FOIA

June 30, 2014

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Fiscal Year (FY) 2014 Chief FOIA Officer report

Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC): John C. Mantini, Assistant General Counsel for Administration and Chief FOIA Officer

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?

    Answer: Due to the small number of FOIA requests received by MCC, the agency has a small FOIA Office in which each member has been trained on the President’s FOIA memorandum and the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines in order to ensure a presumption of openness.  MCC did not hold an agency FOIA conference during this reporting period.

  2. 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.

    Answer: N/A

  3. Did your FOIA professionals attend any FOIA training during the reporting period such as that provided by the Department of Justice?

    Answer: Yes, FOIA professionals attended FOIA training provided by the Department of Justice.

  4. Provide an estimate of the percentage of your FOIA professionals who attended substantive FOIA training during this reporting period.

    Answer: 50 percent.

  5. 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.

    MCC’s FOIA professionals will continue to attend training sessions provided by the Department of Justice on an annual basis.  Any new members of MCC’s FOIA team will attend more extensive FOIA training.

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.

    Answer: No, due to the few number of FOIA requests made to MCC, FOIA professionals are able to dialogue with individual requestors on a regular basis.

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.

    Answer: MCC receives a low number of requests each year and is able to analyze each requested document for potential discretionary release when FOIA exemptions may be applied. In addition, MCC has an affirmative policy of openness and transparency, hallmarked by our publication of data related to the results of our foreign assistance programs.  MCC also has a Disclosure Review Board which analyzes the data we produce and we can make it more available to the public.

  2. During the reporting period did your agency make any discretionary releases of otherwise exempt information?

    Answer: MCC has not made any discretionary releases of otherwise exempt information this year.  However, see the answer to 7 above.

  3. What exemptions would have covered the information that was released as a matter of discretion?

    Answer: N/A

  4. Provide a narrative description, or some examples of, the types of information that your agency released as a matter of discretion.

    Answer: While MCC has not made any discretionary releases of otherwise exempt information, the agency has, on several occasions, released documents not originally requested in order to provide the requestor with some information related to his/her original request. Also, when feasible, MCC has created documents in order to fully grant requests, instead of denying requests due a lack of records. Also, see answer to 7 above.

  5. If your agency was not able to make any discretionary releases of information, please explain why.

    Answer: Most of MCC’s denials involve situations where no records exist.  Others involve propriety or private personal information.  MCC has released all information it possibly can in accordance with the FOIA and the policy of openness.

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.

    Answer: MCC posted the quarterly FOIA reports Q1-Q3 for FY2013. Due to technical difficulties, Q4 was not posted, but the problem has been isolated and MCC does not anticipate this to be an issue in FY2014.

  2. 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.

    Answer: See answer 7 above. MCC proactively publishes independent evaluations of the results MCC’s foreign assistance programs (found at http://www.mcc.gov/pages/results/evaluations) to promote transparency and openness.

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?

    Answer: No, MCC does not have any FOIA professionals that are eligible for the Government Information Specialist job series.

  2. If not, what proportion of personnel has been converted to the new job series?

    Answer: N/A

  3. If not, what is your plan to ensure that all FOIA professionals’ position descriptions are converted?

    Answer: MCC does not have a plan to convert these positions, because no full time FOIA positions exist at the agency.

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.

    Answer: MCC did not receive any requests for expedited processing in FY2013.

  2. 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.

    Answer: No, MCC did not receive any consultations in FY2013 and historically has not received many consultations. If/when MCC receives consultations, the agency strives to answer those requests within 20 days, as with all requests.

Requester Services

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

    Answer: Yes, MCC utilizes email to communicate with requestors.

  2. Does your agency notify requesters of the mediation services offered by the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) at NARA?

    Answer: No, MCC has not notified requestors of these services, but will do so in the future when affirming denials on appeals.

  3. 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.

    Answer: MCC’s system has been operating efficiently over the past few years and continues to look for ways to improve its processes.

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?

    Answer: No, FOIA professionals do not have a system in place to identify records for proactive disclosures.  MCC as an agency strives to operate as transparently as possible.  MCC voluntarily posts a large number of legal agreements, including compacts and threshold program documents, guidance papers and relevant business information on its website.  Also, see answer to 7 under Section I “Discretionary Disclosures” above.

  2. If so, describe the system that is in place.

    Answer: N/A

  3. Provide examples of material that your agency has posted this past reporting period, including links to where this material can be found online.

    Answer: MCC’s Selection Criteria and Methodology Reports and information related to the results achieved by our programs can be found on www.mcc.gov.

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.?

    Answer: Yes, MCC’s Department of Congressional and Public Affairs and Department of Policy and Evaluation are continually striving the make information about MCC clear and easily accessible to the public.

  2. If so, provide examples of such improvements.

    Answer: MCC made improvements to the transparency of its country selection process this year by making the selection policy data available through an application programming interface so that application developers and others working on on-line data applications are able to pull MCC data directly into their applications. MCC’s Fiscal Year 2013 Criteria and Methodology Report clarified the categories and also pointed readers to available on-line reporting.  The description of the indicators in the report mirrors the description of the categories of information that MCC considers when making selection decisions with regard to first compact implementation.  Links are now provided to the country reports that are already publicly available, and centralized so all the information can be found in one place.

    MCC is also using social media to inform the public about what MCC is doing around the world.  Every time MCC enters into a new grant agreement the agreement is immediately posted to our public web site.  MCC also publishes country factsheets quarterly to give up to date information on each of our programs.  MCC publishes a “Principles into Practice” series of reports to which the public can subscribe through the website.

  3. Did your agency use any means to publicize or highlight important proactive disclosures for public awareness? If so, was social media utilized?

    Answer: No, MCC did not make any important proactive disclosures in FY2013.

  4. 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.

    Answer: No, MCC did not encounter any challenges in posting records.

  5. Describe any other steps taken to increase proactive disclosures at your agency.

    Answer: N/A

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?

    Answer: No, MCC does not have a system in place for requestors to track his/her request electronically.

  2. 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?

    Answer: N/A

  3. 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.

    Answer: N/A

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

    Answer: N/A

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

    Answer: MCC is not taking steps to establish this capability.  MCC receives less than 30 requests per fiscal year and communicates the status of the request directly with the requestor if it cannot be answered within the 20 day statutory deadline.

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?

    Answer: MCC is not taking steps to utilize more advanced technology.

  2. >If so, describe the technological improvements being made.

    Answer: N/A

  3. Are there additional technological tools that would be helpful to achieving further efficiencies in your agency’s FOIA program?

    Answer: No, not at this time.

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?

      Answer: Due to the low number of FOIA requests made to MCC, the agency does not have separate tracks for simple versus complex requests.

    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?

      Answer: N/A

    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?

      Answer: Yes, the average number of days to process non-expedited requests was 17 days.

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?

      Answer: MCC did not have a backlog of requests in FY2012, nor does it have a backlog of requests from FY2013.

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

      Answer: MCC did not have a backlog of administrative appeals in FY2012, nor does it have a backlog of administrative appeals from FY2013.

    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?

      Answer: MCC did not have any requests pending at the end of Fiscal Year 2012.

    2. 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.

      Answer: 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?

      Answer: Yes, MCC had one pending appeal from Fiscal Year 2012 that was closed in Fiscal Year 2013.

    2. 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.

      Answer: 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?

      Answer: MCC did not have any consultations pending at the end of Fiscal Year 2012.

    2. 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.

      Answer: 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?

      Answer: MCC does not have a backlog of pending requests or appeals.

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

      Answer: MCC does not have a backlog of pending requests or appeals.

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

      Answer: MCC does not have a backlog of pending requests or appeals.

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

      Answer: MCC does not have a backlog of pending requests or appeals

  2. “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.

      Answer: MCC faced no obstacles and was able to close the one pending appeal from Fiscal Year 2012.

    2. 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.

      Answer: 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.

    Answer: N/A

  2. 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.

    Answer: MCC does not have a backlog of pending requests or appeals.

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?

    Answer: Yes, on several occasions, MCC has provided interim responses to requestors in order to provide information more quickly.

  2. 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.

    Answer: MCC did not have a backlog in FY2013.

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?

    Answer: No, MCC did not invoke a statutory exclusion during FY2013.

  2. If so, what was the total number of times exclusions were invoked?

    Answer: 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.

Answer:
MCC made improvements to the transparency of its country selection process this year by making the selection policy data available through an application programming interface so that application developers and others working on on-line data applications are able to pull MCC data directly into their applications.

MCC’s Fiscal Year 2013 Criteria and Methodology Report clarified the categories and also pointed readers to available on-line reporting.  The description of the indicators in the report mirrors the description of the categories of information that MCC considers when making selection decisions with regard to first compact implementation.  Links are now provided to the country reports that are already publicly available, and centralized so all the information can be found in one place.

MCC is also using social media to inform the public about what MCC is doing around the world.  Every time MCC enters into a new grant agreement the agreement is immediately posted to our public web site.  MCC also publishes country fact sheets quarterly to give up to date information on each of our programs.  MCC publishes a “Principles into Practice” series of reports to which the public can subscribe through the website.