Freedom of Information Office
2013 Chief FOIA Officer Report
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.
The presumption of openness is a guiding principle that is reflected in all Board decisions involving FOIA, and more broadly, is exhibited in the Board's ongoing efforts to increase transparency and provide information to the public concerning its activities. The Board continues to be one of the more transparent central banks in the world and is providing more information to the public now than at any other time in its history. New initiatives for FY 2012 included: a series of lectures delivered by the Chairman to college students discussing "The Federal Reserve and its Role in Today's Economy;" the launching of an official Twitter channel (@federalreserve) to broaden accessibility and increase public awareness of important Board news; initiating the practice of publishing unaudited combined Federal Reserve Bank financial reports on a quarterly basis; and the creation of a preliminary inventory of historical materials in an effort to enhance transparency through improved web access to records of the Federal Reserve's past.
- Did your agency hold an agency FOIA conference, or otherwise conduct training during this reporting period? Did your FOIA professionals attend any FOIA training, such as that provided by the Department of Justice?
The Board continues to demonstrate its commitment to FOIA training by providing on-site training at the Board, and by having several members of its FOIA team attend professional FOIA training seminars provided by the Department of Justice and the American Society for Access Professionals (ASAP). On a weekly basis, Legal Division FOIA staff meet to review pending FOIA requests and to discuss FOIA issues.
Additionally, the Board's FOI Manager attended training provided by the Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy, including the FOIA Technology Working Group.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 the Board. Confidential supervisory information is protected under exemption 8. The Board chose, in its discretion, to provide those documents in an effort to increase transparency and provide helpful information to consumers.
- Describe any other initiatives undertaken by your agency to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied.
As noted above, the Board is committed to transparency and to the presumption of openness. To that effect, the Board launched several new initiatives in FY 2012, including: a series of lectures delivered by the Chairman to college students discussing "The Federal Reserve and its Role in Today's Economy;" the launching of an official Twitter channel (@federalreserve) to broaden the accessibility of important Board news; the publishing of unaudited combined Federal Reserve Bank financial reports on a quarterly basis; and the creation of a preliminary inventory of historical materials in an effort to enhance transparency through improved web access to records of the Federal Reserve's past.
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."
This section should include a discussion of how your agency has addressed the key roles played by the broad spectrum of agency personnel who work with FOIA professionals in responding to requests, including, in particular, steps taken to ensure that FOIA professionals have sufficient IT support.
Describe here the steps your agency has taken to ensure that its system for responding to requests 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.
- Do FOIA professionals within your agency have sufficient IT support?
Yes, Board FOIA staff receives dedicated IT support from its Division of Information Technology.
- Do your FOIA professionals work with your agency's Open Government Team?
Yes, Board FOIA staff works with the Open Government Team as it relates to the FOIA component of the Open Government Initiative.
- Has your agency assessed whether adequate staffing is being devoted to FOIA administration?
FOIA management staff regularly assesses workflow and adjusts staffing as needed in order to maximize efficiency in processing requests. The Board increased its FOIA administrative staff by hiring an additional information specialist in FY 2012 and the Board's Legal division also added one new administrative law attorney to its FOIA team.
- 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, streamlining consultations, eliminating redundancy, etc.
Board FOIA staff performs an internal review of the FOIA system several times a year in an effort to maximize efficiency. As a result of these reviews, FOIA staff pursued several new initiatives in FY 2012 to increase overall effectiveness, including: designing and constructing an entirely new in-house FOIA tracking system in order to maximize efficiency, improve search capabilities, and increase cooperation between different divisions of the Board; creating a project mailbox to streamline communications with different divisions of the Board; and adopting uniform procedures to digitize existing paper-based records.
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 2012 to March 2013). 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.
- Provide examples of material that your agency has posted this past year.
In February 2012, the Board posted action plans for supervised financial institutions to correct deficiencies in residential mortgage loan servicing and foreclosure processing. It also released engagement letters between supervised financial institutions and independent consultants retained by the firms to review foreclosures that were in process in 2009 and 2010.
In March 2012, the Board posted a paper describing the methodology used in the stress tests in the 2012 Comprehensive Capital Analysis and Review (CCAR) as well as the templates for disclosure of the summary results. Additionally, the Board provided summary results of the bank stress tests and stress scenario projections figures.
In November 2012, the Board issued the macroeconomic scenarios for the current stress test cycle and in January 2012, the Board released the global market shock component of the adverse and severely adverse scenarios used in the latest Dodd-Frank Act stress tests and the CCAR to evaluate the capital positions of the six bank holding companies with significant trading operations.
In September 2012, the Board began the quarterly publication of transaction-level information related to discount window lending to depository institutions. The transaction-level detail supplements the extensive aggregate information the Federal Reserve provides in weekly, monthly, and quarterly reports. The Board launched an official Twitter channel aimed at rapidly disseminating items such as press releases, speeches, testimony, reports to the Congress, and statistical releases, including the Monthly Report on Credit and Liquidity Programs, and the Federal Reserve's weekly balance sheet. Other publicly available items include the schedule of public appearances by Board members and senior Board staff, reminders about deadlines (for example the deadline to file an Independent Foreclosure Review), a Frequently Asked Questions ("FAQs") site on topics that relate to current events, and information regarding the scheduling of town hall meetings, lectures, or other events.
The Board also established a preliminary inventory of materials in an effort to enhance transparency through improved web access to records of the Federal Reserve's past, in connection with its centennial observation in 2014. The initial inventory captures the Federal Reserve's first efforts to create a single point of access to historical records, documents, and other materials such as photographs and audio and video recordings related to the Federal Reserve System and its leaders.
- 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 the posted material, improving search capabilities on the site, creating 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"). The Board also maintains a significant social media presence in order to provide more avenues to communicate with the public.
- If so, provide examples of such improvements.
As noted above, the Board launched its official Twitter channel in 2012. In addition, the Board maintains a significant social media presence, including a dedicated YouTube channel and RSS feeds.
In March 2012, the Chairman delivered a 4-part lecture series to students at George Washington University. The Board live-streamed the lectures, sent out e-mail reminders, and Tweeted and promoted the events across media channels.
The Board's video library has grown to over 100 videos on PubWeb, and YouTube contains approximately 79 videos of Board events.
The Board live-streamed five FOMC press conferences, four educational lectures, two Open Board meetings, one townhall meeting (and linked to other events that were live streamed off-site, when available), and several speeches.
The Board launched a section of the website for educators and students: http://www.federalreserve.gov/aboutthefed/educational-tools/default.htm and made it easier for users to contact the Board by launching a site-wide "Contact-Us" topics listing: http://www.federalreserve.gov/aboutthefed/contact-us-topics.htm
The Board also maintains a robust FAQ website and regularly posts videos that provide helpful and informative information to site visitors: (http://www.federalreserve.gov/mediacenter/media.htm#allvideos)
- Describe any other steps taken to increase proactive disclosures at your agency.
See the description above. In addition, in August 2012, the Board began publishing unaudited combined Federal Reserve Bank financial reports on a quarterly basis. This enhancement to the Board's financial reporting procedures provides greater transparency by communicating System financial information on a more frequent basis and in greater detail.
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. In 2010 and 2011, agencies reported widespread use of technology in receiving and tracking FOIA requests and preparing agency Annual FOIA Reports. For 2013, as we did in 2012, the questions have been further refined and now also address different, more innovative aspects of technology use.
Electronic receipt of FOIA requests:
- Can FOIA requests be made electronically to your agency?
Yes. Since, 2000, the Board has had an on-line FOIA request form housed on the FOIA page of its main website, www.federalreserve.gov. In addition to submitting FOIA requests electronically, the Board FOIA staff uses email to send follow-up correspondence including acknowledgement letters, extension of time letters, and the final response letter and responsive documents.
- If your agency is decentralized, can FOIA requests be made electronically to all components of your agency?
The Board does not process requests on a decentralized basis.
Online tracking of FOIA requests:
- Can a FOIA requester track the status of his/her request electronically?
No. Instead, the Board communicates directly with requesters via email 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.
- If so, 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.
- In particular, does your agency tracking system provide the requester with an estimated date of completion for his or her request?
- If your agency does not provide online tracking of requests, is your agency taking steps to establish this capability?
The Board continues to consider the feasibility of adding a system to allow for the online tracking of existing FOIA requests. However, Board FOIA staff has found that direct communication with requesters continues to be an invaluable tool for providing requesters with exceptional service.
Use of technology to facilitate processing of requests:
- 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 searchcapabilities, utilizing document sharing platforms for consultations and referrals, or employing software that can sort and de-duplicate documents?
Yes. The Board considers the use of advanced technology as one of the most important elements in improving overall FOIA efficiency. Several of our new initiatives are discussed below.
- If so, describe the technological improvements being made.
In FY 2012, the Board began in-house development of an entirely new FOIA tracking system specifically designed to maximize efficiency, improve search capabilities, and increase cooperation between different divisions of the Board when searching and reviewing requests.
The Board also undertook an expansive project to digitize existing paper-based records. This archive of digitized records was designed for ease of use and maximum searchability, and features a customized set of naming conventions.
The Board's administrative FOIA team also established a project mailbox to streamline communications with different divisions of the Board.
Section V: Steps Taken to Improve Timeliness in Responding to Requests and Reduce 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 and appeals. For the figures required in this Section, please use those contained in the specified sections of your agency's 2012 Annual FOIA Report.
- 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. If your agency does not utilize a separate track for processing simple requests, answer the question below using the figure provided in your report for your non-expedited requests.
a. Does your agency utilize a separate track for simple requests?
b. If so, for your agency overall, for Fiscal Year 2012, was the average number of days to process simple requests twenty working days or fewer?
Yes. The average number of days to process a simple request in FY 2012 was 3 days.
c. 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?
- Sections XII.D.(2) and XII.E.(2) of your agency's Annual FOIA Report, entitled "Comparison of Numbers of Requests/Appeals from Previous and Current Annual Report – Backlogged Requests/Appeals," show the numbers of any backlog of pending requests or pending appeals from Fiscal Year 2012 as compared to Fiscal Year 2011. You should refer to those numbers when completing this section of your Chief FOIA Officer Report. In addition, Section VII.E, entitled "Pending Requests – Ten Oldest Pending Requests," and Section VI.C.(5), entitled "Ten Oldest Pending Administrative Appeals," from both Fiscal Year 2011 and Fiscal Year 2012 should be used for this section.
a. If your agency had a backlog of requests at the close of Fiscal Year 2012, did that backlog decrease as compared with Fiscal Year 2011?
No. The Board's requests backlog increased from 20 in FY 2011 to 30 in FY 2012.
b. If your agency had a backlog of administrative appeals in Fiscal Year 2012, did that backlog decrease as compared to Fiscal Year 2011?
No. The Board's backlog of administrative appeals increased from 1 in FY 2011 to 5 in FY 2012. However, three of the 5 backlogged appeals were closed in the first quarter of FY 2013.
c. In Fiscal Year 2012, did your agency close the ten oldest requests that were pending as of the end of Fiscal Year 2011?
No. It should be noted, however, that the Board closed 5 of the 10 oldest requests, including the oldest request pending.
d. In Fiscal Year 2012, did your agency close the ten oldest administrative appeals that were pending as of the end of Fiscal Year 2011?
No. At the end of FY 2011, there was one administrative appeal that remained pending. Due to the complexity of that appeal and the voluminous amount of documents involved, the appeal remains pending. Board FOIA staff has remained in communication with the requester regarding the appeal and has kept the requester apprised of its status.
- If you answered "no" to any of the above questions, describe why that has occurred. In doing so, answer the following questions then include any additional explanation:
a. Was the lack of a reduction in the request backlog a result of an increase in the number of incoming requests?
Yes. The Board's incoming Complex-Track FOIA requests increased by approximately 7% in FY 2012, and incoming Simple-Track FOIA requests increased by approximately 11% in FY 2012.
b. Was the lack of a reduction in the request backlog caused by a loss of staff?No. Board FOIA staff did not decrease in FY 2012, but in fact increased by the addition of two FOIA professionals. The lack of reduction in backlog can primarily be attributed to two causes: an increased number of requests received, and the complex nature of those requests.
c. Was the lack of a reduction in the request backlog caused by an increase in the complexity of the requests received?
Yes, due to the recent Dodd-Frank legislation and the Board's role in resolving the financial crisis, the Board experienced an increase in the amount of highly complex FOIA requests it received in FY 2012.
d. What other causes, if any, contributed to the lack of a decrease in the request backlog?
As stated above, the backlog can primarily be attributed to an increase in both workflow and complexity of FY 2012 FOIA requests.
Administrative Appeal Backlog:
a. Was the lack of a reduction in the backlog of administrative appeals a result of an increase in the number of incoming appeals?
Yes. The Board experienced an increase in the number of administrative appeals received this year (25 received in 2012 compared to 16 received in 2011).
b. Was the lack of a reduction in the appeal backlog caused by a loss of staff?
No, Board FOIA staff did not decrease, but in fact increased, in FY 2012.
c. Was the lack of a reduction in the appeal backlog caused by an increase in the complexity of the appeals received?
Yes. The Board has experienced an increase in the number of appeals filed in 2012 and many of the appeals filed were complex.
d. What other causes, if any, contributed to the lack of a decrease in the appeal backlog?
See the response above.
- 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. If your agency had a backlog in Fiscal Year 2012, please provide an estimate of the number of cases in the backlog where a substantive, interim response was provided during the fiscal year, even though the request was not finally closed.
An interim release of responsive documents was provided in response to 2 of the Board's oldest pending FOIA requests.
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:
- Did your agency invoke a statutory exclusion during Fiscal Year 2012?
- If so, what was the total number of times exclusions were invoked?
Spotlight on Success
Out of all the activities undertaken by your agency since March 2012 to increase transparency and improve FOIA administration, describe here 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.
The Board made an enhanced effort during this fiscal year to make discretionary disclosures of exempt information, particularly when the records pertained to consumers seeking documents relevant to their consumer complaints filed with the Board. The released confidential supervisory information typically involved communications between the involved banking institution and Federal Reserve System staff and other information related to the consumer's complaint. Confidential supervisory information is protected under exemption 8. The Board exercised its discretion to release as much information as possible in an effort to increase transparency and provide helpful information to the consumers.