|Government Management, Information, and Technology |
Government Management, Information, and Technology
Statement of John E. Collingwood, Assistant Director, Office of Public and Congressional Affairs, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Before the Subcommittee on Government Management Information, and Technology Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, House of Representatives, Washington, D.C., June 9, 1998.
Chairman Horn and members of the Subcommittee, I greatly appreciate the opportunity to appear here today. I look forward to discussing the FBI's efforts to be more responsive to the public and our many requesters seeking information pursuant to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts--and to discussing our progress in implementing EFOIA [Electronic Freedom of Information]. This is my first opportunity to appear before you on what we believe is an issue that ultimately is important to our ability to effectively investigate crime. I note it has been almost two years since the FBI last appeared before this panel.
Since we were last here, Mr. Chairman, the FBI has made significant strides in becoming more responsive to the public by reducing an intolerably high backlog of pending requests, by increasing our efficiency in processing requests, and by making our records available to the public in electronic format. While we still have a long way to go to be where we need to be--that is, no backlog and electronic processing end-to-end--the progress that we have made is directly attributable to the strong support we have received from Congress and the shared personal commitment of Attorney General Reno and Director Freeh. This support is enabling us both to vastly increase our responsiveness to the public and the efficiency with which we process records. We all share the view that an effective FOIA function can only help to increase the public's confidence in the FBI and our ability to investigate violations of the law consistent with the rule of law.
In late October, 1996, with the full support of Attorney General Reno and the consent of Congress, Director Freeh moved the FOIA function to my office. He did this to raise the profile of the function within the FBI and to provide for greater executive involvement and oversight of the function. In addition, our appropriations committees and ultimately Congress in Fiscal Year 1997 provided additional resources. Additional resources were provided in FY 1998. The message from both Attorney General Reno and Director Freeh and from Congress was clear: The FBI must reverse the decade-long trend of an increasing backlog of requests. I am pleased to report that we have done that but, again, we recognize that we have a long way to go to be where we need to be.
Please allow me to describe a few of the highlights since the FBI was last here.
- We have established monthly and yearly goals designed to eliminate the backlog by 2001, and we are meeting these goals.
- The backlog of pending requests peaked at 16,426. It now stands at 11,889, a 28 percent reduction. This is in addition to handling the approximately 13,000 new requests we receive every year. There has been an even greater reduction in the number of total pages in the backlog waiting to be processed.
- We have established a backlog manager whose sole function is to look for ways to increase the efficiency with which we process requests; to better manage the flow of pending requests; and to organize and maintain the request queues consistent with EFOIA.
- We have established a public information officer who functions to help the public identify records, make requests and acquire information.
- We have established a negotiation team, consistent with EFOIA, to help meet the needs of requesters on a more timely basis.
- We have focused hard on our oldest cases to get them processed and closed.
- We have established a help desk to expedite the processing of FBI records held by other agencies so that their FOIA requests are not delayed by the FBI. In some instances this desk has reduced turnaround time from years to days or hours.
- We have reorganized and streamlined operations to substantially increase the productivity of the analysts who process our records for release.
- We have established a litigation function to relieve line analysts of the burden of handling litigation, thus increasing the time available for processing.
- We have intensified training of our employees to make them more effective in their assigned areas of responsibility.
- We have hired all of the new people Congress funded in Fiscal Year 1997 and assigned them to work in non-management positions that contribute directly to our backlog reduction efforts.
These are a few of the things we have done, and we are pleased that they have had a measurable impact. Realistically, there are many possible future factors that could adversely affect our continued success-such as increases in litigation or dramatic increases in the number of requests. But we are confident now that the 10-year trend of an increasing backlog is permanently reversed. We are confident that the backlog will be eliminated.
In regard to compliance with EFOIA, I am likewise pleased to report that we have some exciting advances underway. We are fully committed to both the letter and spirit of this new law, and we believe that ultimately its provisions will decrease, not increase, our workload. Many of the provisions codify what already is our practice.
Again, I would like to provide some highlights.
- The FBI is committed to placing its FOIA public reading room on the FBI's web site. To date, we have placed 37 of our most requested cases on-line, encompassing over 19,000 pages of text. So far this year these cases have been accessed by the public over 1.4 million times. We have both the technology and resources to effectively continue this process.
- We have examined many possible automated systems for record processing and release of documents in an electronic format and believe we have identified an effective and efficient system. We will test a pilot of this system in the near future to ensure its viability. We have both the resources and people to fully automate the process.
- We have fully adopted the multi-track processing regimen.
- We are creating an electronic index of all the material in our public reading room and will make that available on our web site.
- We have a fully functioning negotiation team in place that is successfully working with requesters to more effectively meet their needs.
- New cases added to our reading room will be added in an electronic format.
Mr. Chairman, responsiveness under FOIA is an important factor in maintaining the trust and confidence of the American people. We very much appreciate this committee's attention to the issue and the support Congress has given us. I cannot state that all of our problems are solved, but we are confident that the course we are pursuing will eliminate our backlog. More than any other achievement, we believe this is the most important task before us.