I realize that there is not much money to put into FOIA Operations these days. However, one of the criticisms that requesters have is that even with the Amendments to the FOIA in 2007, outreach to requesters is still lagging.
The amendments required two important things that should help agencies in the customer service arena. First, agencies must now set up a system (either a telephone line or an internet service) that gives requesters status updates about their requests. Second, the position of FOIA Public Liaison was set up as a person to whom a requester can raise concerns about the service the requester has received from the FOIA Office.
The problem is that many agencies have played fast and loose with these requirements. Many agencies have set up phone lines. However, they are not manned and a requester must leave a message, which may or may not be returned. I believe that if an agency has set up a phone line for status, it should be manned by a real person during business hours. Talking to an actual person about your request in real time results in much better customer service than a requester leaving a message. And the cost is minimal to the agency.
Further, the FOIA Liasion should have a dedicated phone number -- it should not be routed through an underling at the FOIA Office as many FOIA Offices have done. The FOIA Liasion, while an employee of the agency, needs to have some independence from the FOIA Office. Otherwise, requesters will view the position suspiciously. Giving requesters direct access to the FOIA Liasion empowers requesters and does not cost additional funds (the position is already required by law and agencies are giving them phones).
Agencies can easily fulfill the requirements of these two recent additons to the FOIA and by doing so, will improve its customer service. It's a win-win for all.