Agencies are facing a growing backlog of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and the agencies facing the most requests have started notifying the public, according to a report by the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).
The report, following up on a June 2020 OGIS report, says that 81 percent of 27 agencies that received over 10,000 FOIA requests in 2019 have posted notices on their website about delays related to COVID-19. Those notices fall in line with the guidance given by the Department of Justice’s Office of Information in May 2020.
“The move to a full-time work-from-home environment in March 2020 in response to the pandemic challenged FOIA programs governmentwide, particularly those that were not telework-ready, work with largely paper-based records, and/or work with classified records or systems for processing records responsive to FOIA requests,” the report says.
“OGIS, which is in a unique position to observe FOIA administration across the government as the Federal FOIA Ombudsman, urged agencies early in the pandemic to provide – and update – information on their FOIA websites regarding the status of processing requests amid the pandemic,” the report continues.
The report shows the delay is about volume, as well as COVID-19, as agencies with fewer requests have not had to place delay alerts on their websites. 86 percent of agencies that received fewer than 50 FOIA requests in 2019 do not have an alert on their site, and 55 percent of agencies that received between 50-199 requests also lack an alert.
Of the 305 agencies reviewed, 141 received at least 200 FOIA requests in 2019. Of that 141, over 67 percent of agencies reviewed had an alert about delays fulfilling requests on their site.