Category Archives: Department of Justice

Report – and Attachments – from DOJ Comes through the Mail

Yesterday I found a very thick envelope from the Department of Justice (DOJ) waiting for me on my desk.

DOJ PicInside the envelope were 4 documents: a letter letting me know that DOJ was releasing the report to me in full (more on that in a second); the report; and two attachments referred to by the report. You can download all of the documents here:

DOJ Response Letter

DOJ Records Mgmt Report

DOJ RM Report – Attachment A

DOJ RM Report Attachment B

First, I have to praise DOJ for the thoroughness of its response: proactively releasing attachments is a great way to help a requester avoid having to file more requests.

Honestly, however, this approach would have been even more appreciated is DOJ had sent me versions electronically — as I requested. About half of the agencies I sent requests to have corresponded with me using standard mail. Answering electronic requests with paper responses is extremely frustrating for users — and extremely inefficient. For one thing, using the US Postal service is slower than email and costs more money. According to the postmark, DOJ put the mail report in the mail 5 days ago, and it cost DOJ $2.12 cents to mail me the envelope. If they had emailed me the report, delivery would have been virtually instantaneous and free. Another frustration for users with paper responses is that it puts a greater burden on us to make the documents more usable and widely available. Furthermore, graphics that may be perfectly lovely in their digital format can become almost illegible when they are printed out (see DOJ RM Report Attachment B for an example of this).

Moving onto the substance of DOJ’s response letter, it is interesting that DOJ makes a point of pointing out that the report “contains information that could be considered exempt under FOIA exemption 5” and that the agency has made a “discretionary decision to release the report in full.” We decided to request copies of a report from agencies to the National Archives in part because we knew that the information could be covered under exemption 5 (intergovernmental records). Under the guidelines set by President Obama and Attorney General Holder, agencies are encouraged to make a discretionary release of such information unless there is a foreseeable harm in doing so. We know at least one other agency considered using exemption 5 before deciding to release the report in full. Thus far, however, DOJ’s response letter is the only one that contains this language.


DOJ Sends Us a NEW Tracking Number

Almost a full month after learning that our request to the Department of Justice had been referred to another division within the Department, we finally received a letter acknowledging that the Justice Management Division (JMD) had received our request and has assigned it a new tracking number (2582614). The letter, which can be downloaded below, was sent to us via US mail, and does not reference our request that all records be released electronically — hopefully the printed-out letter is not a sign of things to come.

DOJ – JMD tracking #

Checking on Status at DOJ

On 10/22 we received an email letting us know that a response to our request with the Department of Justice had been sent to our “eFOIA Portal account.” It took us a few tries to log in to our account because first, the CAPTCHA words were not appearing; then, we had a hard time deciphering them once they did appear.

Once we were finally logged in, we saw that our request had been assigned a tracking number and that processing was “in progress.” We had not been assigned an estimated date of completion yet.

Our initial request had been directed to the Office of the Attorney General, and, as such, was handled by the Office of Information Policy (OIP). According to the letter we downloaded, OIP determined the record we are requesting is likely to be help the Justice Management Division (JMD), and they were forwarding our request on to them. Since DOJ has a de-centralized FOIA processing system, our request can no longer be tracked in the eFOIA Portal. We were told that we would “need to contact JMD to obtain information regarding the processing status of your request.”

At least we will not have to decipher any more CAPTCHA words…


Where are the Tracking Numbers?

We are about two weeks into this project now and are already getting final responses back from some agencies. Other agencies, however, have yet to acknowledge receipt of our request, much less give us a tracking number. Here are the agencies we have yet to hear from:

  • Homeland Security
  • Justice
  • Veterans Affairs
  • Social Security

We also still have not been given a tracking number by the Department of State, though we did receive a confirmation email.

Filing with the Department of Justice

We filed our request with the Department of Justice via online form on 10/5/2012.