Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)

Transportation Security Administration

Executive Summary

What OGIS Found

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request backlog at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) grew by almost 70 percent between Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 and FY 2014—from 546 requests to 924 requests. The growth of the backlog during this period occurred despite the number of incoming requests decreasing by 5.5 percent during those two fiscal years. The increase in backlogged requests can be attributed to processing decreasing by approximately 58 percent—from 851 requests processed in FY 2013 to 491 requests processed in FY 2014.

Several factors contributed to the processing decrease and backlog growth. Most significantly, in FY 2014, the FOIA office had several senior-level vacancies which TSA was unable to fill until FY 2015. At the same time, TSA switched case management and processing systems. While the new system adds efficiencies and improves reporting functions, moving files and training employees took time, and in the early stages of deployment, the system did not interact with other TSA information technology.

Recently, TSA made several changes to its FOIA program to improve its processes, including instituting a triage system and an intake process to help the office respond more quickly to simple requests, including those that might be answered with publicly available records.

Still, the agency has room for improvement in processing complex requests that may help to reduce its backlog in the short and long term. Specifically, TSA may consider ways it can better use its tracking and processing system. Timeliness also is an issue for TSA; failure to respond has been a factor in nine of the 10 FOIA lawsuits filed against TSA since 2009, costing the agency $238,020 in litigation-related expenses.

OGIS’s three primary findings are:

  • Weak management controls are affecting the FOIA process;
  • Lack of adoption of FOIA tracking system is affecting efficiency and creating duplication of efforts; and
  • Greater emphasis on customer service and communication is needed.

What OGIS Recommends

While TSA has taken steps to improve management of its FOIA process, OGIS recommends, among other things, that the agency continue to closely monitor its backlog and track the number of cases closed and the volume of pages reviewed by each FOIA processor and set data-driven goals that will result in reducing the backlog and improving timeliness. We recommend all TSA offices review the feasibility that all FOIA reviews use the same tracking and processing system. Finally, we recommend that the TSA FOIA branch proactively communicate with requesters to alert them to the status of their requests.

Compliance Assessment Report

Title: "Management Oversight, Training on Technology Use, and Clear Communication with Requesters Needed"

Date: January 11, 2016


120-Day Follow-Up Material