U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR: Announces Enhanced Processes for Public Records Requests

U.S. Department of the Interior issued the following announcement on Oct. 25.

The U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) announced the issuance of a Final Rule amending its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations. The revisions will help create a more efficient and transparent process that are aligned with recent legal developments, court decisions and policy guidance from the Department of Justice (DOJ) and has bipartisan support from Congress. 

“By modernizing and streamlining the Department’s FOIA process, we will bring greater transparency and efficacy to the process,” said U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt. “These changes, which have bipartisan support, will help us faithfully carry out our duties at the Department for the betterment of the American people.”

“The FOIA is often explained as a means for citizens to know “what their government is up to,” said Department of the Interior Solicitor and Chief FOIA Officer Daniel Jorjani. “This non-partisan regulatory reform went through a robust public notice-and-comment process and is a major step forward in ensuring transparency and accountability in the FOIA program.”

“The changes to the regulations are just one part of a broader plan to improve FOIA processing at the Department of the Interior,” said Deputy Chief FOIA Officer Rachel Spector. “These changes will facilitate greater efficiency in processing and enable the Department to modernize its technology in ways that will serve the requester community.”

The regulatory changes are being made in response to the significant increase in FOIA requests received by the DOI and the resulting backlog in processing the requests. Specifically, the FOIA program has seen a 30 percent Department-wide increase in requests from FY16 to FY18. The complexity of the FOIA requests received by the DOI has also increased significantly, requiring more time and resources to lawfully respond.

Of note from the changes made in the Final Rule, specific examples include:

  • allowing requesters to submit FOIA requests via an online portal;
  • clarifying when and how FOIA officials will grant expedited processing of FOIA requests;
  • providing refunds if requestors are overcharged; and
  • extending the reduced fee benefit for “educational institutions” to include students.

The Final Rule also eliminates or revises provisions from the Proposed Rule that were a concern based on the more than 64,000 public comments received from Congress, Tribal leaders, DOJ, the public, and other Federal agencies. These changes demonstrate the DOI’s unwavering commitment to improving its FOIA program in a transparent manner and with a willingness to respond to substantive concerns raised by its stakeholders.

The Final Rule includes provisions that will improve the transparency and efficiency of the DOI’s FOIA processing procedures, benefitting FOIA requesters and the FOIA program.

The awareness review process for FOIA requests is separate from the regulatory process and is posted online.

Read the letter from U.S. Senators Grassley, Leahy and Cornyn.

Original source can be found here.

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U.S. Department of the Interior

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