Freedom of Information Act requests often take agencies months to fulfill, by which time some requesters from the media or advocacy groups may have moved on to other pursuits.
The Justice Department on July 2 issued new guidance aimed at improving the procedure known as a “still interested” inquiry, through which a FOIA officer can confirm that the requester has not lost interest in obtaining the documents.
The update comes two months after Justice reported that FOIA requests governmentwide have reached a record high.
“While use of ‘still-interested’ inquiries is an understandable way to help ensure that agency resources are appropriately spent processing requests for records where the requester remains interested in receiving the documents,” the guidance states, “it is equally important that requesters are not in any way disadvantaged by their use.”
Early in his first term, President Obama and then-Attorney General Eric Holder signed memos stressing the need for agencies to work with requesters “in a spirit of cooperation.” In 2010, Justice’s Office of Information Policy published guidance (since updated) on the importance of good communication with requesters.
Last week’s update includes the following tips for agency FOIA employees:
- Have a reasonable basis to suspect that a requester’s interest has changed;
- Don’t inquire more than once as to continued interest;
- Use the requesters preferred method of communication, most likely phone or email;
- Provide requesters with adequate time to respond;
- Ensure that requesters are not disadvantaged if their reply is within a reasonable time after a deadline has passed.