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Federal Reserve Board of Governors

Freedom of Information Office

2014 Chief FOIA Officer Report

The Chief FOIA Officer of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Board), Margaret McCloskey Shanks, Deputy Secretary, hereby submits the Chief FOIA Officer Report on behalf of the Board in accordance with the template provided by the Department of Justice.

Section I: Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness
The guiding principle underlying the President's FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines is the presumption of openness.

Describe the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied to all decisions involving the FOIA. To do so, you should answer the questions listed below and then include any additional information you would like to describe how your agency is working to apply the presumption of openness.

FOIA Training:

  1. Did your agency hold an agency FOIA conference, or otherwise conduct training during this reporting period?

    Yes.
  1. If so, please provide the number of conferences or trainings held, a brief description of the topics covered, and an estimate of the number of participants from your agency who were in attendance.

    The Board conducted training on the FOIA as part of its in-house banking school. These training modules were available to all Board employees through its online training site, FedLearn. Some of the topics include FOIA exemptions and FOIA in the bank applications context.
  1. Did your FOIA professionals attend any FOIA training during the reporting period such as that provided by the Department of Justice?

    Yes. Several members of the Board's FOIA team attended professional FOIA training seminars provided by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the American Society for Access Professionals (ASAP). Staff also attended a special FOIA training provided by the DOJ at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau on FOIA Exemptions 4, 7 and 8.

    Additionally, the Board's Freedom of Information office Manager attended training provided by the DOJ, Office of Information Policy (OIP), including training on preparation of the FOIA Annual Report and the Chief FOIA Officer Report.
  1. Provide an estimate of the percentage of your FOIA professionals who attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period.

    Approximately 90 percent of our FOIA professionals attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period.
  1. OIP has issued guidance that every agency should make core, substantive FOIA training available to all their FOIA professionals at least once each year. Provide your agency's plan for ensuring that such training is offered to all agency FOIA professionals by March 2015. Your plan should anticipate an upcoming reporting requirement for your 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Reports that will ask whether all agency FOIA professionals attended substantive FOIA training in the past year.

    The Board plans on scheduling an in-house FOIA conference during 2014. The Board hopes to engage a FOIA expert from the DOJ, OIP to assist in providing training on the FOIA exemptions most used by the Board and relevant case law. Additionally, all FOIA professionals will be encouraged to attend off-site training provided by the DOJ.

Outreach:

  1. Did your FOIA professionals engage in any outreach and dialogue with the requester community or open government groups regarding your administration of the FOIA? If so, please briefly discuss that engagement.

    We routinely engage with individual requesters by writing, telephone, and/or e-mail to discuss the scope of FOIA requests and to negotiate satisfactory resolutions to requests in which information is exempt.

Discretionary Disclosures:

In his 2009 FOIA Guidelines, the Attorney General strongly encouraged agencies to make discretionary releases of information even when the information might be technically exempt from disclosure under the FOIA. OIP encourages agencies to make such discretionary releases whenever there is no foreseeable harm from release.

  1. Does your agency have a formal process in place to review records for discretionary release? If so, please briefly describe this process. If your agency is decentralized, please specify whether all components at your agency have a process in place for making discretionary releases.

    In processing FOIA requests, staff reviews all exempt records to determine whether a discretionary release is possible. In the context of consumer complaints, for example, if staff believes a discretionary release may be possible, the records are referred to the General Counsel's Office for a final determination.
  1. During the reporting period did your agency make any discretionary releases of otherwise exempt information?

    Yes. The Board made several discretionary releases of exempt information as described in more detail below.
  1. What exemptions would have covered the information that was released as a matter of discretion?

    The information released as a matter of discretion could have been withheld pursuant to FOIA exemption 8, which consists of information contained in or related to financial institution examination, operating, or condition reports.
  1. Provide a narrative description, or some examples of, the types of information that your agency released as a matter of discretion.

    The Board made several discretionary releases of confidential supervisory information involving documents collected in response to consumer complaints. This confidential supervisory information typically included communications between the involved supervised banking institution and Federal Reserve staff. Confidential supervisory information is protected under exemption 8. The Board chose, in its discretion, to provide these documents in an effort to increase transparency and provide helpful information to consumers.
  1. If your agency was not able to make any discretionary releases of information, please explain why.

    N/A

Other Initiatives:

  1. Did your agency post all of the required quarterly FOIA reports for Fiscal Year 2013? If not, please explain why not and what your plan is for ensuring that such reporting is successfully accomplished for Fiscal Year 2014.

    Due to an information technology error, three of the four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2013 were posted. However, as of March 2014, all quarterly FOIA reports for Fiscal Year 2013 have been posted.
  1. Describe any other initiatives undertaken by your agency to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied. If any of these initiatives are online, please provide links in your description.

    The Federal Reserve prepares a quarterly report on the Federal Reserve Balance Sheet as part of its efforts to enhance transparency about its balance sheet, financial information, and monetary policy tools, and to ensure appropriate accountability to the Congress and the public.

    In January 2014, the Federal Reserve Board made available the public portions of resolution plans for 116 financial institutions that submitted plans required under the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act (Dodd-Frank Act).

    The Board provides detailed information about the liquidity and credit programs and other monetary policy tools that the Federal Reserve used to respond to the financial crisis that emerged in the summer of 2007.

Section II: Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency
Has an Effective System in Place for Responding to Requests

As the Attorney General emphasized in his FOIA Guidelines, "[a]pplication of the proper disclosure standard is only one part of ensuring transparency. Open government requires not just a presumption of disclosure, but also an effective system for responding to FOIA requests." It is essential that agencies effectively manage their FOIA program.

Describe here the steps your agency has taken to ensure that your management of your FOIA program is effective and efficient. To do so, answer the questions below and then include any additional information that you would like to describe how your agency ensures that your FOIA system is efficient and effective.

Personnel:

During Sunshine Week 2012 OPM announced the creation of a new job series entitled the Government Information Series, to address the work performed by FOIA and Privacy Act professionals. Creation of this distinct job series was a key element in recognizing the professional nature of their work.

  1. Has your agency converted all of its FOIA professionals to the new Government Information Specialist job series?

    The Federal Reserve Board's FOIA professionals include attorneys, paralegals, managers, and administrative personnel. These FOIA professionals also have job responsibilities that are outside the scope of the Government Information Series.
  1. If not, what proportion of personnel has been converted to the new job series?

    None.
  1. If not, what is your plan to ensure that all FOIA professionals' position descriptions are converted?

    The Board does not plan on converting positions to the Government Information job series.

Processing Procedures:

  1. For Fiscal Year 2013 did your agency maintain an average of ten or less calendar days to adjudicate requests for expedited processing? If not, describe the steps your agency will take to ensure that requests for expedited processing are adjudicated within ten calendar days or less.

    Yes.
  1. Has your agency taken any steps to make the handling of consultations and referrals more efficient and effective, such as entering into agreements with other agencies or components on how to handle certain categories or types of records involving shared equities so as to avoid the need for a consultation or referral altogether, or otherwise implementing procedures that speed up or eliminate the need for consultations. If so, please describe those steps.

    The Board maintains regular contact with other financial regulatory agencies and those agencies that we frequently consult with and make referrals to.

Requester Services:

  1. Do you use e-mail or other electronic means to communicate with requesters when feasible?

    Board FOIA professionals routinely use e-mail to provide status updates, send follow-up correspondence (including acknowledgement letters and extension of time letters), and to transmit the final response letter and responsive documents.
  1. Does your agency notify requesters of the mediation services offered by the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at NARA?

    The Board is currently considering revisions to its standard appeal notification language, including consideration of adding notification about OGIS mediation.
  1. Describe any other steps your agency has undertaken to ensure that your FOIA system operates efficiently and effectively, such as conducting self-assessments to find greater efficiencies, improving search processes, eliminating redundancy, etc.

    The Board has continued to develop an in-house FOIA tracking system specifically designed to maximize efficiency, improve search capabilities, and increase cooperation between different divisions of the Board when searching for responsive records and reviewing requests.

Section III: Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures
Both the President and Attorney General focused on the need for agencies to work proactively to post information online without waiting for individual requests to be received.

Describe here the steps your agency has taken both to increase the amount of material that is available on your agency website, and the usability of such information, including providing examples of proactive disclosures that have been made during this past reporting period (i.e., from March 2013 to March 2014). In doing so, answer the questions listed below and describe any additional steps taken by your agency to make and improve proactive disclosures of information.

Posting Material:

  1. Do your FOIA professionals have a system in place to identify records for proactive disclosures?

    Yes.
  1. If so, describe the system that is in place.

    A proactive disclosure is made when it is determined that records could be the subject of significant interest to the public and it is feasible to make those records available on the Board's website.
  1. Provide examples of material that your agency has posted this past reporting period, including links to where this material can be found online.

    In January, 2014, the public portions of resolution plans for 116 institutions that submitted plans required under the Dodd-Frank Act were made available to the public on the Board's website.

    The Federal Reserve released the Independent Foreclosure Review (IFR) mailing and response data received as of December 31, 2012 by geographic location to provide information about the IFR. A downloadable file containing each state's count totals can be searched by county, parish, or independent city, along with the uniquely identifying Federal Information Processing Standard code. Additionally, mailings and responses are searchable by county, parish, or independent city within a state, using the accompanying search function.

    The National Information Center ("NIC") public website provides comprehensive information on banks and other institutions (including both domestic and foreign banking organizations operating in the United States) for which the Federal Reserve has a supervisory, regulatory, or research interest. The NIC public website provides an interface to a repository of financial data and institution characteristics collected by the Federal Reserve System, such as the institution's primary federal regulator, the institution's location, the list of all branches belonging to an institution, and the institution's organizational hierarchy. Members of the public can also access financial statements, performance reports, and other financial reports that an institution has filed with the Federal Reserve System. Such reports are updated on a quarterly basis. In addition, any change that may have occurred to an institution's attributes such as name and address changes, are updated daily Monday through Friday. Financial data including revisions to historical data are also updated daily Monday through Friday. Information added to the NIC public website is highlighted under the "Announcements" section of the home page.

Making Posted Material More Useful:

  1. Beyond posting new material, is your agency taking steps to make the posted information more useful to the public, especially to the community of individuals who regularly access your agency's website, such as soliciting feedback on the content and presentation of posted material, improving search capabilities on the site, posting material in open formats, making information available through mobile applications, providing explanatory material, etc.?

    Yes. The Board emphasizes making information available in an easy-to-access format for all visitors to the Board's website ("PubWeb"). Further, as described below, the Board also maintains a significant social media presence in order to provide more avenues to communicate with the public.
  1. If so, provide examples of such improvements.

    In August 2013, the Board's Chairman answered questions from teachers around the country in a teacher town hall. Information about the event was Tweeted, live-streamed, and posted for on-demand viewing.

    The Board live-streamed a teacher town hall, the centennial commemoration, three Open Board meetings, speeches by Board members and other senior staff, and several conferences.
  1. Did your agency use any means to publicize or highlight important proactive disclosures for public awareness? If so, was social media utilized?

    In early 2013, the Board launched a Flickr photo channel to share high-resolution photographs of its leadership, history, and buildings.

    The Board's video library has grown to over 180 videos on the public website, and YouTube contains approximately 98 videos of Board events.
  1. Has your agency encountered challenges that make it difficult to post records you otherwise would like to post? If so, please briefly explain what those challenges are.

    The Board requires documents posted to the Board's website to be Section 508 compliant. This process can be time consuming and difficult when posting applications and documents with tables, graphs and footnotes.
  1. Describe any other steps taken to increase proactive disclosures at your agency.

    The Board launched a section of the website where Board economists offer their own views and present analysis on a range of topics in economics and finance. These articles are shorter and less technically oriented than Working Papers (see FEDS Notes and IFDP Notes).

Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology
A key component of the President's FOIA Memorandum was the direction to "use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government." In addition to using the internet to make proactive disclosures, agencies should also be exploring ways to utilize technology in responding to requests. Over the past several years agencies have reported widespread use of technology in receiving and tracking FOIA requests and preparing agency Annual FOIA Reports. For 2014, as we have done over the past years, the questions have been further refined and now also address different, more innovative aspects of technology use.

Online tracking of FOIA requests:

  1. Can a FOIA requester track the status of his/her request electronically?

    The Board communicates directly with requesters via e-mail and telephone. Requesters can speak with a member of the FOIA office at any time during regular business hours regarding the status of their request. There is not a separate electronic tracking process.
  1. If yes, how is this tracking function provided to the public? For example, is it being done through regularly updated FOIA logs, online portals, or other mediums?

    N/A
  1. Describe the information that is provided to the requester through the tracking system. For example, some tracking systems might tell the requester whether the request is "open" or "closed," while others will provide further details to the requester throughout the course of the processing, such as "search commenced" or "documents currently in review." List the specific types of information that are available through your agency's tracking system.

    N/A
  1. In particular, does your agency tracking system provide the requester with an estimated date of completion for his/her request?

    N/A
  1. If your agency does not provide online tracking of requests, is your agency taking steps to establish this capability? If not, please explain why.

    Board FOIA staff has found that direct communication with requesters continues to be an invaluable tool for providing requesters with exceptional service. However, The Board continues to consider the feasibility of adding a system to allow for the online tracking of existing FOIA requests.

Use of technology to facilitate processing of requests:

  1. Beyond using technology to redact documents, is your agency taking steps to utilize more advanced technology to facilitate overall FOIA efficiency, such as improving record search capabilities, utilizing document sharing platforms for consultations and referrals, or employing software that can sort and de-duplicate documents?

    Yes.
  1. If so, describe the technological improvements being made.

    The Board is currently considering implementing a number of enterprise-wide IT systems. These include document sharing platforms, improvement of record search capabilities and case management tools.
  1. Are there additional technological tools that would be helpful to achieving further efficiencies in your agency's FOIA program?

    The Board continues to look for innovative technological tools to achieve further efficiencies in the agency's FOIA program.

Section V: Steps Taken to Improve Timeliness in Responding to Requests and Reducing Backlogs
The President and the Attorney General have emphasized the importance of improving timeliness in responding to requests. This section addresses both time limits and backlog reduction. Backlog reduction is measured both in terms of numbers of backlogged requests or appeals and by looking at whether agencies closed their ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations. For the figures required in this Section, please use those contained in the specified sections of your agency's 2013 Annual FOIA Report and, when applicable, your agency's 2012 Annual FOIA Report.

Simple Track Requests:

  1. Section VII.A of your agency's Annual FOIA Report, entitled "FOIA Requests -- Response Time for All Processed Requests," includes figures that show your agency's average response times for processed requests. For agencies utilizing a multi-track system to process requests, there is a category for "simple" requests, which are those requests that are placed in the agency's fastest (non-expedited) track, based on the low volume and/or simplicity of the records requested.
    1. Does your agency utilize a separate track for simple requests?

      Yes
    2. If so, for your agency overall, for Fiscal Year 2013, was the average number of days to process simple requests twenty working days or fewer?

      Yes. The average number of days to process simple requests was three.
    3. If your agency does not track simple requests separately, was the average number of days to process non-expedited requests twenty working days or fewer?

      N/A
    4. If your agency does not track simple requests separately, was the average number of days to process non-expedited requests twenty working days or fewer?

      N/A

Backlogs and "Ten Oldest" Requests, Appeals and Consultations:

  1. Section XII.A of your agency's Annual FOIA Report, entitled "Backlogs of FOIA Requests and Administrative Appeals" shows the numbers of any backlogged requests or appeals from the fiscal year. Section VII.E, entitled "Pending Requests Ten Oldest Pending Requests," Section VI.C.(5), entitled "Ten Oldest Pending Administrative Appeals," and Section XII.C., entitled "Consultations on FOIA Requests Ten Oldest Consultations Received from Other Agencies and Pending at Your Agency," show the ten oldest pending requests, appeals, and consultations. You should refer to these numbers from your Annual FOIA Reports for both Fiscal Year 2012 and Fiscal Year 2013 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.

    Backlogs
  1. If your agency had a backlog of requests at the close of Fiscal Year 2013, did that backlog decrease as compared with Fiscal Year 2012?

    Yes
  1. If your agency had a backlog of administrative appeals in Fiscal Year 2013, did that backlog decrease as compared to Fiscal Year 2012?

    Yes

    Ten Oldest Requests
  1. In Fiscal Year 2013, did your agency close the ten oldest requests that were pending as of the end of Fiscal Year 2012?

    Yes
  1. If no, please provide the number of these requests your agency was able to close by the end of the fiscal year, as listed in Section VII.E of your Fiscal Year 2012 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest requests to close, please indicate that. For example, if you only had seven requests listed as part of your "ten oldest" in Section VII.E. and you closed two of them, you should note that you closed two out of seven "oldest" requests.

    N/A

    Ten Oldest Appeals
  1. In Fiscal Year 2013, did your agency close the ten oldest administrative appeals that were pending as of the end of Fiscal Year 2012?

    Yes
  1. If no, please provide the number of these appeals your agency was able to close, as well as the number of appeals your agency had in Section VI.C.(5) of your Fiscal Year 2012 Annual FOIA Report.

    N/A

    Ten Oldest Consultations
  1. In Fiscal Year 2013, did your agency close the ten oldest consultations received by your agency and pending as of the end of Fiscal Year 2012?

    N/A
  1. If no, please provide the number of these consultations your agency did close, as well as the number of pending consultations your agency listed in Section XII.C. of your Fiscal Year 2012 Annual FOIA Report.

    N/A

    Reasons for Any Backlogs:
  1. If you answered "no" to any of the questions in item 2 above, describe why your agency was not able to reduce backlogs and/or close the ten oldest pending requests, appeals, and consultations. In doing so, answer the following questions then include any additional explanation:

    Request and/or Appeal Backlog
  1. Was the lack of a reduction in the request and/or appeal backlog a result of an increase in the number of incoming requests or appeals?

    N/A
  1. Was the lack of a reduction in the request and/or appeal backlog caused by a loss of staff?

    N/A
  1. Was the lack of a reduction in the request and/or appeal backlog caused by an increase in the complexity of the requests received?

    N/A
  1. What other causes, if any, contributed to the lack of a decrease in the request and/or appeal backlog?

    N/A

    "Ten oldest" Not Closed
  1. Briefly explain the obstacles your agency faced in closing its ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations from Fiscal Year 2012.

    N/A
  1. If your agency was unable to close any of its ten oldest requests or appeals because you were waiting to hear back from other agencies on consultations you sent, please provide the date the request was initially received by your agency, the date when your agency sent the consultation, and the date when you last contacted the agency where the consultation was pending.

    N/A

Plans for Closing of Ten Oldest Pending Requests, Appeals, and Consultations and Reducing Backlogs:

Given the importance of these milestones, it is critical that Chief FOIA Officers assess the causes for not achieving success and create plans to address them.

  1. If your agency did not close its ten oldest pending requests, appeals, and consultations, please provide a plan describing how your agency intends to close those "ten oldest" requests, appeals, and consultations during Fiscal Year 2014.

    N/A
  1. If your agency had a backlog of more than 1000 pending requests and did not reduce that backlog in Fiscal Year 2013, provide your agency's plan for achieving backlog reduction in the year ahead.

    N/A

Interim Responses:

OIP has issued guidance encouraging agencies to make interim releases whenever they are working on requests that involve a voluminous amount of material or require searches in multiple locations. By providing rolling releases to requesters agencies facilitate access to the requested information.

  1. Does your agency have a system in place to provide interim responses to requesters when appropriate?

    Yes
  1. If your agency had a backlog in Fiscal Year 2013, please provide an estimate of the number or percentage of cases in the backlog where a substantive, interim response was provided during the fiscal year, even though the request was not finally closed.

    Interim releases were made in 10 percent of cases in the backlog. However, to date the Board has closed 65 percent of the Fiscal Year 2013 backlog.

Use of FOIA's Law Enforcement "Exclusions"
In order to increase transparency regarding the use of the FOIA's statutory law enforcement exclusions, which authorize agencies under certain exceptional circumstances to "treat the records as not subject to the requirements of [the FOIA]," 5 U.S.C. § 552(c)(1), (2), (3), please answer the following questions:

  1. Did your agency invoke a statutory exclusion during Fiscal Year 2013?

    No
  1. If so, what was the total number of times exclusions were invoked?

    N/A

Spotlight on Success
Out of all the activities undertaken by your agency since March 2013 to increase transparency and improve FOIA administration, please briefly describe here at least one success story that you would like to highlight as emblematic of your agency's efforts. The success story can come from any one of the five key areas. As noted above, these agency success stories will be highlighted during Sunshine Week by OIP. To facilitate this process, all agencies should use bullets to describe their success story and limit their text to a half page. The success story is designed to be a quick summary of a key achievement. A complete description of all your efforts will be contained in the body of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.

During this fiscal year the Board closed the 10 oldest pending FOIA requests and reduced the backlog to 19 FOIA requests. To date, the Board has responded to 13 of the 19 FOIA requests from the fiscal year 2013 backlog. Also, to increase transparency, the Board live-streamed a teacher town hall, the centennial commemoration, three Open Board meetings, speeches by Board members and other senior staff, and several conferences.

Last update: March 20, 2014