Customs and Border Protection
What OGIS Found
In Fiscal Year 2015, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) reduced its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request backlog by 74 percent—from 34,307 requests to 9,024 requests. CBP reduced its FOIA request backlog despite an increase in the number of requests made to the agency. The FOIA office received an average of about 140 requests per day in FY 2015, compared to about 130 requests per day in FY 2014. The timeliness of CBP’s responses to FOIA requests also gradually improved during the last three years: CBP reported the second-longest average processing time for simple requests of all 22 DHS components in FY 2012 and FY 2013, yet responded to most simple requests made during FY 2015 within the 20 days allowed under the law.
CBP uses a multi-track system in which FOIA requests for traveler records, which document a traveler’s arrival to and departure from the U.S., are placed in the simple track. Requests for all other non-traveler records are placed in the complex track. Requests for traveler records, needed for immigration purposes, comprise between 80 and 90 percent of the request volume.
Changes in personnel and process management during the last three years; increased interest in the FOIA program from CBP leaders; and adopting FOIAonline to better manage the volume of requests contributed to the improvement in CBP’s FOIA program. Specific management changes include instituting a second-day triage system, and using and shifting resources to better manage the FOIA process.
OGIS’s three primary findings are:
- Improved management practices corrected deficiencies in CBP’s FOIA program;
- CBP’s FOIA program uses technology to increase efficiencies, but opportunities exist to strengthen its use; and
- CBP’s FOIA program improved interaction with requesters, but could better communicate with requesters.
What OGIS Recommends
OGIS recommends that CBP continue to streamline its processes to increase the timeliness of its responses. Specifically, OGIS recommends that CBP continue to monitor its processes for bottlenecks and adjust resources as needed, continue to work with its leadership to ensure the FOIA office has enough resources to manage the volume of requests without the backlog increasing, and continue checking for duplicate requests during the triage process. OGIS recommends that CBP develop a training schedule to ensure that FOIA processors have the skills they need to handle additional responsibilities.
Compliance Assessment Report
Title: "Good Management Practices in Place; Clear Communication and Increased Technology Use Needed"
Date: March 9, 2016
120-day Follow-Up Material
- Letter Closing OGIS Recommendations for CBP FOIA Program - November 29, 2016
- Compliance Assessment Response - September 30, 2016
- 120 Day Follow up Letter - July 11, 2016