2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report
Margaret McCloskey Shanks, Deputy Secretary and Chief FOIA Officer for the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Board), hereby submits the Chief FOIA Officer Report on behalf of the Board.
Section I: Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness
The guiding principle underlying the President's FOIA Memorandum (PDF) and the Attorney General's 2009 FOIA Guidelines (PDF) is the presumption of openness.
Please answer the following questions in order to describe the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied to all decisions involving the FOIA. You may also include any additional information that illustrates how your agency is working to apply the presumption of openness.
1. Did your FOIA professionals or the personnel at your agency who have FOIA responsibilities attend any FOIA training or conference during the reporting period such as that provided by the Department of Justice?
Yes. FOIA professional staff, certain Board Officers, including the Board's Chief FOIA Officer, and other Board staff with FOIA responsibilities or related interests, attended FOIA/Privacy Act training provided by the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Information Policy (OIP). FOIA professionals also attended FOIA training provided by the American Society of Access Professionals. Additionally, the Board's FOIA Public Liaison (and manager of the Board's FOI section) participated in several training programs and workshops provided by OIP, including specialized training on the preparation of the FOIA Annual Report and the Chief FOIA Officer Report.
The Board has also incorporated OIP's FOIA training modules into the Board's internal training application, which is accessible by all Board staff, including FOIA professionals.
2. Provide an estimate of the percentage of your FOIA professionals and staff with FOIA responsibilities who attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period.
Approximately 90% of the Board's FOIA professionals attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period. In addition, numerous other Board staff members with FOIA responsibilities or related interests attended substantive FOIA training.
3. OIP has directed agencies to "take steps to ensure that all of their FOIA professionals attend substantive FOIA training at least once throughout the year." If your response to the previous question is that less than 80% of your FOIA professionals attended training, please explain your agency's plan to ensure that all FOIA professionals receive or attend substantive FOIA training during the next reporting year.
4. Does your agency have a distinct process or system in place to review records for discretionary release?
Yes. The Board's commitment to promoting transparency and openness guides all decisions regarding disclosure of information in response to FOIA requests. Records that may be withheld as exempt are reviewed for a discretionary release at several stages in the course of processing a FOIA request, including by FOIA professionals assigned to the request, the Board's legal counsel, and, ultimately, the Chief FOIA Officer. FOIA professionals proactively seek approval from supervised entities when required to disclose information that was obtained from those entities. In addition, when appropriate, FOIA requesters are advised that they make seek approval from the Board's General Counsel for release of confidential supervisory information.
5. During the reporting period, did your agency make any discretionary releases of information?
Yes. The Board made several discretionary releases of exempt information, as further described below in the answer to Question 7.
6. What exemption(s) would have covered the material released as a matter of discretion? For a discussion of the exemptions that allow for discretionary releases, please see OIP's guidance on implementing the President's and Attorney General's 2009 FOIA Memoranda.
The information released as a matter of discretion could have been withheld pursuant to FOIA Exemption 8, which protects information contained in or related to financial institution examination, operating, or condition reports.
7. Provide a narrative description, as well as some specific examples, of the types of information that your agency released as a matter of discretion during the reporting year.
The Board made several discretionary releases of information during the reporting year, including, (1) meeting calendars maintained by the Chair and other Board members; and
(2) documents containing confidential supervisory information and communications with supervised institutions. More specifically, the Board released as a matter of discretion documents which typically included communications between supervised institutions and Federal Reserve staff and could have been withheld pursuant to Exemption 8. The Board chose, in its discretion, to release these documents in an effort to uphold its commitment to transparency.
8. If your agency was not able to make any discretionary releases of information, please explain why, for example, you should note here if your agency did not have an opportunity to make discretionary disclosures because you provided full releases in response to all requests or the only exemptions that were applied were those that do not lend themselves to discretionary release (i.e. Exemptions 1, 3, 4, 6, 7A, 7B, 7C, 7F).
9. If there are any other initiatives undertaken by your agency to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied, please describe them here.
The Board is committed to promoting transparency and openness not only in how we make decisions regarding FOIA requests, but also by providing information of public interest in a manner that is readily available and easily accessible. To further the following goals, the described items are currently available on the Board's public website:
- Increase public awareness of the Board's activities by providing either live and/or recorded video coverage of events, including (1) open Board meetings; (2) remarks provided by the Chair, other Board members, and senior Board staff at research conferences; and (3) press conferences that the Chair holds four times each year following FOMC meetings
- Provide resources to assist the public in understanding the Board's activities and functions, including:
- The webcast of a Q&A session related to the Federal Reserve's Payment Systems Improvement project;
- A video that provides tips for winning Board contracts;
- Videos that summarize information in recently released Board reports and studies, including the Board's Report on Consumers and Mobile Financial Services and the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households;
- A recruiting video that discusses the work performed by financial analysts at the Board;
- FAQs that explain actions of the Federal Open Market Committee following its meetings at which a significant change in policy or process requires further explanation or updating; and
- FAQs on a variety of other timely topics, such as the reappointment process for Reserve Bank presidents.
- Improve the availability and accessibility of information by, for example, launching a long-term effort (the Enhanced Financial Accounts initiative) to provide additional and more frequent data, as well as additional documentation and analysis of financial data, to improve public understanding of financial intermediation and activity in the United States.
- Promote openness by, for example, monthly posting of the Chair's meeting calendar to the FOIA Reading Room.
Section II: Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency Has an Effective System in Place for Responding to Requests
1. For Fiscal Year 2015, what was the average number of days your agency reported for adjudicating requests for expedited processing? Please see Section VIII.A. of your agency's Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Report.
The Board adjudicated requests for expedited processing in an average of 6 days.
2. If your agency's average number of days to adjudicate requests for expedited processing was above ten calendar days, please describe the steps your agency will take to ensure that requests for expedited processing are adjudicated within ten calendar days or less.
3. On July 2, 2015, OIP issued new guidance to agencies on the proper procedures to be used in the event an agency has a reason to inquire whether a requester is still interested in the processing of his or her request. Please confirm here that to the extent your agency may have had occasion to send a "still interested" inquiry, it has done so in accordance with the new guidelines for doing so, including affording requesters thirty working days to respond.
Yes. When the Board sends a letter inquiring whether a requester is still interested in the processing of his or her request, the Board follows OIP's guidance.
4. Agency FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons serve as the face and voice of an agency. In this capacity they provide a very important service for requesters, informing them about how the FOIA process works and providing specific details on the handling of their individual requests. The FOIA also calls on agency FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons to assist requesters in resolving disputes. Please explain here any steps your agency has taken to strengthen these services to better inform requesters about their requests and to prevent or resolve FOIA disputes.
The Board prevents and resolves FOIA disputes by engaging in open and transparent communications with requesters. For example, the Board's FOIA Public Liaison and other FOIA professionals regularly communicate with FOIA requesters to, among other things, explain how a specific request is being processed, including any necessary searches and reviews; ask questions and explore options to help clarify or narrow a request, if needed; provide updates on the status of a request; discuss solutions to help resolve any questions or concerns about a request; and respond to any other inquiries about a request. In addition, FOIA professionals respond to all communications from requesters, including telephone calls and e-mails, in a timely and effective manner.
5. If there are 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., please describe them here.
Although the number of FOIA requests received by the Board has been decreasing in recent years, the complexity of requests, and the time necessary to research requests, has generally been increasing. This is due, in part, to a general increase in the breadth of requests, including requests for records over a relatively long time period and requests for older records. To ensure that the Board continues to be able to respond to FOIA requests in a timely and efficient manner, staff with responsibility for records management have undertaken several initiatives that involve digitizing paper records and finding aids to improve search processes. For example, staff are currently in the process of digitizing paper records from the Board's legacy central filing system, making searches for older records far more efficient. Staff has also begun digitizing finding aids to assist in locating restricted controlled documents, which are stored as paper records, more readily. In addition, staff are digitizing approximately 500,000 microfiche of banking supervision and regulation records.
In addition to the efforts described above, FOIA professionals began producing reports to assist in tracking FOIA deadlines.
Section III: Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures
Both the President's (PDF) and Attorney General's (PDF) FOIA memoranda focused on the need for agencies to work proactively to post information online without waiting for individual requests to be received.
Please answer the following questions to describe the steps your agency has taken to increase the amount of material that is available on your agency websites. In addition to the questions below, you should also describe any additional steps taken by your agency to make and improve proactive disclosures of information.
1. Describe your agency's process or system for identifying "frequently requested" records required to be posted online under Subsection (a)(2) of the FOIA. For example, does your agency monitor its FOIA logs or is there some other system in place to identify these records for posting.
Yes. When the Board receives a FOIA request, FOIA professionals use processing software to identify previous requests for the same or similar records. If it is determined that multiple requests for records subject to disclosure under the FOIA have been received, the documents are deemed "frequently requested" and are posted on the Board's website.
2. Does your agency have a distinct process or system in place to identify other records for proactive disclosure? If so, please describe your agency's process or system.
Yes. The Board's FOIA professionals routinely review records to determine whether they should be posted on the Board's website. In addition, other Board staff members are aware that records of public interest should be proactively disclosed, if possible, and will often identify records or other information for posting on the Board's website.
3. When making proactive disclosures of records, are your agency's FOIA professionals involved in coding the records for Section 508 compliance or otherwise preparing them for posting? If so, provide an estimate of how much time is involved for each of your FOIA professionals and your agency overall.
Yes. FOIA professionals may spend a significant amount of time coding records for Section 508 compliance, though that time is not formally tracked. In addition, other Board staff members are required to provide documents for posting to the public website in a format that is Section 508 compliant, but the Board does not have a system for tracking the amount of time they spend coding records for this purpose.
4. Has your agency encountered challenges that make it difficult to post records you otherwise would like to post?
5. If so, please briefly explain those challenges.
It can be difficult to post lengthy or complex documents, such as bank applications that can be voluminous and often include complicated formatting or tables, in a manner that is Section 508 compliant.
6. Provide examples of material that your agency has proactively disclosed during the past reporting year, including links to the posted material.
The Board routinely discloses material and information by posting items of public interest on its website. For example, the Board posts reports to Congress, including the Monetary Policy Report, which is submitted semiannually to the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs and to the House Committee on Financial Services. The Board also posts minutes from all regularly scheduled meetings of the FOMC (typically available three weeks after the day of the policy decision), and minutes from certain meetings of the Board.
In addition, during the current reporting period, the Chair's monthly calendars and communications with Congress were proactively disclosed on the Board's public website. In addition, the Board also released the supervisory scenarios for the 2016 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR) (PDF) and Dodd-Frank Act stress test exercises (PDF).
As previously discussed, the Board also launched a long-term effort (the Enhanced Financial Accounts initiative) to improve public understanding of financial intermediation and activity in the United States. As part of that initiative, the Board posted the results for several preliminary projects, including consolidated balance sheet items, off-balance-sheet items, and syndicated loan portfolios for certain depository institutions.
7. Did your agency use any means to publicize or highlight important proactive disclosures for public awareness? If yes, please describe those efforts.
The Board highlights important notices and proactive disclosures by posting information on Twitter and the Board's public website. In addition, the public may subscribe to various RSS feeds which relay timely information about new Board releases, including:
- press releases on a wide range of topics, such as enforcement actions, monetary policy reports, and orders on banking applications;
- speeches and testimony by the Chair, other Board members, and Board staff;
- information about Board meetings;
- available data sets and certain information about various rates, such as interest rates and foreign exchange rates;
- published research and discussion papers; and
- any other announcements that might be of public interest.
8. If there are any other steps your agency has taken to increase proactive disclosures, please describe them here.
Pursuant to statute and inter-agency regulation, certain financial firms are required to submit an annual plan that describes the firm's strategy for a rapid and orderly resolution under the U.S. Bankruptcy Code in the event of material financial distress or the firm's failure. In Fiscal Year 2012, the first year that the plans were required to be filed by the largest and most systemic firms, the Board began posting the public portions of these annual resolution plans on its website. The public portions of plans submitted by all other covered companies also have been posted to the Board's website.
To further improve public understanding of the resolution plans, in 2015, the Board and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation notified the largest and most systemic firms that the public portion of their 2015 plans should include more detailed information, including, background information on each of the firm's material entities, the firm's strategy for mitigating systemic risk throughout the resolution process, the steps the firm is taking to improve its ability to be resolved in an orderly manner, and a description of what the firm would look like following resolution.
To enhance transparency in the Federal Reserve's applications process and provide the banking industry and general public with better insight into the issues that could prevent the Federal Reserve from acting favorably on a proposal, the Federal Reserve started publishing a semi-annual report that provides pertinent information on applications and notices. The report includes (1) statistics on the time required to process applications; (2) information about the volume of approvals, denials, and withdrawals of applications; and (3) the primary reasons for withdrawals of applications.
Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology
A key component of the President's FOIA Memorandum (PDF) 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.
Please answer the following questions to describe how your agency is utilizing technology to improve its FOIA administration and the public's access to information. You should also include any additional information that that describes your agency's efforts in this area.
Making Material Posted Online More Usable:
1. Beyond posting new material, is your agency taking steps to make the posted information more useable to the public, especially to the community of individuals who regularly access your agency's website?
2. If yes, please provide examples of such improvements.
The Board's Data Download Program (DDP) has significantly improved the transparency and accessibility of Federal Reserve statistical data. The DDP allows users to download datasets in a variety of electronic formats (Excel, CSV, and XML), either as preformatted or customizable data packages (including charts and graphs), for easy publication or distribution.
The Board continues to expand the type and variety of high-value Federal Reserve datasets available through the DDP, as well as improve the functionality of the program. For example, during the reporting period, the Board added data regarding Payment of Interest on Excess Reserve Balances to the list of releases available through the DDP. In addition, new functionality was added which expanded the chart feature to tablet and mobile devices.
Use of Technology to Facilitate Processing of Requests:
Not required, but agencies may answer the questions for this section from the high-volume guidelines if they have information they would like to include.
3. Did your agency successfully post all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2015?
Yes. The Board posted all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2015.
4. If your agency did not successfully post all quarterly reports, with information appearing on FOIA.gov, please explain why and provide your agency's plan for ensuring that such reporting is successful in Fiscal Year 2016.
5. Do your agency's FOIA professionals use e-mail or other electronic means to communicate with requesters whenever feasible? See OIP Guidance, "The Importance of Good Communication with FOIA Requesters 2.0: Improving Both the Means and the Content of Requester Communications." (Nov. 22, 2013) If yes, what are the different types of electronic means that are utilized by your agency to communicate with requesters?
Yes. The Board's FOIA professionals communicate electronically with requesters whenever feasible. The Board's FOIA professionals use e-mail as the default form of communication when performing the following functions: acknowledging a request; working with the requester to clarify or narrow the request; providing a fee estimate; extending the response time for a request; providing updates on the status of a request; and delivering a final response letter with responsive documents to the requester. The Board also uses e-mail whenever feasible to provide requesters with links to publicly available information posted to our Electronic Reading Room or the Board's website. In addition, requesters may submit a request, check the status of a request, and submit an appeal electronically.
6. If your agency does not communicate electronically with requesters as a default, are there any limitations or restrictions for the use of such means? If yes, does your agency inform requesters about such limitations? See id.
Section V: Steps Taken to Improve Timeliness in Responding to Requests and Reducing Backlogs
The President's FOIA Memorandum (PDF) and the Attorney General's 2009 FOIA Guidelines (PDF) have emphasized the importance of improving timeliness in responding to requests. This section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report 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 the numbers contained in the specified sections of your agency's 2015 Annual FOIA Report and, when applicable, your agency's 2014 Annual FOIA Report.
Simple Track: 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. The Board uses the following three track system: simple, complex, and expedited.
2. If so, for your agency overall in Fiscal Year 2015, was the average number of days to process simple requests twenty working days or fewer?
Yes. During Fiscal Year 2015, the Board processed simple requests in an average of nine days.
3. Please provide the percentage of requests processed by your agency in Fiscal Year 2015 that were placed in your simple track.
Fifty-one percent of requests processed by the Board in Fiscal Year 2015 were placed in the simple track.
4. If your agency does not track simple requests separately, was the average number of days to process all non-expedited requests twenty working days or fewer?
Backlogs: 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. You should refer to these numbers from your Annual FOIA Reports for both Fiscal Year 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.
5. If your agency had a backlog of requests at the close of Fiscal Year 2015, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2014?
No. The Board's backlog did not decrease from Fiscal Year 2014 to Fiscal Year 2015; however, as discussed below in response to Question 7, the percentage of the Board's requests that are backlogged is very low. In addition, 4 of the 14 requests that were backlogged at the end of Fiscal Year 2015 have been completed, leaving only 10 requests currently backlogged.
6. If not, explain why and describe the causes that contributed to your agency not being able to reduce its backlog. When doing so, please also indicate if any of the following were contributing factors:
Requests in the backlog involve broad searches that require extensive review, including, for example, requests for e-mail communications that span multiple years. Other backlogged requests may involve records that are the subject of litigation.
7. If you had a request backlog please report the percentage of requests that make up the backlog out of the total number of requests received by your agency in Fiscal Year 2015.
Out of the 778 total requests received by the Board in Fiscal Year 2015, approximately 1.8% were backlogged. As stated in response to Question 5, a significant number of the backlogged requests have since been completed.
8. If your agency had a backlog of appeals at the close of Fiscal Year 2015, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2014?
No. The Board did not have a backlog of appeals at the close of Fiscal Year 2014; however, the Board had one backlogged administrative appeal at the close of Fiscal Year 2015.
9. If not, explain why and describe the causes that contributed to your agency not being able reduce backlog. When doing so, please also indicate if any of the following were contributing.
The Board had one appeal pending at the close of Fiscal Year 2015. This appeal required Board staff to provide submitter notices to a large number of institutions.
10. If you had an appeal backlog please report the percentage of appeals that make up the backlog out of the total number of appeals received by your agency in Fiscal Year 2015. If your agency did not receive any appeals in Fiscal Year 2015 and/or has no appeal backlog, please answer with "N/A."
Out of 19 appeals received by the Board in Fiscal Year 2015, one appeal, or approximately 5% of the total number received, was backlogged.
Status of Ten Oldest Requests, Appeals, and Consultations: 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 2014 and Fiscal Year 2015 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.
TEN OLDEST REQUESTS
11. In Fiscal Year 2015, did your agency close the ten oldest requests that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report?
Yes. The Board closed the ten oldest requests that were reported pending in our Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report.
12. 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 2014 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest requests to close, please indicate that.
13. Of the requests your agency was able to close from your ten oldest, please indicate how many of these were closed because the request was withdrawn by the requester. If any were closed because the request was withdrawn, did you provide any interim responses prior to the withdrawal?
Two of the ten oldest requests were withdrawn. No interim responses were provided for these requests.
TEN OLDEST APPEALS
14. In Fiscal Year 2015, did your agency close the ten oldest appeals that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report?
The Board did not have any pending appeals at the close of Fiscal Year 2014.
15. If no, please provide the number of these appeals your agency was able to close by the end of the fiscal year, as listed in Section VII.C.(5) of your Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest appeals to close, please indicate that.
TEN OLDEST CONSULTATIONS
16. In Fiscal Year 2015, did your agency close the ten oldest consultations that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report?
17. If no, please provide the number of these consultations your agency was able to close by the end of the fiscal year, as listed in Section XII.C. of your Fiscal Year 2014 Annual FOIA Report. If you had less than ten total oldest consultations to close, please indicate that.
The Board closed two of the three pending consultations from Fiscal Year 2014.
Additional Information on Ten Oldest Requests, Appeals, and Consultations & Plans:
18. Briefly explain any obstacles your agency faced in closing its ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations from Fiscal Year 2014.
The Board's one pending consultation has been resolved.
19. If your agency was unable to close any of its ten oldest requests 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.
20. If your agency did not close its ten oldest pending requests, appeals, or consultations, please provide a plan describing how your agency intends to close those "ten oldest" requests, appeals, and consultations during Fiscal Year 2016.
The Board's one pending consultation has been resolved.
Use of the FOIA's Law Enforcement Exclusions
1. Did your agency invoke a statutory exclusion, 5 U.S.C. § 552(c)(1), (2), (3), during Fiscal Year 2015?
No. The Board did not invoke a statutory exclusion during fiscal year 2015
2. If so, please provide the total number of times exclusions were invoked.
The Board is committed to promoting transparency by actively taking steps that will increase and improve access to information, as described in our responses to Section I, Question 9 and Section III, Questions 6, 7, and 8.
In addition, in response to an increase in the breadth of FOIA requests, including requests for records that span relatively long time periods, the Board has undertaken several initiatives that will improve search capabilities, as further described in our response to Section II, Question 5.
Finally, during Fiscal Year 2015, the Board closed the 10 oldest pending FOIA requests.