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Federal Reserve Board of Governors

Freedom of Information Office

2012 Chief FOIA Officer Report

The Chief FOIA Officer of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (Board), 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.

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.

1. Did your agency hold an agency FOIA conference, or otherwise conduct training during this reporting period?
Answer: The Board provides regular training to all personnel with significant FOIA responsibilities. A FOIA module which provides on-line FOIA instruction is included as part of the Legal Division's FOIA staff training. The manager of the Legal Division's FOIA team also meets with his staff weekly to review FOIA cases to ensure that the presumption of openness is properly applied when exemption determinations are made. More broadly, the Board also makes FOIA training available to all Board employees through a Board- wide application (FED LEARN).
2. Did your FOIA professionals attend any FOIA training, such as that provided by the Department of Justice?
Answer: Board Staff attended specialized FOIA training offered by the Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy (OIP), the American Society of Access professionals, and the United States Department of Agriculture. Additionally, the Board's FOI Manager attended all training offered by the Department of Justice. The Board's FOI Manager also recently attended the FOIA Technology Working Group meeting sponsored by OIP.
The Board further applies the presumption of openness by actively looking for opportunities to inform the public of its activities. The Board continues to be one of the most transparent central banks in the world and is providing more information to the public than at any other time in its history. Among new initiatives taken in 2011 were the first ever press briefings provided by Chairman Bernanke to present the Federal Open Market Committee's current economic projections. The Board also increased the use of social media tools to disseminate information and educate the public. For example, the Board launched a dedicated Media Center page on its public web site that includes a link to the Board's YOUTUBE Leaving the Board site, video, podcasts and a RSS feed. Over the last year 35 new videos were posted. Also during the last year, the Board provided webcasts of the following events: Chairman Bernanke's town hall meeting with soldiers and their families, an open board meeting, and press conferences held by the Chairman. Additionally, the Board now provides a "What's new" section on its public website that lists all recent developments, statistical releases issued less frequently than weekly, and other items posted over the past two weeks. The Board also features a "What's Next" that looks ahead over the next 45 days.
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.
3. Did your agency make any discretionary releases of otherwise exempt information?
Answer: Yes, the Board did make discretionary releases of exempt information, including a discretionary release of information involving the Board's Term Auction Facility (TAF) and information relating to Chairman Bernanke's daily activities.
4. What exemptions would have covered the information that was released as a matter of discretion?
Answer: Exemption 5
5. Describe your agency's process to review records to determine whether discretionary releases are possible.
Answer: In every instance of considering exemption determinations for documents responsive to a FOIA request, the Board's FOI staff assess whether a discretionary disclosure is possible.
6. Describe any other initiatives undertaken by your agency to ensure that the presumption of openness is being applied.
Answer: As noted above, the Board is committed to transparency and demonstrates this commitment by voluntarily posting a significant amount of information concerning the Board's actions on the public website. In practical terms, this means that individuals are able to obtain detailed information concerning the Board's activities without the need to file a formal FOIA request. We include a more detailed description of many of these initiatives in our discussion under Section II below.
In Section V.B.(1) of your agency's Annual FOIA Report, entitled "Disposition of FOIA Requests All Processed Requests" the first two columns list the "Number of Full Grants" and the "Number of Partial Grants/Partial Denials." Compare your agency's 2011 Annual FOIA Report with last year's Annual FOIA Report, and answer the following questions:
7. Did your agency have an increase in the number of responses where records were released in full?
Answer: The Board significantly increased full grants during FY 2011. In FY 2010, the Board released records in full in 445 requests; in FY 2011, the number of full releases jumped to 552.
8. Did your agency have an increase in the number of responses where records were released in part?
Answer: The Board's partial release numbers were almost identical in 2011 and 2010. Partial grants were made in 81 requests in 2011 and 80 in 2010. However, the Board significantly increased the number of its full grants and decreased the number of its full denials (28 FOIA requests).

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.

1. Do FOIA professionals within your agency have sufficient IT support?
Answer: Yes, the Board's FOIA professionals receive significant and dedicated IT support from the Board's Division of Information Technology.
2. Is there regular interaction between agency FOIA professionals and the Chief FOIA Officer?
Answer: Yes. The Secretary of the Board, who is the Chief FOIA Officer, is the official custodian of all Board records and also has responsibility for FOIA operations. In this dual role, she personally reviews all exemption determinations. As a result, FOIA staff routinely interact with the Board's Chief FOIA Officer.
3. Do your FOIA professionals work with your agency's Open Government Team?
Answer: Yes, FOIA staff works in coordination with the Board's Open Government Team regarding the Open Government Directive relating to FOIA.
4. Describe the steps your agency has taken to assess whether adequate staffing is being devoted to FOIA administration.
Answer: As noted in last year's Chief FOIA Officer Report, in 2010, the Board more than doubled the number of staff dedicated to FOIA work. The Board has maintained this increased level of staff during FY 2011.
5. Describe any other the steps your agency has undertaken to ensure that your FOIA system operates efficiently and effectively.
Answer: The Board FOIA system is under evaluation at all times to identify potential areas of improvement. Board FOIA staff are challenged to "think outside the box" and to develop new methods to improve the efficiency of FOIA operations. It is this spirit of ingenuity that has allowed the Board to rapidly adapt to evolving technology, and to streamline our FOIA system in order to provide every requester with the highest level of service.

The Board maintains a dedicated Freedom of Information office in the Office of the Secretary, which is staffed by a manager and four specialists and supported by a team of lawyers and paralegals in the Legal Division. The Secretary of the Board 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.

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 2011 to March 2012). 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.

1. Has your agency added new material to your website since last year?
Answer: In addition to the items highlighted in Section I above, the Board updated the Regulatory Reform web page to include communications with the public on matters subject to potential or proposed rulemaking under the Dodd-Frank Act. The Economic Research and Data web page has up to date working papers and includes an interactive data download program.
2. Provide examples of the records, datasets, videos, etc, that have been posted this past year.
Answer: In the past year the Board launched an interactive web-based guide to the Flow of Funds Accounts. The tools and descriptions in the guide will help users explore the structure and content of the quarterly Flow of Funds statistical release and the Integrated Macroeconomic Accounts for the United States. The guide allows users to search for series, browse tables of data, and identify links among series within the Flow of Funds accounts. It also provides descriptions of each of the published tables and information on the source data underlying each series. Information in the guide is updated quarterly.
The Federal Reserve System also developed a free application for use on an iPad. It allows a user to access a wide range of information from the Federal Reserve System Board of Governors and the 12 regional Reserve Banks. Easy-to-navigate and well-designed, the application opens with a map of the Federal Reserve System. The user simply needs to tap different areas of the map to get links to the latest news releases, research and data, speeches, videos, Congressional testimony and tweets from each of the regional Reserve Banks or from Federal Reserve headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Image of iPad application        Image of iPad application, Chicago page


3. Describe the system your agency uses to routinely identify records that are appropriate for posting.
Answer: The Board has a PUBWEB liaison group that includes representatives from all division. Each division is responsible for identifying records that it considers appropriate for posting. In addition, the Board's FOIA staff regularly review FOIA requests to determine whether certain records are requested with such frequency that they should be posted on the Board's website.
4. Beyond posting new material, is your agency taking steps to make the 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, providing explanatory material, etc.?
Answer: To assist the public in better understanding the Board's operations the Board has redesigned and expanded the Current FAQs section of its website. New questions and answers address the Federal Reserve's roles and actions, currency and coin, consumer issues, the banking and financial system, and the economy. Users may submit ideas for new questions using an online form.
5. Describe any other steps taken to increase proactive disclosures at your agency.
Answer: In August 2011, the Board posted materials in the FOIA electronic reading room related to the Capital One-ING bank application. The Capital One - ING page contains the Capital One-ING application as well as the comments received from the public on this application. The Board held three public meetings around the country to provide the public a forum for discussion about this pending application and transcripts from those meetings have also been posted on this page. Additionally, subsequent information provided by the applicant continues to be posted to the Capital One - ING page in the FOIA electronic reading room. To date, over 10,000 pages have been downloaded by visitors to this page.

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 handling FOIA requests. For 2012, the questions have been further refined and now also address different, more innovative aspects of technology use.

Electronic receipt of FOIA requests:

1. Can FOIA requests be made electronically to your agency?

Answer: Yes. The Board's FOIA webpage provides the public with the ability to submit FOIA requests electronically. 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.
2. If your agency processes requests on a decentralized basis, do all components of your agency receive requests electronically?
Answer: The Board does not process requests on a decentralized basis.

Online tracking of FOIA requests:

3. Can a FOIA requester track the status of his/her request electronically?

Answer: The Board does not have the capability for FOIA requesters to track their requests electronically. Board staff communicates by telephone and by email directly with FOIA requesters regarding the processing of their request.
4. If not, is your agency taking steps to establish this capability?
Answer: The Board is exploring the possibility of electronic tracking of FOIA requests. However, Board staff has found that many FOIA requesters desire more detailed information about the processing of their request than what may be available through an electronic tracking system.

Use of technology to facilitate processing of requests:

5. Beyond using technology to redact documents, is your agency taking steps to utilize more advanced technology to facilitate overall FOIA efficiency, such as improved record search capabilities, utilizing document sharing platforms for consultations and referrals, or employing software that can sort and de- duplicate documents.

Answer: The Board is currently considering implementing a number of enterprise-wide IT systems. These include document sharing platforms, improvement of record search capabilities and case management tools.
6. If so, describe the technological improvements being made.
Answer: Board staff developed, implemented, and refined a customized, enterprise-wide system for collecting and reviewing Board records responsive to FOIA requests and a system to search and de-duplicate email records.

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 2011 Annual FOIA Report.

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. 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?

Answer: The Board uses a separate track for simple requests

b. If so, for your agency overall, for Fiscal Year 2011, was the average number of days to process simple requests twenty working days or fewer?

Answer: The average number of days to process simple requests was 3.

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?

Answer: N/A

2. Sections VII.A 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 2011 as compared to Fiscal Year 2010. 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 2010 and Fiscal Year 2011 should be used for this section.

a. If your agency had a backlog of requests at the close of Fiscal Year 2011, did that backlog decrease as compared with Fiscal Year 2010?

Answer: The Board's backlog decreased by 65% from 55 in FY 2010 to 20 in FY 2011.

b. If your agency had a backlog of administrative appeals in Fiscal Year 2011, did that backlog decrease as compared to Fiscal Year 2010?

Answer: At the end of FY 2011, the Board had only one pending administrative appeal and this appeal was backlogged. This is an increase of one compared to FY 2010, in which the Board had no backlog of administrative appeals. However, because of the volume of material to be reviewed, the appellant agreed to a modified time frame for receiving a response to this appeal.

c. In Fiscal Year 2011, did your agency close the ten oldest requests that were pending as of the end of Fiscal Year 2010?

Answer: In FY 2011, the Board closed five of the ten oldest requests that were pending as of the end of FY 2010.

d. In Fiscal Year 2011, did your agency close the ten oldest administrative appeals that were pending as of the end of Fiscal Year 2010?

Answer: The Board did not have any administrative appeals pending from FY 2010.

3. 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:

Request Backlog:

a. Was the lack of a reduction in the request backlog a result of an increase in the number of incoming requests?

Answer: N/A

b. Was the lack of a reduction in the request backlog caused by a loss of staff?

Answer: N/A

c. Was the lack of a reduction in the request backlog caused by an increase in the complexity of the requests received?

Answer: N/A.

d. What other causes, if any, contributed to the lack of a decrease in the request backlog?

Answer: N/A

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?

Answer: The Board did not have a backlog of administrative appeals at the end of FY 2010. Because of the volume of material to be reviewed, the Board had one backlogged appeal at the end of FY 2011.

b. Was the lack of a reduction in the appeal backlog caused by a loss of staff?

Answer: The Board did not have a backlog of administrative appeals at the end of FY 2010. Because of the volume of material to be reviewed, the Board had one backlogged appeal at the end of FY 2011.

c. Was the lack of a reduction in the appeal backlog caused by an increase in the complexity of the appeals received?

Answer: The Board did not have a backlog of administrative appeals at the end of FY 2010. Because of the volume of material to be reviewed, the Board had one backlogged appeal at the end of FY 2011.

d. What other causes, if any, contributed to the lack of a decrease in the appeal backlog?

Answer: The Board did not have a backlog of administrative appeals at the end of FY 2010. Because of the volume of material to be reviewed, the Board had one backlogged appeal at the end of FY 2011.

All agencies should strive to both reduce any existing backlogs or requests and appeals and to improve their timeliness in responding to requests and appeals. Describe the steps your agency is taking to make improvements in those areas. In doing so, answer the following questions and then also include any other steps being taken to reduce backlogs and to improve timeliness.

1. Does your agency routinely set goals and monitor the progress of your FOIA caseload?
Answer: Attorneys and paralegals responsible for processing FOIA requests meet weekly to set goals, discuss case progress, and share processing tips.
2. Has your agency increased its FOIA staffing?
Answer: In 2010, the Board substantially increased the number of staff dedicated to FOIA work and has maintained this increased level of staff in 2011. Further, a new FOIA Administrative position was created to improve overall FOIA administration.
3. Has your agency made IT improvements to increase timeliness?
Answer: Yes, the Board increasingly uses email to correspond with FOIA requesters. In FY 2011, the Board's FOIA staff implemented the use of electronic correspondence, through email, for FOIA acknowledgement letters, extension of time letters and the final response letter. The Board also sends nearly 95% of all responsive documents to FOIA requesters in an electronic format either through email or on CD's. This improves the timeliness of FOIA responses by providing quicker communication with FOIA requesters. Board staff also developed, implemented, and refined a customized, enterprise-wide system for collecting and reviewing Board records responsive to FOIA requests and a system to search and de-duplicate email records.
4. If your agency receives consultations from other agencies, has your agency taken steps to improve the efficiency of the handling of such consultations, such as utilizing IT to share the documents, or establishing guidelines or agreements with other agencies on the handling of particular information to speed up or eliminate the need for consultations?
Answer: The Board does not usually receive consultations from other agencies.

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 2011?
Answer: The Board did not invoke a statutory exclusion during FY 2011.
2. If so, what is 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 2011 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.

To promote the public's opportunity to participate in the decision-making process regarding a pending banking acquisition, the Board posted materials in the FOIA electronic reading room related to the Capital One-ING application. The Capital One - ING page contains the Capital One-ING application as well as the comments received from the public on this application. The Board held three public meetings around the country to provide the public a forum for discussion about this pending application and transcripts from those meetings have also been posted on this page. Additionally, subsequent information requested from the applicant continues to be posted to the Capital One - ING page in the FOIA electronic reading room. To date over 10,000 pages have been downloaded by visitors to this page.
Last update: March 9, 2012