Examining trends in data collected within the Annual FOIA Report is a great exercise in identifying FOIA goals, monitoring progress, and finding weak aspects of FOIA operations. This can be done for individual FOIA offices or for agencies as a whole; or as will be done in this post, for the entire U.S FOIA operations between fiscal year 2011 and 2012. This examination will provide insight into the full extent of the FOIA by analyzing the same statistics by which individual agencies are graded: received, processed, pending, and backlogged requests, request disposition, and exemption usage. This post will show only trends from FY2011 to FY2012 through percentage changes; however all supporting data can be found at http://www.foia.gov/index.html (a great website for the FOIA enthusiast).
Reporting is a valuable tool and the ability to produce reports that monitor the progress of an agency’s FOIA operations can greatly assist with meeting annual FOIA goals. FOIAXpress is equipped with an array of reporting mechanisms that allow you to do anything from generating the Annual FOIA Report within minutes to creating custom reports tailored to an agency’s specific needs. The statistics below can all be produced and monitored by properly utilizing FOIAXpress as a reporting tool.
The number of pending and backlogged requests is closely related to the number of requests received versus the cases processed. In regards to received and processed cases, from FY2011 to FY2012 there was a 1.1% increase in requests received with nearly a 6.5% increase in the number of requests processed. This resulted in almost a 9.4% decrease in pending requests and a 14% decrease in backlogged requests over the same time period.
When comparing the disposition of requests in FY2011 versus FY2012, requests where information was released in full increased from 50.33% to 53.91% and released in part decreased from 43.06% to 39.16%. The number of requests denied in full maintained at roughly 6 to 7% over the course of the past two years.
Exemption usage is more difficult to use as an indicator because the fluctuation in processed cases annually can either decrease or increase the number of exemptions used. Additionally, there are two sets of exemptions when considering discretionary release; exemptions that are generally not susceptible to discretionary release (1, 3, 4, 6 and 7(c)) and exemptions susceptible to discretionary release (2, 5, 7, 8 and 9). We will only examine two of the major exemptions susceptible to discretionary release; exemptions 2 and 5. Exemption 2 experienced a massive decrease of 87.68%, which was to be expected with the push for transparency and more significantly the aftermath of the Milner v. Department of Navy decision. Alternatively, exemption 5 experienced an increase of 42.24%.
The purpose of focusing so heavily on the disposition of requests and exemption usage is because they are strong indicators of an agency’s abidance with open government and increased transparency. As a fiscal year progresses, agencies can monitor their successes by utilizing the FOIAXpress reporting mechanisms.
All of the above statistics are important when not only examining each individual agency, but also the government as whole. They are the basis for measuring the efficiency of the U.S. FOIA operation and how well we are all meeting goals for increased transparency.