Read the CFPB’s Freedom of Information Act reports

by Brian Wolfman

Federal agencies issue annual reports on their implementation of the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552.The reports say how many requests for information the agency gets, the bases for withholding information when information is withheld, the speed with which requests are fulfilled (or rejected), etc. One serious FOIA problem is agency tardiness. The law says that, generally, an agency must respond to a request within 20 business days. But some agencies are way behind, taking dozens or even hundreds of days to respond in substance to FOIA requests.

Agencies categorize FOIA requests as "simple" or "complex," and they often have particular difficulty responding promptly to complex requests. For instance, in 2013, the average and median response times at the FDA were 169.9 and 78.5 days, respectively; at the Centers for Disease Control, the same response times were 200.5 and 80 days, respectively.

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has just issued two reports on FOIA. One is a report from the agency's chief FOIA officer. That report talks about agency initiatives to meet FOIA's presumption of openness, to respond to FOIA requests promptly, to use technology to advance FOIA's goals, and so forth. The second is the agency's 2013 annual FOIA report, which provides the types of information discussed in the prior two paragraphs of this post. On promptness, the CFPB says that, in 2013, its average and median response times for simple requests were 8.36 and 6.5 days, respectively. That's very good. For complex requests, the numbers were 31.07 and 28 days, respectively.

For complex requests, the CFPB is a bit behind what the law demands, though the agency compares well to many other agencies. It's possible that the CFPB is doing pretty well because it's new and fairly small. (It received only 204 requests in FY 2013 . . . and processed 209.) In any event, the agency appears to be off to a good start on FOIA.