1. FOIA Improvement Plan area to which this milestone relates.
2. Deficient milestone and the original target date from the FOIA Improvement Plan.
SSA’s goal was to decrease the existing backlog by 5% from the previous year’s reporting date of January 15, 2007.
3. Steps taken to correct the deficiency and the dates by which the steps were completed.
As stated in our 2007 Annual Report, SSA’s efforts to decrease the backlog is an ongoing process. Complex cases, which require that we obtain responsive documents from another component, are at an all-time high. The Office of Public Disclosure (OPD) continues to hold weekly “old case” meetings and management meetings to assess workloads. Junior-level analysts continue to respond to routine requests, which allow our senior analysts to focus on the more complex cases. Further, the management staff has contacted component heads in order to facilitate timely searches for documents that are responsive to our numerous requests.
OPD requested additional staffing and received several allocations to fill staff positions that were lost due to retirements. We were able to post four staff positions by June 1, 2008, as we had stated in our 2007 Annual Report, and we are hopeful we will receive additional allocations by the end of the calendar year. Two college interns that were originally apprenticed through the end of May will remain with OPD until the end of the Fiscal Year (FY). Some staff members also work credit hours, and in some cases compensatory time, on a daily basis. Since the beginning of the 2008 calendar year, we also have had senior analysts working in a “acting” management rotation who have been to able to provide additional reviews and guidance in processing FOIA requests.
OPD is also in the process of restructuring its front-end intake section and tasking a senior-level analyst within OPD to operate as its lead. This new job restructuring will be fully formulated and functional before the end of FY 2008. The reason for this change is that the Internet component of the eFOIA system went into production earlier this year and it has, by design, become a very popular tool for incoming requests. At the same time, this new tool is not without its share of challenges. Because two components share the eFOIA system, there was an immediate need to differentiate the types of requests received and then distribute them to the correct components. Before the system modification and even now, the majority of these Internet requests are routed to OPD and regrettably, most are not FOIA related. The public generally views freedom of information, whether via phone, mail, and now the Internet, as a forum to make general inquiries and ask questions. There is no remedy to prevent these requests from entering the eFOIA system. However, reviewing inquiries and properly routing them to the appropriate component within the Agency that can best provide a response for action invariably puts a huge administrative burden on OPD because these requests still require special handling by the FOIA staff. The efforts to sort these requests and route them to the appropriate component requires the lead of a experienced senior-level analyst with institutional knowledge who knows the functions of the many components within SSA. This position will have an immediate impact in reducing OPD’s backlog and overall processing times because this lead senior analyst can monitor these requests at the time of receipt and instruct junior-level analysts with the overall processing of these requests. OPD may choose to route the request to another component or provide its own response. Currently, requests of this nature are routed to all analysts as part of their workload.
4. Future remedial steps and the dates by which the steps will be completed.
In our 2007 Annual Report, we stated that our goal for decreasing backlog would not be back on target until FY 2009. SSA is making progress with our backlog, especially in the area of reducing the age of our oldest backlogged requests. OPD has noticed a trend in its weekly old cases meeting that indicates we are steadily reducing processing times. We are hopeful that the additional staffing, coupled with the commitment and extra effort from existing staff, will put us back on our backlog reduction target by September 30, 2009.