2019 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 1: Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness
The guiding principle underlying DOJ's 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.
A. FOIA Leadership
1. The FOIA requires each agency to designate a Chief FOIA Officer who is a senior official at least at the Assistant Secretary or equivalent level. Is your agency's Chief FOIA Officer at or above this level?
2. Please provide the name and title of your agency's Chief FOIA Officer.
Margaret McCloskey Shanks, Deputy Secretary of the Board
B. FOIA Training
3. Did your FOIA professionals or the personnel at your agency who have FOIA responsibilities attend any substantive FOIA training or conference during the reporting period such as that provided by the Department of Justice?
4. If yes, please provide a brief description of the type of training attended or conducted and the topics covered.
Board FOIA professionals attended the following trainings provided by the Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy (OIP):
- FOIA for Attorneys and Access Professionals which provided a comprehensive overview of the FOIA's procedural requirements and exemptions, and
- Advanced FOIA Seminar which provided an update on current policy developments impacting FOIA administration and recent FOIA court decisions.
Board FOIA professionals also attended the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) FOIA Training Seminar which presented an overview of the FBI's FOIA program and FOIA law enforcement exemptions.
5. Provide an estimate of the percentage of your FOIA professionals and staff with FOIA responsibilities who attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period.
One hundred percent of the Board's FOIA professionals and staff with FOIA responsibilities attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period.
6. 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.
7. Did your FOIA professionals engage in any outreach or dialogue with the requester community or open government groups regarding your administration of the FOIA? Please describe any such outreach or dialogue, and, if applicable, any specific examples of how this dialogue has led to improvements in your agency's FOIA administration.
Yes. The Board's FOIA Public Liaison routinely engages in dialogue with FOIA requesters through email and by telephone to clarify and update the status of FOIA requests. The dialogue assists FOIA requesters in drafting more targeted FOIA requests that the Board can process in a more timely fashion.
D. Other Initiatives
8. Describe any efforts your agency has undertaken to inform non-FOIA professionals of their obligations under the FOIA. In 2016, the Department publicized FOIA-related performance standards for employees that have any role in administering the FOIA, including non-FOIA professionals. Please also indicate whether your agency has considered including FOIA-related performance standards in employee work plans for employees who have any role in administering the FOIA.
The Board has incorporated OIP's FOIA training modules into the Board's internal training application, which is accessible by all Board staff. Employees with responsibility for administering the FOIA have FOIA-related performance standards included in their employee work plans.
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. The items described below are currently available on the Board's public website to:
- Increase public awareness of the Board's activities by providing either live and/or a recorded video coverage of events, including (1) live-streamed two open Board meetings; (2) live-streamed press conferences that the Chair holds four times each year following Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meetings; (3) video clips with an FOMC introductory statement for the June and September FOMC press conferences; (4) a video from Chairman Powell explaining the Board's commitment to diversity and inclusion; and (5) a video explaining resources for students, teachers, and the public on Federal Reserve Education resources through FederalReserveEducation.org.
- Offer new and additional technological approaches of sharing data with the public by providing interactive data visualization tools.
- Provide resources to assist the public in understanding the Board's activities and functions, including:
- videos featuring Board employees highlighting the functions of the Federal Reserve called, "Fed Functions: Conducting Monetary Policy," "Fed Functions: Fostering Payment and Settlement System Safety and Efficiency," and "Fed Functions: Consumer Protections and Community Development"
- videos that summarize or explain information in recently released Board reports and studies, including:
- a video of Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), including:
- new FAQs, including:
- a comprehensive list of Board staff publications and working papers.
- Promote open engagement between the Board and the public on social platforms and provide enhanced searching capabilities for publications, including:
- using numerous social media channels, including Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Flickr to provide the public with additional means of accessing information; the Board Twitter account had 27 million impressions from October 1, 2017 -- September 30, 2018;
- connecting with 226, 265 Facebook users via the Board's Facebook page through posts from October 1, 2017 -- September 30, 2018;
- launching the federalreserve.gov's new data visualizations for Financial Accounts of the United States - Z.1 and Enhanced Financial Accounts; and
- the publication of the Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), a triennial cross-sectional survey of U.S. families, with enhanced SCF codebook search.
Section II: Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency Has an Effective System in Place for Responding to Requests
DOJ's FOIA Guidelines (PDF) emphasize that "[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.
Please answer the following questions to describe the steps your agency has taken to ensure that the management of your FOIA program is effective and efficient. You should also include any additional information that describes your agency's efforts in this area.
1. For Fiscal Year 2018, 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 2018 Annual FOIA Report.
The Board adjudicated requests for expedited processing in an average of eight 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. During the reporting period, did your agency conduct a self-assessment of its FOIA program? If so, please describe the methods used, such as reviewing Annual Report data, using active workflows and track management, reviewing and updating processing procedures, etc.
- Note: In September 2017, OIP released a FOIA Self-Assessment Toolkit as a resource for agencies conducting a self-assessment of their FOIA program. The Toolkit is available on OIP's website for all agencies to use.
The Board conducted a self-assessment of its FOIA program by reviewing Quarterly and Annual Report data and by using the OIP FOIA Self-Assessment Toolkit.
4. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires additional notification to requesters about the services provided by the agency's FOIA Public Liaison. Please provide an estimate of the number of times requesters sought assistance from your agency's FOIA Public Liaison during FY 2018 (please provide a total number or an estimate of the number).
FOIA requesters sought assistance from the Board's FOIA Public Liaison approximately 50 times during FY 2018.
5. Please describe the best practices used to ensure that your FOIA system operates efficiently and effectively and any challenges your agency faces in this area.
To ensure that the Board's FOIA Office operates efficiently and effectively, the Board's record management staff have made searches for older records more efficient. In addition, staff is integrating an email-archiving technology into the Board's existing email infrastructure. This technology should greatly improve the Board's ability to search for and provide responsive emails.
Section III: Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures
The Department of Justice has long 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. Provide examples of material that your agency has proactively disclosed during the past reporting year, including links to the posted material.
As previously discussed in response to Question 9 in Section 1, the Board routinely discloses material and information by posting items of public interest on its website, including, for example:
- Reports to Congress, such as 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;
- Minutes from all regularly scheduled meetings of the FOMC (typically available three weeks after the date of the policy decision) and minutes from certain meetings of the Board;
- The Chair's monthly calendars and communications with Congress;
- Supervision and Regulation and Consumer Affairs letters, which address significant policy and procedural matters related to the Federal Reserve System's supervisory responsibilities;
- Information regarding formal enforcement actions brought by the Board or a Reserve Bank (acting under delegated authority) against a supervised institution, as well as copies of final enforcement orders and written agreements;
- Orders on banking applications deemed likely to be of public interest;
- Published Consumer Compliance Supervision Bulletin; and
- Published Dodd-Frank Act Stress Test 2018: Supervisory Stress Test Methodology and Results.
For additional examples of information that the Board proactively posts on its public website, please see the response to Question 9 in Section 1 of this report.
2. Please describe how your agency identifies records that have been requested and released three or more times (and are therefore required to be proactively disclosed pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(2)(D)).
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.
3. 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?
4. If yes, please provide examples of such improvements.
- The Board offered new and additional technological approaches of sharing data with the public by providing interactive data visualization tools.
- The Board updated its Data Download Program (DDP) to improve 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.
- In addition, the Board has improved the usefulness of information by, for example
- Updating changes to Principal Economic Indicators: Consumer Credit, and Industrial Production and Capacity Utilization;
- Highlighting major data and structural revisions at the beginning of each release of the Financial Accounts of the United States (Z.1) publication. These highlights are in a searchable format for all releases beginning with 2004q1;
- Adding a new data series in FEDS Notes: Recent Trends in Small Business Lending and the Community Reinvestment Act; and
- Adding the following new project as part of the Enhanced Financial Accounts (EFA) initiative:
- Alternative Measure of Owner-Occupied Real Estate.
5. Please describe the best practices used to improve proactive disclosures and any challenges your agency faces in this area.
As is evident from the discussion above, staff across the Board look for opportunities to proactively disclose records. In addition, the Board's FOIA Office designated one FOIA professional to review the Board's FOIA logs and identify records for proactive disclosure.
Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology
A key component of FOIA administration is using technology to make information more accessible. 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 describes your agency's efforts in this area.
1. Is your agency leveraging technology to facilitate efficiency in conducting searches, including searches for emails? If so, please describe the type of technology used. If not, please explain why and please describe the typical search process used instead.
To ensure that the Board's FOIA Office continues to respond to FOIA requests effectively and efficiently, the Board's records management staff is implementing an email-archiving technology that the Board will integrate into its existing email infrastructure. This technology should greatly enhance the Board's ability to search for and provide responsive emails. Board staff are continuing to digitize paper records from the Board's legacy central filing system, the papers of former Board Chairmen, and approximately 500,000 microfiche of banking supervision and regulation records. Staff also continue to digitize old finding aids to records in off-site storage to expedite locating documents for FOIA requests. In addition, staff are creating finding aids for supervision records, which are located in numerous electronic collections maintained by Board and Federal Reserve System staff.
2. OIP issued guidance in 2017 encouraging agencies to regularly review their FOIA websites to ensure that they contain essential resources and are informative and user-friendly. Has your agency reviewed its FOIA website(s) during the reporting period to ensure it addresses the elements noted in the guidance?
3. Did your agency successfully post all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2018?
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 2019.
5. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires all agencies to post the raw statistical data used to compile their Annual FOIA Reports. Please provide the link to this posting for your agency's Fiscal Year 2017 Annual FOIA Report and, if available, for your agency's Fiscal Year 2018 Annual FOIA Report.
6. Please describe the best practices used in greater utilizing technology and any challenges your agency faces in this area.
The Board is utilizing more robust software to assist in maintaining and archiving records needed to process FOIA requests. In addition, FIRMA, the Board's electronic recordkeeping system, currently maintains over 3 million documents, increasing in volume by about 500,000 documents each year in recent years.
Section V: Steps Taken to Improve Timeliness in Responding to Requests and Reducing Backlogs
The Department of Justice has 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 2018 Annual FOIA Report and, when applicable, your agency's 2017 Annual FOIA Report.
A. 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? If your agency uses a multi-track system beyond simple, complex, and expedited to process requests, please describe the tracks you use and how they promote efficiency.
The Board uses simple, complex, and expedited tracks to process requests.
2. If your agency uses a separate track for simple requests, was the agency overall average number of days to process simple requests twenty working days or fewer in Fiscal Year 2018?
Yes, the average number of days to process a simple request was eight.
3. Please provide the percentage of requests processed by your agency in Fiscal Year 2018 that were placed in your simple track.
Forty-six percent of FOIA requests processed by the Board 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?
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 2017 and Fiscal Year 2018 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 2018, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2017?
6. If not, did your agency process more requests during Fiscal Year 2018 than it did during Fiscal Year 2017?
7. If your agency's request backlog increased during Fiscal Year 2018, please 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:
8. 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 2018. If your agency has no request backlog, please answer with "N/A."
The percentage of requests that make up the backlog out of the total number of requests received is less than three percent.
9. If your agency had a backlog of appeals at the close of Fiscal Year 2018, did that backlog decrease as compared with the backlog reported at the end of Fiscal Year 2017?
No, the Board had an increase in the backlog of appeals at the close of Fiscal Year 2018.
10. If not, did your agency process more appeals during Fiscal Year 2018 than it did during Fiscal Year 2017?
No, the Board did not process more appeals during Fiscal Year 2018 than it did during Fiscal Year 2017.
- An increase in the number of incoming requests.
- A loss of staff.
- An increase in the complexity of the requests received. If possible, please provide examples or briefly describe the types of complex requests contributing to your backlog increase.
- Any other reasons -- please briefly describe or provide examples when possible.
11. If your agency's appeal backlog increased during Fiscal Year 2018, please 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:
- An increase in the number of incoming appeals.
- A loss of staff.
- An increase in the complexity of the requests received. If possible, please provide examples or briefly describe the types of complex requests contributing to your backlog increase.
- Any other reasons -- please briefly describe or provide examples when possible.
The Board had an increase in the appeal backlog during Fiscal Year 2018 because there was an increase in the complexity of the requests received.
12. 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 2018. If your agency did not receive any appeals in Fiscal Year 2018 and/or has no appeal backlog, please answer with "N/A."
The percentage of appeals that make up the backlog out of the total number of appeals received is thirty-three percent.
C. Backlog Reduction Plans
13. In the 2018 guidelines for Chief FOIA Officer Reports, any agency with a backlog of over 1000 requests in Fiscal Year 2017 was asked to provide a plan for achieving backlog reduction in the year ahead. Did your agency implement a backlog reduction plan last year? If so, describe your agency's efforts in implementing this plan and note if your agency was able to achieve backlog reduction in Fiscal Year 2018?
14. If your agency had a backlog of more than 1,000 requests in Fiscal Year 2018, what is your agency's plan to reduce this backlog during Fiscal Year 2019?
D. Status of 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 2017 and Fiscal Year 2018 when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.
15. In Fiscal Year 2018, did your agency close the ten oldest requests that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2017 Annual FOIA Report?
16. 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 2017 Annual FOIA Report. If you had fewer than ten total oldest requests to close, please indicate that.
17. 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?
18. Beyond work on the ten oldest requests, please describe any steps your agency took to reduce the overall age of your pending requests.
To reduce the overall age of pending requests, the Board used technology that improved the ability to search for responsive records.
TEN OLDEST APPEALS
19. In Fiscal Year 2018, did your agency close the ten oldest appeals that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2017 Annual FOIA Report?
20. 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 2017 Annual FOIA Report. If you had fewer than ten total oldest appeals to close, please indicate that.
21. Beyond work on the ten oldest appeals, please describe any steps your agency took to reduce the overall age of your pending appeals.
To reduce the overall age of pending appeals, the Board dedicated more resources to processing appeals.
TEN OLDEST CONSULTATIONS
22. In Fiscal Year 2018, did your agency close the ten oldest consultations that were reported pending in your Fiscal Year 2017 Annual FOIA Report?
The Board did not report any pending consultations in the Fiscal Year 2017 Annual FOIA Report.
23. 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 2017 Annual FOIA Report. If you had fewer than ten total oldest consultations to close, please indicate that.
E. Additional Information on Ten Oldest Requests, Appeals, and Consultations & Plans
24. Briefly explain any obstacles your agency faced in closing its ten oldest requests, appeals, and consultations from Fiscal Year 2018.
25. 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.
26. 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 2018.
F. Success Stories
Out of all the activities undertaken by your agency since March 2018 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, OIP will highlight these agency success stories during Sunshine Week. 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 key achievements. A complete description of all your efforts will be contained in the body of your Chief FOIA Officer Report.
- Live-streamed four FOMC press conferences and two open Board meetings.
- Produced highlight videos to accompany publications of the Interactive Data Visualization and Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households.
- Produced "Fed Functions: Conducting Monetary Policy," "Fed Functions: Fostering Payment and Settlement System Safety and Efficiency," and "Fed Functions: Consumer Protections and Community Development" videos featuring Board employees highlighting the functions of the Federal Reserve.
- Produced three FAQ videos: "What is aggregate demand?" "What does the Fed do?" and "What is the FOMC?"
- Issued approximately 225 press releases and published approximately 39 speeches.
- Closed the ten oldest requests reported pending at the end of Fiscal Year 2017 and reduced the backlog of FOIA requests to less than three percent.