~ 2 ~Before discussing DHS FOIA operations, it is important to mention the government disclosureguidance created early in the Obama administration. On January 21, 2009, the President directed
agencies to make all FOIA decisions under a ―presumption in favor of disclosure.‖
doubt, the President wrote, ―openness prevails.‖ On March 19, 2009, the Attorney General, who
provides FOIA policy guidance to federal entities, directed that agencies should not withholdrecords simply because an exemption may apply. When records cannot be fully disclosed,agencies must consider whether partial disclosure is possible.
He added that ―unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles‖ should not exist in a FOI
A program.The DHS FOIA ProgramDHS has a substantial FOIA caseload. In fiscal year (FY) 2009, it received 103,093 FOIA
requests, or 18% of the federal government’s 557,825 requests.
In FY 2010, the number of requests increased by 26% to 130,098.
Most of the department’s components process requests for their own records under the guidance
of a FOIA Officer, while DHS Privacy Office staff processes requests for the Privacy Office andeight headquarters
offices. From the Privacy Office, the Chief FOIA Officer, who is also the
department’s Chief Privacy Officer, supports component efforts, shares information, and
monitors the DHS FOIA program. However, the Privacy Office does not control FOIAprocessing in DHS components, and component FOIA Officers are not supervised by the Chief FOIA Officer.To process requests, FOIA Officers work with program experts to determine whether responsiveinformation exists, then consider the possible exemptions or exclusions that would require theagency to withhold all or part of the information.FOIA Officers we interviewed had positive comments about the Privacy Office. Theyacknowledged the Privacy Office staff to be helpful in clarifying policy, offering guidance, andassisting FOIA processing efforts. FOIA Officers also noted that the Chief FOIA Officerensures greater communication across the department on FOIA issues, which improvesconsistency and efficiency in the disclosure of information.We determined
that the department’s FOIA Public Liaison, who rep
orts to the Chief FOIAOfficer, has provided important assistance in working with DHS components and the public onFOIA disclosures. Our interviewees praised the FOIA Public Liaison for approachability,thoroughness, and knowledge of FOIA case laws.
Our report also discusses DHS efforts to promote proactive disclosure. Proactive disclosure isconsidered as a method of providing certain information online, even if the material has not beenrequested. This increases
level of transparency, while potentially decreasing