Pandemic has caused major delays in FOIA requests

In today's Federal Newscast, agencies are reporting widespread processing delays for Freedom of Information Act requests during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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  • More than 80% of agencies that receive 10,000 or more requests a year posted a notice on their websites about FOIA delays. That’s according to a recent review from the Office of Government Information Services, part of the National Archives and Records Administration. The Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy issued guidance last May advising agencies to keep requesters in the loop on status updates.
  • President Biden’s new climate executive order includes a long to-do list for federal agencies. It tasks several agencies with developing a new clean energy procurement strategy. It suggests the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council create new amendments to promote sustainability in federal contracts. The order also envisions a zero-emissions fleet for the federal government and Postal Service by 2035. And it asks the Agriculture and Interior Departments to develop a plan for creating a new Civilian Climate Corps. It tasks the director of National Intelligence to review the impact of climate change on national security.
  • House Democrats want more details about VA’s plan to outsource veterans’ compensation and pension exams. The Veterans Benefits Administration paused most in-person C&P exams at the beginning of the pandemic. It relied on a smaller group of contractors to resume some exams last year. But House Democrats aren’t sure those contractors are up to the task of taking over the entire program. VBA has a backlog of roughly 365,000 pending exams. VA uses C&P exams to award benefits to veterans.
  • Twenty-five Senate Republicans introduced a bill that requires more vetting of agency regulations. The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, or REINS Act, would require Congress to pass a joint resolution approving major agency rules before they go into effect. The president would also have to sign the joint resolution for it to go into effect. The bill defines a major rule as any regulation with at least a $100 million impact, or would lead to a major increase in costs for agencies or the public. Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) first introduced the REINS on the Senate floor eight years ago.
  • The Office of the Director of National Intelligence is joining a growing number of intelligence community agencies who want to reach a younger audience by posting on Instagram. ODNI made its first three posts last week. ODNI said it’s using Instagram to creatively highlight their people, values and the work happening at ODNI and across the Intelligence Community. ODNI also posts content on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and YouTube.
  • DISA caved to industry pressure to open up a cloud acquisition to a broader audience. Industry pressure convinced the Defense Information Systems Agency to widen its search for program support services for its new cloud office. Three associations — the IT Industry Council, the Alliance for Digital Innovation and the Internet Association — wrote to DISA questioning its approach in a request for information. DISA initially released the RFI to only 37 contractors under its SETI vehicle. But late Friday DISA told the industry groups that it would welcome responses to that RFI from a broader set of vendors to share perspectives on buying cloud and other innovative technologies. (Federal News Network)
  • The Space Force moved to differentiate itself as a distinct military service, announcing new titles for its enlisted workforce. Until now, the Space Force has used the same rank names as the Air Force. But there are a few changes starting today. The most junior enlisted members will be known as “Specialists” instead of Airmen. The mid-grade E5 rank will change from “Staff Sergeant” to simply “Sergeant.” The rest of the Space Force — collectively called “Guardians” — will continue to use the same ranks and titles as the Air Force, at least for now. The service said it made the changes partly based on feedback from its still-small uniformed workforce.
  • The Army is asking soldiers to check in with their local unit personnel offices to ensure their payroll and personal information is correct. The service wants to ensure all of its data is up to date as is moves to the Integrated Personnel and Pay System — Army. That program will allow soldiers to see all of their pay and benefits information in one place. The Army plans on transferring one million active duty and reserve soldiers to the new system this December. (Federal News Network)
  • The Air Force Academy is reviewing its honor code in the wake of a new scandal. It expelled almost 250 students for using the internet to cheat on tests and plagiarizing assignments. The infractions happened last March as the school was shifting to distance learning as the coronavirus pandemic was amping up. A review committee is now looking at the school’s honor code to see how it can be improved. The scandal comes as the military academies are seeing increases in other issues, like sexual assault on campus.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission overhauled its system for receiving and processing Freedom of Information Act Requests. Starting today, the commission fielded a brand new software suite for ingesting both FOIA requests and appeals. The new version, dubbed System 2021, replaces a system that’s been there since 2015. Both systems let requesters check their status and correspond with the EEOC online. The commission says requesters can continue to check status of earlier requests using the old system, but only until March 12. The commission will still accept FOIA requests via postal mail, email and fax.
  • The police officer who was killed during last month’s insurrection at the U.S. Capitol will lie in state beneath the rotunda this week. Congressional leaders are planning a ceremonial arrival for Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick tomorrow evening. He’ll be buried at Arlington National Cemetery later this week. Sicknick served in the National Guard before joining the Capitol Police in 2008. (Federal News Network)

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