statute. Target completion: 12-31-06.

Steps:

  • The Senior Counsel will monitor the OJP FOIA statistics to determine whether full-time resources are needed due to an increase interest by the public for highly technical documents. To be completed by 9-1-06.
  • Utilize part-time law student interns to assist with processing requests still pending from Calendar Years 2004 and 2005. To be completed 12-31-06.
  • Monitor FOIA requests for same documents and work with IT staff to post documents in the FOIA reading room and notify the public by way of OJP's bureaus' Web pages. To be completed 12-31-06.
  • Update FOIA Web site. To be completed 12-31-06.

Improving Communications with Requesters

Goal: To inform requesters on the status of their requests if the due date is approaching and the request has not yet been processed, and to contact requester(s) immediately to clarify any unclear requests. Target completion: 9-1-06.

Steps:

  • Train contractors and law student interns to identify unclear requests, prepare letters to requesters seeking clarification, and/or contact the requester by e-mail or telephone to clarify the request. To be completed by 9-1-06.
  • Create a log and utilize access database to track FOIA callers by name, the time of the call, the information requested, and the result of the call. To be completed by 9-1-06.

Improve Response Time from the OJP Bureaus and Offices

Goal: To receive responses from the OJP bureaus and offices with 5 days of receipt of the OGC search letter. Target completion: 9-1-06.

Steps:

  • To provide clear and helpful information to OJP bureaus and offices when questions arise during their searches. To be completed by 7-1-06 (and continuing thereafter).
  • Create a tracking system to monitor which bureaus and offices are delinquent in responding, inform the General Counsel and senior counsel on delinquent bureaus and offices, and meet to discuss any issues the bureaus and offices may have with searching for documents. To be completed by 9-1-06 (and continuing thereafter).

Politeness/Courtesy

Goal: Ensure that all telephone calls from requesters are responded to courteously and within 24 hours. Target completion: 9-1-06.

Steps:

  • Train FOIA Requester Service Center staff on how to access the FOIA tracking database, determine the status of a request, and when to refer the caller to the FOIA Officer or the Senior Counsel. To be completed by 9-1-06.
  • Create a log and utilize access database to track FOIA callers by name, the time of the call, the information requested, and the result of the call. To be completed by 9-1-06.

Improvement Time Periods

Areas anticipated to be completed by 12-31-06:

  • Backlog reduction/elimination
  • Plan for increased staffing
  • Communications with requesters
  • Response time from OJP bureaus and offices
  • Politeness/courtesy

Areas anticipated to be completed by 12-31-07:

None

Areas anticipated to be completed after 12-31-07:

None

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