Immigration and Customs Enforcement
What OGIS Found
The number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) received and processed has consistently increased since 2009. Between Fiscal Year (FY) 2009 and FY 2011, ICE reported a backlog ranging from 10 requests in FY 2009 to 27 requests in FY 2010. In FY 2012 ICE’s backlog spiked to 2,443 requests. The number of FOIA requests received and ICE’s backlog continued to grow rapidly during FY 2013 and FY 2014, driven in large part by ICE’s termination in April 2012 of an agreement with the another DHS component, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), that allowed USCIS to process ICE information found in a certain type of frequently requested immigration record. In FY 2014, ICE’s backlog of 56,863 requests accounted for almost 55 percent of the overall backlog at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and almost 36 percent of the overall backlog Government-wide.
In FY 2015, the ICE FOIA Office undertook a major effort to eliminate its backlog. In addition to other efforts to eliminate its backlog, ICE secured a contractor to close about 60,000 backlogged requests, costing $6.2 million. At the end of FY 2015, ICE reported a backlog of 555 requests, accounting for one-half of a percent of the overall DHS backlog.
The overall cost of the ICE FOIA program grew by almost 200 percent between FY 2009 and FY 2015—from about $4.2 million to $12.4 million. In FY 2015, litigation related expenses accounted for 2 percent of the program’s reported expenses. In previous fiscal years, litigation-related expenses had accounted for as much as 36 percent of the total program costs.
In addition to using contractors to eliminate the FOIA backlog, ICE adopted management controls to measure and increase the FOIA staff’s productivity. ICE also used its FOIA processing and tracking system to make its process efficient and invested in other technology to further streamline the process.
ICE’s elimination of its backlog is likely to improve its ability to respond to requesters in a timely fashion.
What OGIS Recommends
ICE may wish to develop a process to electronically transmit misdirected FOIA requests to USCIS. We recommend that ICE add a metadata tag to all records released under FOIA as encouraged in guidance from the Department of Justice. We also recommend ICE further improve customer service.
Compliance Assessment Report
Title: "Strong Management, Innovative Use of Technology, and Suggested Improvements to Customer Service"
Date: October 18, 2016
120-day Follow-Up Material
- Letter Closing OGIS Compliance Recommendations for ICE FOIA Program - December 9, 2016
- Compliance Assessment Response - October 13, 2016