August 27, 2009
In Reply Refer To
1278 (560) P
Instruction Memorandum No. 2009-203
Expires: 09/30/2010 

To:                  ADs, SDs, and CDs

From:              Assistant Director, Information Resources Management

Subject:          Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Policy Guidance

Program Area: FOIA.

Purpose: This Instruction Memorandum (IM) issues new FOIA guidelines effective immediately in support of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) commitment to accountability and transparency for the FOIA program. The handling of FOIA requests requires that agencies fully involve all employees in the process. To maximize access by all persons to records of governmental activities, the Department of the Interior (DOI) has issued new guidelines in support of President Obama’s direction on Open Government and Transparency (See Attachment 1).

Policy/Action: The attached DOI Memorandum, dated July 2, 2009, specifically establishes  new FOIA direction to the effect that:

  • Requests for records under the FOIA shall be treated liberally, with a presumption of disclosure and access where release is not prohibited by law.
  • In conjunction with the DOI policy, the BLM will only withhold information when we reasonably foresee that the release could harm an interest protected by a FOIA exemption (e.g., in cases of National Security, personal privacy, law enforcement, attorney client-privileged information, statute, etc.). Program offices must provide “foreseeable harm statements” to deny access to records that are “sensitive and proper” for protection from release to FOIA requesters (See Attachment 2) .
  • All employees must work collaboratively with FOIA coordinators to fulfill their roles in processing requests so that replies are handled promptly within the statutory timeframes mandated by law. 
  • Program offices should proactively review records and projects in anticipation of requests to identify information that can be posted online to reduce FOIA requests.

Timeframe: Effective immediately. 

Budget Impact: Minimal. Responding to FOIA requests is required by law. 

Background: On January 21, 2009, President Obama issued new FOIA guidelines designed to improve the federal government's openness and transparency. The President’s Memorandum stated that “the Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears." In support of President Obama’s Memorandum, DOI Secretary, Ken Salazar’s Memorandum, dated July 2, 2009, called for all employees to be aggressively involved in the processing of FOIA requests. Assisting your designated FOIA coordinator with the processing of requests by all employees should no longer be considered a diversion, but rather a priority to fulfill both the letter and the spirit of the law. 

Manual/Handbook Sections Affected: MS 1278 “External Access to BLM Information.”

Coordination: This IM was coordinated within WO-500, the DOI Office of the Solicitor, and BLM State and Center FOIA coordinators. 

Contact: Ms. Laura F. Bell, FOIA Program Analyst, (202) 912-7562 or laura_bell@blm.gov.  

Signed by:                                                        Authenticated by:
Ronnie Levine                                                   Robert M. Williams
Assistant Director                                             Division of IRM Governance,WO-560
Information Resources Management
2 Attachments: