Anyone active in FOIA knows that money for FOIA Operations is always a problem. And with the recent budget battles, FOIA Offices in many agencies have been stretched beyond thin.
Further, the GSA travel scandal has made training almost extinct for a number of agencies and this includes FOIA training for all employees, including new ones who have very little or no experience whatsoever in the FOIA.
I see the biggest issue in FOIA for the foreseeable future as the funding of FOIA operations. Even with the adoption of electronic processing and FOIA portals, this lack of funding will increase backlogs in requests and decrease knowledge among FOIA employees. Its moving into a code red situation.
What, if anything, can be done? First, those making up the FOIA community, (requesters and FOIA employees) need to realize that this is not a situation created by the FOIA community. As such, they need to work together to contact both Congress and agency higher ups letting them know that this situation is not satisfactory, that FOIA is a statute and needs to be funded. Further, those at the offices in DOJ and OGIS need to work with agency FOIA staff in educating non-FOIA management of agencies in the importance of the FOIA, including keeping the money flowing. Finally, Congress should look at ways to fund FOIA Operations either by specific line items per agencies (I"ve gotten flak in the past for this suggestion, but I've never been swayed that it would hurt) or by allowing FOIA agencies to keep the money they bring in by charging duplication and processing fees. Congress may also want to re-look at where attorney fees come from in FOIA litigation. They are now paid, in many instances, from the already depleted FOIA Operations. I would suggest there should be some type of system that allows agencies to take the money from the budget's of the program offices that often create the litigation situation in the first place.
The next few months will see the sequestration/budget battles dominate the headlines. Those in the FOIA community should remember that these discussions cut straight to their interests and should be active participants.
I'd love to hear your suggestions/comments about this issue.