Sunshine Week is a moment to recognize one of the hallmarks of good government: an institution’s openness and transparency with respect to the work we perform and how we perform it. This fundamental principle speaks to any organization’s integrity and helps build trust between our government and the communities we serve.
As we carry out our critical homeland security missions, our Department is firmly committed to upholding the core ideal of accountability to the public while remaining guardians of people’s safety and security.
Earlier this week, we released twelve priorities to guide our actions and enhance our capabilities in 2022 and beyond. One of them is a pledge to increase openness and accountability. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an important element of advancing that objective, as it enables journalists, researchers, academics, and the general public to better understand DHS activities.
DHS maintains, by far, the largest FOIA program in the federal government. In fact, some DHS components regularly receive more FOIA requests than other Cabinet-level agencies. Overall, DHS accounts for 56 percent of all FOIA requests across the government.
Over the course of FY 2021, our extraordinary DHS FOIA professionals responded to a record-breaking 467,347 requests. We reduced our backlog by 30 percent, reaching our lowest level in nearly a decade. We are determined to make further progress this year and in the years ahead, moving toward a day when we eliminate the backlog entirely and continue our efforts to be as transparent as possible.
Completing this work begins with our workforce. In honor of Sunshine Week, we celebrated the remarkable FOIA professionals across this Department who lead this charge – the recipients of this year’s DHS Privacy Office Sunshine Awards:
FOIA Officer of the Year, Greg Bridges of FEMA, for his work to ensure compliance with FOIA, regulatory provisions, and Departmental policies for the timely completion of information requests.
Three Outstanding FOIA Professionals – USCIS's Jarrod Panter, CBP’s Jodi Drengson, and ICE’s Natyia Ward – who demonstrated exemplary performance and the highest standards of excellence in executing the administration of FOIA, reducing backlogs, improving timeliness, and increasing proactive disclosures.
Deputy Chief FOIA Officer’s Support Award for the members of the U.S. Coast Guard Cyber unit, for working efficiently and effectively to support the FOIA Office in obtaining records.
Thanks to the leadership of these colleagues and so many more, this work helps define the character of this Department and the relationship between our team and the people we serve. This task is absolutely vital, and our FOIA officials handle its complexities and nuances with professionalism and skill. Because they do, we will increase trust in our policies and personnel, and keep forging a DHS that is a model of openness and respect.
Alejandro N. Mayorkas
Secretary of Homeland Security
With honor and integrity, we will safeguard the American people, our homeland, and our values.