DHS generally met deadlines for responding to simple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, it did not do so for most complex requests. A significant increase in requests received, coupled with resource constraints, limited DHS’ ability to meet production timelines under FOIA, creating a litigation risk for the Department. Additionally, DHS has not always fully documented its search efforts, making it difficult for the Department to defend the reasonableness of the searches undertaken. With respect to responding to congressional requests, we determined DHS has established a timeliness goal of 15 business days or less; however, on average, it took DHS nearly twice as long to provide substantive responses to Congress, with some requests going unanswered for up to 450 business days. Further, DHS redacted personal information in its responses to congressional committee chairs even when disclosure of the information was statutorily permissible. This was a descriptive report and contained no recommendations. In its response, DHS acknowledged FOIA backlogs remain a problem, despite increasing requests processed. DHS stated its process responding to congressional requests varies greatly and that its redactions are appropriate.
- Executive SummaryReport NumberOIG-20-56Issue DateDocument FileDHS AgencyOversight AreaKeywordsFiscal Year2020
DHS Review of Responses to Significant Freedom of Information Act Requests (Verification Review of OIG-11-67)Executive Summary
We determined that due to changes DHS made to the process, political appointees do not influence Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processors to delay or withhold the release of FOIA information. Unlike the former process, the new process does not provide opportunities for political appointees in headquarters to inappropriately interfere with releases of significant FOIA information, and we did not identify any instances in which headquarters officials used the process to engage in those activities. However, because DHS has not issued final guidance for the process, it is vulnerable to misuse in the future. We recommended that the Chief FOIA Officer/Chief Privacy Officer issue final guidance on the 1-Day Awareness Notification Process. The guidance should state 1) the purpose of the process is to inform senior officials of the imminent release of information that may raise public interest and 2) FOIA staff determine whether information should be released or withheld under FOIA’s exceptions and exemptions.Report NumberOIG-17-116-VRIssue DateDocument FileDHS AgencyOversight AreaFiscal Year2017