FOIA

Commodity Futures Trading Commission
Improvement Plan Pursuant to Executive Order 13,392
“Improving Agency Disclosure of Information”

Originally Submitted June 2006

 

Revised January 2008

Pursuant to Section 3 of Executive Order 13392, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) submits its revised plan of action to improve its FOIA Program operations. The Commission’s revised plan to improve its FOIA Program is as follows, in accordance with the template provided by the Department of Justice.

A. Overall Nature of CFTC’s FOIA Operations
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program provides centralized FOIA processing from Commission headquarters in Washington, DC. The CFTC FOIA Compliance Office is part of the Opinions and Review section of the Office of the General Counsel and the Deputy General Counsel of that section serves as the Chief FOIA Officer. The FOIA Compliance Office receives and responds to all FOIA request and works with the Commission offices in Washington, Chicago, New York, and Kansas City to locate records responsive to the FOIA requests The Litigation section of the Office of the General Counsel processes all administrative appeals for access to records denied in the Commission’s initial response to FOIA requests.1

The number of FOIA request received by the Commission has dropped steadily in the past five years, from 402 in FY 00 to 219 in FY 2006.

B. Areas of FOIA Operations Selected for Review
Due to the relatively small size of the Commission’s FOIA program, all potential improvement areas recommended by the Department of Justice in its guidance on implementation of the Executive Order that were also applicable to the Commission were reviewed.

C. Summary of Results of Review
The Commission is currently redesigning its website, which should result in even more information being available, and being more easily accessible, to the public. A drop in the number of FOIA requests received by the Commission in recent years has been attributed to more information becoming available on the website over the same period. The website’s FOIA page was recently updated to comply with other requirements of the Executive Order, and further changes will be a part of the redesign of the whole site. One feature of the FOIA page that has been widely used is the Electronic FOIA Request Form, which allows requesters to submit their requests by email rather than by U.S. mail or fax. The agency’s FOIA reference guide, Guide to CFTC Information, is also available on the website and in hardcopy, but has not been significantly revised since its first publication.

In processing requests, the Commission has never found a need to utilize multi-track processing, due to a small number of requests and success in meeting the statutory deadline for responding to requests. Typically the only requests that require more than twenty business days to process are those involving large numbers of investigatory documents, and requesters are kept informed as to the progress being made toward fulfilling those requests until they are completed. Backlogs have never been a problem, and the Commission rarely receives requests for expedited processing.

The Commission’s internal automated FOIA tracking system is used only by the FOIA Compliance Office. The system assigns a tracking number to each FOIA request received and allows staff to check the name of the requester, the subject of the request, and the dates that the request was received and that a response is due. However, the system does not provide information on the status of an open FOIA request, which is usually maintained by the individual staff person processing the request.

When a FOIA request is received, an acknowledgment letter is sent to the requester. Although the letter is mostly a standard form letter, it does provide the requester with the tracking number for the request and the name, phone number, and email address of the FOIA Compliance Office staff person assigned with the processing of the request. If the requester has provided an email address, the acknowledgment letter is sent by email; otherwise, the letter is sent by U.S. mail. If the FOIA Compliance Office has any questions about the request, the requester is usually contacted by phone or email for a quick response. Letters are sent only for deadline extensions and for partial or final responses to the request. These letters are typically mailed, but may be faxed or sent by email. While requesters are encouraged to submit their requests electronically, the Commission only responds to requests electronically if the requester has asked us to do so.

D. Areas Chosen for Improvement

1. Improvement of agency’s FOIA Reference Guide

2. Electronic FOIA – receiving/responding to requests electronically

3. Automated tracking capabilities

    E. Improvement Area Details

    1. Name: Improvement of agency’s FOIA Reference Guide
    Goal/objective: To thoroughly revise the Commission’s guide for the first time since it was published.
    Steps to be taken: Review and edit the current version of the guide. Draft content to be added to the guide. Update guide in print and on the Commission’s website.
    Time milestones: Process to be completed by 12/31/06.
    Means of measurement of success: Publication of new version of guide.

    2. Name: Automated tracking capabilities
    Goal/objective: To enhance the existing FOIA tracking system so that users can determine the status of open FOIA requests and share that information with requesters.
    Steps to be taken: Add data fields to the tracking system so that the following information can be entered for each request: offices searched for responsive records, the offices’ responses, and comments on the status of open requests. Train staff that process requests to use and update the system.
    Time milestones: The tracking system should be ready by October 2008, the start of the new FOIA fiscal year.2
    Means of measurement of success: FOIA staff will have the ability to determine the status of any FOIA request using the FOIA tracking system and relay that status to the requester.

    3. Name: Electronic FOIA – receiving/responding to requests electronically
    Goal/objective: To respond to more FOIA requests electronically so that requesters will receive a faster response and save on processing fees.
    Steps to be taken: Train staff to ask requesters if they wish to receive responses electronically. Establish procedures for the scanning and emailing of responsive records.
    Time milestones: Ongoing
    Means of measurement of success: Starting with FY 07, the Commission will begin tracking the percentage of requests that receive responses electronically each year, and then determine whether that percentage increases from year to year.

      F. Improvement Areas Grouped by Time Periods

      1. Areas anticipated to be completed by December 31, 2006.

      2. Areas anticipated to be completed after December 31, 2007.

      3. Areas anticipated to be completed by October 2008 (December 2006 – original target date).2

        • Revision of FOIA Reference Guide (completed)
        • Responding to FOIA requests electronically (completed)
        • Enhancement of automated FOIA tracking system

      1 Revision reflects the Commission’s FOIA Compliance Section move from the Office of Secretariat to the Office of General Counsel.

      2 Revision reflects target date change due to lack of resources and limited staff.