Beefed-Up FOIA Offices Trim Backlog of Requests Governmentwide

As the annual Sunshine Week neared a close, the Justice Department released its governmentwide report on agency Freedom of Information Act responses, showing a record high number of requests processed. Those gains were made possible by more staff handling the requests at a higher cost.

The 100 agencies subject to FOIA transparency requirements received more than 713,168 requests in fiscal 2015 while processing “a record high number of nearly 770,000 requests,” said the annual report posted Thursday. “This strong effort led to a significant 35.6 percent reduction in the government’s overall request backlog of 102,828,” wrote Justice’s Office of Information Policy. The number of FOIA requests received represented a slight decrease of 1,063 from the record set in fiscal 2014.

During the 2015 fiscal year, some 4,122 full-time FOIA staff administered FOIA, an increase of 7 percent over the previous year. For the fifth year in a row, the Defense Department reported the highest number of full-time FOIA staff, though that number fell from 754 in 2014 to 724 currently.

The total estimated cost of all FOIA related activities across government during 2015 rose 4 percent over 2014 to $480,235,968, the report said. For the fifth year in a row, nearly 94 percent of the total cost was attributed to the processing of requests and appeals by agencies, with only 6 percent going to litigation.

For the seventh consecutive year, most document requests (281,138) were directed at the Homeland Security Department, followed by the departments of Justice, Defense, Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs, in that order. These five agencies draw 67 percent of all FOIA requests, the report said.

The five agencies that received the most requests also processed the most. The overall release rate of requested documents—statutory exemptions require agencies to withhold specified types of documents—was 91 percent.

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