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Federal Reserve Board of Governors

Freedom of Information Office

2011 FOIA Chief Officer Report

The Secretary of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Board) and Chief FOIA Officer, Jennifer J. Johnson, hereby submits the Chief FOIA Officer Report on behalf of the Board in accordance with the template provided by the Department of Justice

I. Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness

1. Description

The Board applies a presumption of openness in all of its FOIA operations and believes that the central bank should provide as much information as possible to improve the public's and the market's understanding of the Board's policies and to foster democratic accountability. On the other hand, disclosure of sensitive confidential commercial information relating to financial institutions can impair the Board's ability to address strains in the financial market, improve market stability, and otherwise achieve its statutory objectives.

The Board has taken many steps in the past year to enhance communications and dramatically increase public disclosures. The Board is now among the most transparent central banks in the world, and is providing more information to the public than at any other time in its history. Prior to the issuance of the Attorney Generalís guidelines, at Chairman Bernanke's request, the Board formed a high-level transparency committee to review and enhance the Federal Reserve's disclosure policies. Headed by Vice Chairman Kohn, the committee's operating presumption is that the public has the right to know and that non-disclosure must be affirmatively justified by clearly articulated criteria for confidentiality based on factors such as reasonable claims to privacy, the confidentiality of supervisory information, and the need to ensure the effectiveness of policy.

The President's FOIA memorandum and Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines were promptly distributed to all relevant FOIA staff. Board staff reviewed and discussed the guidelines and compared the directives with the Board's FOIA practices. The guidelines provided further support to the transparency initiatives already underway. In addition, our FOIA office manager has attended all the training offered by the Department of Justice.

Some examples of discretionary disclosures include: significant contracts entered into with private sector vendors to assist in the management and administration of special liquidity and asset purchase programs; monthly reports on credit and liquidity programs and the balance sheet; and expanded information about the policy tools the Federal Reserve has employed to address the financial crisis. These disclosures were made through the Boardís web site and were intended to release as much information as possible without compromising the interests protected by the exemptions.

2. Disclosure Comparisons

In both 2008 and 2009 the Board released records in full or partially in response to 70% of its FOIA requests (587 requests in 2008 and 596 requests in 2009).

Numerically, there was a small increase in the number of FOIA requests processed by the Board this year (848 requests) compared to 2008 (836 requests). The number of appeals increased by 100% (22 in 2009 versus 11 for 2008); the appeals were completed in an average of 19 days; and the Board provided additional information to the appellants in 20% of the appeals (compared to 10% in 2008). Further, the Board granted a record number of requests for expedited processing (25 in 2009 compared to 2 in 2008) and fee waivers (36 in 2009 compared to 2 in 2008). Many of the requests for expedited processing and fee waivers were granted on a discretionary basis.

II. Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency has an Effective System for Responding to Requests

The Board maintains a dedicated Freedom of Information office which is staffed by a manager and four specialists from the Office of the Secretary and supported by a team of lawyers and paralegals from the Legal Division. The Secretary also has broad authority to assign other Federal Reserve staff to work on individual FOIA requests and exercises this authority to ensure that all requests receive orderly, due, and proper consideration.

The Board has a broad and varied mission, and the types of FOIA requests it receives reflect the Board's diverse responsibilities. Depending on the substance of a particular request, responsive records of the Board may be housed at one or more of the Federal Reserve Banks. The Board's centralized FOIA operations ensure consistent treatment of similar records and similar requests.

Over time, the Board, with the support of its Information Technology (IT) professionals, has made maximum use of evolutions in information technology. The Board's FOIA webpage provides the public with the ability to submit FOIA requests electronically, review regulatory proposals, submit comments on those proposals, and view other comments. When requested, and where feasible, responsive records are provided electronically, on computer disks and in specified database formats. The Board uses an automated tracking system to monitor progress on individual requests; this system also generates statistics for the Board's Annual FOIA report.

Finally, it should be noted that the Board uses extensive-in-house IT resources to facilitate large-scale, comprehensive document collections. This considerable IT support has enhanced the FOIA staff's efforts to compile and review the substantial records pertaining to the financial crisis.

III. Steps Taken To Increase Proactive Disclosures

The Board has launched a new section on its website that includes significantly expanded information on the policy tools used to address the financial crisis and information on Federal Reserve programs (including explanation, discussion, and analysis.) The descriptive information is provided in easier-to-understand language. It includes:

In June, 2009, the Board began issuing and posting monthly reports providing extensive new information on its credit and liquidity programs. These reports (entitled Federal Reserve Credit and Liquidity Programs and Balance Sheets), include numbers of borrowers, borrowing types by institutions, collateral by type and credit ratings, concentration information, liquidity swap usage by country, quarterly income figures for certain Federal Reserve assets, and asset distribution. The reports also include recent developments in the Board's liquidity and credit programs.

Additionally, the Board has augmented information in the H.4.1 statistical release which includes weekly updates on the Board's balance sheet and amounts outstanding for each of the Board's lending facilities. The website also includes reports to Congress on lending facilities authorized pursuant to section 13(3) of the Federal Reserve Act.

IV. Steps Taken To Greater Utilize Technology

1. Does your agency currently receive requests electronically?
Yes, the Board makes available an electronic FOIA request form on its website.
2. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency establishing a mechanism to receive requests electronically. N/A
3. Does your agency track requests electronically?
Yes, the Board has maintained an electronic FOIA tracking system for 15 years.
4. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency utilizing a system to track requests electronically. N/A
5. Does your agency use technology to process requests.
Yes, approximately 90 percent of FOIA requests are received electronically and logged into the Board's electronic FOIA tracking system. The requests are maintained in an electronic recordkeeping system and records are redacted using on-line redaction tools. The release of responsive records to FOIA requesters is frequently conducted through the use of e-mail.
6. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency utilizing technology to process requests. N/A
7. Does your agency utilize technology to prepare you agency Annual FOIA Report.
Yes, the Board's Annual FOIA Report is prepared using an automated case management system.
8. If not, what are the current impediments to your agency utilizing technology in preparing your Annual FOIA Report? N/A

V. Steps Taken to Reduce Backlogs and Improve Timeliness in Responding to Requests

1. Backlog Status

In 2008, the Board reported a backlog of five FOIA requests. The date of the oldest overdue FOIA request was May 15, 2008. No administrative appeals were pending. In 2009, the Board reported a backlog of 129 FOIA requests. The oldest overdue FOIA request was dated August 25, 2008. While there was one administrative appeal pending at the end of the fiscal year, there are currently no administrative appeals pending.
2. Backlog Reduction Steps

The bulk of the backlog is due to the increase in volume and complexity of FOIA requests the Board received for extraordinarily detailed and voluminous amounts of information concerning various actions taken by the Board over the past two years to address market instability. Processing these complicated requests has resulted in delays in processing of other complex requests for information on matters not directly related to market events. To address these challenges, the Board nearly doubled the resources directed to FOIA operations ($2,079,095 in processing costs in 2009, compared with $1,116,633 in 2008). Further, the Board has implemented phased enterprise-wide document searches to ensure that responses to complex financial crisis-related requests are comprehensive.
3. Steps to Improve Timeliness

The Board responded to 70% of its FOIA requests within 20 days and 90% within 60 days. To further improve timeliness, the Legal Division has assigned several additional lawyers, and hired temporary contract personnel, to assist in FOIA matters, and senior staff in the Office of the Secretary have assumed the processing duties for some of the oldest requests.
Last update: March 8, 2012