FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: OGIS addresses "still-interested" letters

FOIA News (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

FOIA 'still interested letters' have uncertain effect on requesters, report finds

By Stephanie Kanowitz, FierceGovernmentIT, Apr. 28, 2016

Sending a so-called "still interested letter" to someone who requested responses under the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, has an uncertain effect, an analysis found.

It's tough to measure these letters' effect on requesters, found part 1 of a study (pdf) by the Compliance Team at the Office of Government Information Services, or OGIS, on the use of such letters by the 15 Cabinet-level agencies between fiscal years 1998 and 2014, according to an April 27 blog post by the National Archives' FOIA ombudsman.

That's due, in part, to the fact that no guidance or standard for reporting requests closed using the letters exist.

"'Still interested' correspondence is a letter or an email that an agency sends to a FOIA requester asking if the requester remains interested in the requested records despite the time that elapsed since the request was filed," according to the report. "These letters are generally sent to the requester a significant amount of time after the FOIA request is made and inform the requester that if he or she does not indicate interest within a certain time, the agency will not process the request and will administratively close it."

Sometimes this letter is the first communication that an agency has with a requester, according to the report. "These letters can give the appearance to requesters – particularly frequent savvy requesters – that an agency's FOIA process does not work," it added.

Read more here.