The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the only cabinet level agency that was able to meet President Obama’s 2009 instruction to reduce FOIA backlogs by 10 percent per year. Out of the 15 federal departments surveyed, HHS reduced its backlog by 12.7 percent* per year. The average for all federal departments was an 8.21 percent increase. The departments of Homeland Security, State, and Housing and Urban Development are some of the worst offenders, with an average increase of nearly 30 percent per year.
In a 2009 memorandum, President Obama’s Office of Management and Budget called for the creation of an Open Government Directive, based on the “principles of transparency, participation and collaboration” to create a more accountable and open government. As part of this Directive, the administration instructed that “Each agency with a significant pending backlog of outstanding Freedom of Information requests shall take steps to reduce any such backlog by ten percent each year.” Holding agencies accountable for their FOIA backlogs, where in some instances requests have gone unanswered for years, was a giant step towards “creating and institutionalizing a culture of open government.”