Justice Department Issues New Guidelines on Handling FOIA Requests

April 22, 2009

The Justice Department's Office of Information Policy issued new guidance April 17, 2009, urging FOIA workers at all agencies to change their mindset to a presumption of openness when handling FOIA requests.

The guidance was the latest in a series of orders from the Obama administration seeking to turn around the Bush administration's presumption of secrecy when it had discretion in responding to requests for federal records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The Office of Information Policy (OIP) is the key Justice Department agency responsible for overseeing FOIA matters throughout the government. The White House Office of Management and Budget and a FOIA ombudsman unit within the National Archives also have some government-wide FOIA authority.

The April 17 OIP guidance memo left the impression that turning the ship of state might be more difficult than originally thought. It stressed that the starting point for agency personnel was "Altering the Mind Set." It also urged agencies to take the initiative in pro-actively publishing information and to work to develop new ways of becoming more responsive to public information requests.