Snapshot: State Dept FY2014 FOIA Personnel and Costs

Posted: 9:46 am EST
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Via FY 2014 FOIA Annual Report:

During this fiscal year the Department experienced a 60 percent increase in FOIA lawsuits over fiscal year 2013. The majority of new lawsuits involved voluminous sensitive records that required careful coordination with other federal agencies. To meet the demands of this upswing in FOIA lawsuits, the Department reallocated resources from FOIA processing to FOIA litigation, which directly impacted efforts to manage and reduce the backlog of pending FOIA requests that are not in litigation.

Despite all efforts, including employing best practices established during the successful backlog reduction project in fiscal year 2013 as well as processing over 88 percent of the thousands of referrals that were pending from last fiscal year and received by the Department this fiscal year, the FOIA request backlog rose by 15.8 percent this fiscal year. However, the Department achieved a significant reduction in the FOIA appeal backlog lowering the backlog by 13.7 percent. The Department also closed its ten oldest requests and consultations. These accomplishments are especially noteworthy in light of the fact that the Department reallocated FOIA processing resources to address large, complex FOIA litigation cases and to provide assistance to the Department on significant special document productions throughout the fiscal year.

Note that the number of FOIA requests and administrative appeals backlogs at the end of FY2014 (September 30,2014) is 10,045 or 1,376 cases more than FY2013. Processing of simple FOIA cases can take anywhere between 3 days to 1,576 days or 4.3 years. Processing complex cases can take anywhere between 11 days to 2,237 days or 6.1 years. The average number of days for processing expedited FOIA cases is 385.6 days. (see pdf)

In the table below, the “Equivalent Full-Time FOIA Employees” include When Actually Employed (WAE) former Foreign Service Officers who perform document review and students who work part-time throughout the year to process FOIA requests. Note that the breakdown of personnel does not identify exactly how many WAE and how many students are working FOIA cases, only that they are equivalent to “full-time employees.”  WAE employees have no regularly scheduled tour of duty and the hours worked cannot exceed 1,040 in a calendar year. As for the students, we don’t know how many students rotate through the FOIA office requiring training every year.   Also useful to know that each bureau has its own WAE application and appointment procedures and the ability to hire is limited by the bureau’s budgets.

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According to the annual report, the processing costs below include “a percentage of the costs incurred by IT staff who were employed to support the FOIA program as one of their major duties”  The IT staffing numbers are not reflected in personnel data column so we also have no idea how many IT staff supports the FOIA office.

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In related news:


Foreign Service Grievance Board: Out With The Old, In With The New — Website

— By Domani Spero

This is a topic almost as old as this blog. In 2008, we wrote that the Foreign Service Grievance Board website was like a relic from an Internet cold war. All the documents were still posted in MS Word, the search function was not terribly helpful and there was no option to search/browse its pending or resolved cases.

Related posts:

Last week, one of our readers gave us a heads-up that website has gone missing and the web search is returning an error message. It was.  We found the one below from the Wayback Machine:

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Screen grab of from the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine

About 48 hours later when we look again, we found this!

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The new website is certainly an improvement from its ancient version.  Some of the more apparent changes:

  • “Browse Grievances” is now available by year. By far, 1996 was a banner year for grievances with 175 cases listed.
  • The posted cases from 2012 are available mostly in pdf files, making it accessible to read even without MS Word installed.
  • New decisions issued by the FSGB now include the names/signatures of the panel members hearing the cases.  Previous cases did not always have the names of the FSGB members or their signatures.
  • The Annual Reports have been updated to include the 2012 report which was submitted to Congress in March 2013, but did not make it online till now (2012 report will be in a separate post)
  • The contact page includes two email addresses and the Executive Secretary’s telephone number.  Have yet to test if either or both respond to inquiries.

The FSGB told Congress on its 2012 report that the Board was “not able to advance to an acceptable stage in the refurbishing of our outdated and overburdened website, but we have managed to continue to post grievance decisions and other essential information both for the public and for use by the members.”  Apparently, at the beginning of 2013, the FSGB finally entered into an agreement with State Department’s IRM which made the website changes possible. Not sure why it took so long but —


The one thing that still needs attention on the FSGB website is the “Search Grievance” function which does not appear to work as well as it should. You can search by year and by specific Record of Proceeding (ROP) and it will return the appropriate records. But if you do the “Document Search” field for instance, on records pertaining to “EER,” “discipline,” “financial,” or “separation” — the top cases filed within the Board, the new website returns a “no match” result.  We’ve used “OR”, “AND”, double quotes, and a wildcard “*” with the same “no match” results.

We suspect that providing a better end-user search experience was among the top justifications for migrating the old website to this new Sharepoint site.  But the FSGB cases do not use meaningful file names and titles, so while browsing the cases is available, it does not make locating the files any more easier or quicker.   It also does not look like the cases have been tagged or use metadata; both if used would help tremendously in improving the “findability” of the cases in the new website.