Federal Emergency Management Agency
What OGIS Found
In recent years the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has made several investments that will help the agency streamline the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process and improve timeliness. These investments include moving onto a unified FOIA processing system and purchasing a license to improve the agency’s ability to process requests for email. FEMA has also taken steps to improve its responsiveness to requesters.
Despite these advances, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 FEMA reported having several of the oldest pending requests at DHS, including the third oldest request across the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)—while receiving less than one-half of one percent of requests sent to DHS. During the same reporting period, FEMA also reported having the third highest average processing time for complex requests among DHS components (213.82 days).
While FEMA has put in place a system to improve responsiveness to requesters, we observed that it often takes FEMA a year or more to respond to simple FOIA requests. Lack of a response was a factor in all 16 FOIA lawsuits filed against FEMA since 2009, costing the agency more than $364,000 in litigation expenses. FEMA is also not using its FOIA processing software to its fullest capacity, and is not using multi-track processing to process simple requests in a timely manner.
OGIS’s three primary findings are:
- FEMA’s FOIA Office needs to improve management and oversight controls;
- Additional steps are needed to fully benefit from investments in technology to improve tracking, processing, and proactive disclosure; and
- Further steps are needed to improve communication.
What OGIS Recommends
Among other things, OGIS recommends that FEMA use its FOIA processing system to track the volume of records processed as a management and oversight control tool. FEMA should also create a triage process so that relatively simple requests can move through the process in a more timely fashion, and should proactively communicate with requesters to let them know where they are in the queue and provide reasonable estimated dates of completion.
Compliance Assessment Report
Title: "Management Controls, Better Use of Technology, and Improved Communication with Requesters Needed"
Date: September 18, 2015
120-day Follow-Up Material
- Letter Closing OGIS Recommendations for FEMA FOIA Program - November 29, 2016
- Compliance Assessment Response - November 14, 2016
- Letter to FEMA Regarding Lack of Response to 120 Day Follow-up - June 6, 2016