Surviving the FOIA Surge

Imagine – it’s the end of the fiscal year. Your agency has just finished sorting through its FOIA backlogs and you’re on track to finish the year ahead. Then, the U.S. president mentions your agency in a tweet and suddenly hundreds of FOIA requests are flooding your system. What happened?

You’ve just been hit with a FOIA surge. This happens when current events spark public interest in the conduct of involving parties. Whether your agency is the DOJ or a police department in a small town, a FOIA surge can pose a real threat to your limited resources.

Take, for example, the above premise. A similar situation happened in March, 2018, when President Trump tweeted that Amazon had cost the U.S. Postal Service billions of dollars in revenue. The statement caused a flood of FOIA requests for contracts and redacted information at USPS.

Then, there’s sudden, unexpected tragedies. When an airplane goes down or a police shooting occurs, airlines and police departments will see a surge of FOIA requests looking for signs of foul play. As AINS FOIA expert Pam Ackley notes, it’s important for these agencies to process such requests “as soon as possible” to maintain public trust.

Consequently, this means that agencies have to prioritize FOIA requests, and preference goes to cases with high public interest. Current cases are pushed to the sidelines, where they become backlog. It’s for this reason that some requests, such as Jason Smather’s inquiry into the CIA’s process for rejecting FOIA requests, can take up to three years to process.

In a perfect world, FOIA requests are processed the instant they are received. But, this is not a perfect world, and backlog happens. Let it build up, and the public may begin to lose faith in the FOIA process.

A FOIA surge does not have to expand backlog for your agency. At AINS, we offer a plan to help your agency survive FOIA surges. Under a surge contract, we can provide a bench that would allow you to call and get help quickly on a critical case. If, for example, you typically need five people to process FOIA requests, and now need seven or eight, we can provide the manpower to help you process requests and reduce your backlog.

We can also recommend best practices to optimize your use of FOIAXpress and FOIAXpress EDR. Simply contact us at info@ains.com to learn how to implement these practices.

There’s no need to stress about FOIA. With help from the FOIA experts at AINS, your agency can surmount any surge.