I'm FOIA officer for our department and, as such, I have made it a
crusade to carefully and fully document our response procedures - and
TRAINED every employee in those procedures. If the government entity
reads and understands the FOIA laws they must meet (and these differ
from state to state), then it is easier to deal with the "fishing"
expeditions. What has been happening in some states and some government
offices is either a request is stonewalled because of the vagueness of
the request and the anticipated massive workload to respond OR a request
is completely filled without regard to content in order to avoid law
suits or unfavorable publicity.
The State of Virginia lists all the types of information that is exempt
from being produced, and our employees are trained in knowing what they
should and should not release under a FOIA request. This way personal
information is safeguarded AND the request is responded to in a timely
manner. We tell the requester what we are not providing and why - and
cite the appropriate section of the Act exempting the information.
All this was put together to maintain our sanity during barrages of
requests from opponents to our new reservoir. We go through periods of
request after request. We know if we do not respond within the letter
of the law, we will face a law suit - which allows the opponents access
to far more information under subpoenas and discovery then the FOIA
request does. It's all in how well you understand the requirements and
how well you develop, implement, and meet your procedures.
(Virginia A. Jones, CRM, FAI)
Information Technology Division
Newport News Dept. of Public Utilities
Newport News, VA
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