Archivist Appoints New OGIS Director

Please join us in welcoming  OGIS' new Director, James Holzer!

Please join us in welcoming OGIS’ new Director, James Holzer!

Archivist of the United States David Ferriero announced the appointment of James Holzer as the Director of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) on July 21, 2015, effective August 9. We hope all of you will join us in welcoming Dr. Holzer to the OGIS staff!

Dr. Holzer comes to OGIS from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Privacy Office, where he has served as the Senior Director of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Operations. While at DHS, Dr. Holzer supervised a team of FOIA professionals and served as the senior advisor to DHS’ executive-level leaders on FOIA and the Privacy Act. He also spearheaded a number of initiatives to improve implementation of FOIA across DHS.

Prior to joining the DHS, Dr. Holzer served in the U.S. Air Force for 13 years on active duty. He earned a Doctorate of Management at University of Maryland, University College, and also holds a Master of Human Relations degree from the University of Oklahoma, and a B.S. in Business from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

In announcing the appointment, the Archivist noted, “Dr. Holzer’s experience administering FOIA and his demonstrated commitment to transparency will benefit OGIS, the National Archives, and the American public.”

Dr. Holzer will be OGIS’ second director. Miriam Nisbet, who opened the Office in 2009, retired in late 2014.

Welcome, Dr. Holzer!

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The Best Laid Plans: Public National Action Plan Session Set for July 30

Grab a seat at the table to discuss the 3rd US National Action Plan on July 30! (NARA Identifier 6010304)

Grab a seat at the table to discuss the 3rd US National Action Plan on July 30! (NARA Identifier 6010304)

The White House will host a public meeting Thursday July 30 at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) to gather ideas on steps the government should take to make itself more open and accountable. RSVP now to reserve your seat for the 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. session!

In October the Administration will release the third U.S. National Action Plan for Open Government. Like the first and second National Action Plans, the new plan must include commitments to specific action over the following two years. These plans relate to a wide variety of issues—from modernizing FOIA to improving public participation in government.

For those of you that cannot attend the meeting, you can keep up with the conversation in real-time by watching it on Livestream (https://www.whitehouse.gov/live). You can also always add your input by on a number of topics, including FOIA, using the collaborative website Hackpad.

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FOIA Gets an Online Makeover for its 49th Birthday!

FOIA's new online makeover aims to be a hit with the public (NARA Identifier 5957435)

FOIA’s new online makeover aims to be a hit with the public (NARA Identifier 5957435)

Just days after FOIA celebrated its 49th birthday on July 4, the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) announced a pilot project aimed at improving government transparency by making almost all records released under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) available to anyone online. FOIA offices in seven agencies, including the Office of General Counsel at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), are participating in the effort.

Currently agencies are encouraged to post records on their websites if they have been requested three or more times. A number of efforts over the last few years have encouraged agencies to make better use of the Internet to improve public understanding of the government’s decisions and actions. For example, all agencies participating in FOIAonline— the multi-agency platform that allows users to submit FOIA requests to any participating agency—have the option of publishing any released record to a central searchable repository. A subcommittee of the FOIA Advisory Committee (which is managed by OGIS) is exploring issues related to posting records released under FOIA. And in March 2014, the Department of Justice issued updated guidance to agencies on improving proactive disclosures.

According to the OIP announcement, the pilot projects will:

“answer many important questions, including: costs associated with such a policy, effect on staff time required to process requests, effect on interactions with government stakeholders, and the justification for exceptions to such a policy, such as for personal privacy. For privacy reasons, participating agencies will not post online responses to requests in which individuals seek access to information about themselves.”

Implementation of the pilots and the results will be available to the public. Members of the public are encouraged to send their feedback, including suggestions for the metrics that agencies should collect, to releasetoall@usdoj.gov.

For more information on how the pilot project will be carried out at NARA, please check out the announcement on the National Archives Blog, NARAtions.

Posted in About FOIA, FOIA Advisory Committee, FOIAOnline, innovation | Leave a comment

FOIA Advisory Committee to Meet on 7/21 in Washington, DC

National Archives and Records Administration LogoThe Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee will hold on open meeting at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) Building, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW in the Archivist’s Reception Room (Room 105) from 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. (EDT) on Tuesday, July 21, 2015.

The Committee will discuss the topics on which the Committee is focusing its efforts to improve FOIA administration throughout the Executive Branch: oversight and accountability, fees, and proactive disclosures. Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero, will give introductory comments.

Due to space limitations and access requirements, members of the public planning to attend the meeting must register via Eventbrite.

Eventbrite - Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee Meeting - July 21, 2015

Please direct any questions or comments concerning the meeting to Christa Lemelin, Designated Federal Officer, FOIA Advisory Committee at 202-741-5773 or by email at christa.lemelin@nara.gov.


Reminder: FOIA Advisory Committee Surveys
If you are a FOIA Public Liaison (FPL) or a FOIA professional, we encourage you complete the Committee’s FPL and/or Fees surveys if you have not done so already. If you did not receive a survey, please contact Christa Lemelin at christa.lemelin@nara.gov. The surveys close on June 22, 2015. Thank you to those of you who have and will
complete the surveys. Your feedback is crucial and valued!

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FOIA: There’s an app for that!

DHS eFOIA Website Screen Shot

With the proliferation of smartphones and tablets has come the development of mobile apps for everything, it seems; now you can add FOIA to that list.

This week the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the release of its new eFOIA mobile app. The app, the result of a partnership between the DHS Privacy Office and the DHS Office of the Chief Information Officer, is part of DHS’s efforts to improve customer service, modernize the FOIA process, and promote open government.

The DHS eFOIA Mobile App will allow users to submit FOIA requests or check the status of requests, access the content on the DHS FOIA website, and receive updates, event notices, and recently published documents.


Reminder: FOIA Advisory Committee Surveys
If you are a FOIA Public Liaison (FPL) or a FOIA professional, we encourage you complete the Committee’s FPL and/or Fees surveys if you have not done so already. If you did not receive a survey, please contact Christa Lemelin at christa.lemelin@nara.gov. The surveys close on June 22, 2015. Thank you to those of you who have and will complete the surveys. Your feedback is crucial and valued!

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Where Can I Get Basic FOIA Facts?

Take a look inside for some facts on where to find what basic  FOIA information!  (NARA Identifier 7859193)

Take a look inside for some basic facts on where to find what basic FOIA information! (NARA Identifier 7859193)

A little over a month ago, 18F—the digital services shop at the General Services Administration that’s modeled after tech-sector start-ups—released openFOIA. This website gives requesters a central location to learn how to make Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to any of the 100 federal departments and agencies that process public requests for records.

The release of openFOIA helps meet one of the commitments to “Modernize the FOIA” included in the second U.S. Open Government National Action Plan. As we let our blog readers know recently, these commitments are a part of a much larger international effort to make governments more open and accountable. 18F developed openFOIA in consultation with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and made its work available to the public via GitHub.

OpenFOIA has some things in common with existing government websites that are intended to help FOIA requesters. In particular, it can be easy to confuse the new site with FOIA.gov, a DOJ-operated site and FOIAonline, an online portal requesters can use to make and track requests at 11 departments and agencies.

To help clear up any confusion between the sites, here’s a chart with some of their key features and uses:

Website_chart

Do you have any suggestions for how we can make it easier for the public to understand and use FOIA? Let us know in the comments!

Posted in About FOIA, FOIAOnline, Open Government | 3 Comments

FOIA Advisory Committee Surveys: Examining the FOIA Landscape

Photograph of District Ranger Harley Hamm Using a Surveying Compass

Surveying the FOIA landscape! (NARA Identifier: 2130973)

As we’ve previously mentioned, two subcommittees of the FOIA Advisory Committee — Oversight and Accountability, and Fees — have developed surveys to learn more about the areas they are examining. These surveys were recently sent to FOIA Public Liaisons (FPLs) and Federal FOIA professionals across the government.

The purpose of the FPL survey is to obtain information about the role of FPLs in the FOIA process and how the position functions in the Executive Branch. While the FPL role was described in an Executive Order (Executive Order 13392, Improving Organization Disclosure of Information) and legislation (the OPEN Government of Act of 2007), the Committee has observed that how FPLs work within a particular agency seems to vary widely. The survey results will provide valuable insight into how FPLs are accomplishing their statutory role of reducing delays, increasing transparency, understanding the status of FOIA requests and resolving FOIA disputes.

FOIA fees remain a source of much confusion for requesters and agencies. The goal of the FOIA Fees survey is to gather information about the administration of FOIA fees and its impact on the Executive Branch. The Fees Subcommittee hopes that the results of the survey will suggest new approaches to this tricky FOIA issue.

OGIS and the FOIA Advisory Committee look forward to sharing the results of the surveys with the public; in the meantime, the draft FPL and draft fees surveys are available on the FOIA Advisory Committee’s website.

If you a FOIA Public Liaison, you should have received both surveys by email within the last week; other Federal FOIA professionals should have received the FOIA Fees survey from a supervisor. We asked that FPLs forward the survey to the FOIA professionals within their organizations. If you fall into either of these categories but did not receive the survey(s), please contact Christa Lemelin at christa.lemelin@nara.gov. The survey closes on June 22, 2015. Thank you in advance to those of you participating in the surveys!

Please visit the FOIA Advisory Committee’s webpage, including the Contact Us/Submit Comments page, for information about the Committee and how you can get involved and make your voice heard by submitting comments to the Committee. We post public comments submitted to the Committee and we would love to hear your thoughts on improving FOIA oversight and administration.

Posted in About FOIA, Customer service, Fees, FOIA Advisory Committee, FOIA Public Liaisons | 5 Comments

How Would You Modernize FOIA?

Have an idea for how to improve FOIA? Let us know! (NARA Identifier 521689)

Have an idea for how to improve FOIA? Let us know! (NARA Identifier 521689)

As we’ve noted previously, the United States is a part of the Open Government Partnership (OGP), a global effort to make governments more open and accountable to the public.  Countries that participate in OGP are required to develop and carry out action plans that include concrete commitments to make the government—you guessed it—more open.

These plans are called National Action Plans and they generally include a range of commitments the government will carry out over a two-year period. The United States is reaching the halfway point of its second National Action Plan, and is already beginning to think about what should go into the third plan.

This is where we need your help.

As you might remember, the first two U.S. National Action Plans included commitments to modernize administration of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)— including one that led to the creation of the federal FOIA Advisory Committee. The Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), with help from the General Services Administration, recently launched an effort using the collaborative web site hackpad to gather ideas from anyone inside or outside government about how we can continue to make FOIA work better. (You will need to create an account on that site before viewing and contributing to content on that platform.) Ideas can also be submitted via Twitter to @OpenGov or email to opengov@ostp.gov.

A number of factors will go into the final decision about what commitments make it into the third National Action Plan. We encourage you to read OSTP’s blog post to learn more about OGP and OSTP’s guidance on commitments.

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FOIA Needs YOU: Apply Today for the FOIA Advisory Committee

Apply to be a member of the FOIA Advisory Committee by June 23! (NARA Identifier 534704)

Apply to be a member of the FOIA Advisory Committee by June 23! (NARA Identifier 534704)

Do you love the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and want to help improve it? If so, read on – there may be a role for you on the Federal FOIA Advisory Committee!

We hope you already know that the Committee is a diverse group of FOIA experts from inside and outside the government who share the goal of tackling some of FOIA’s trickiest issues. Currently, the Committee’s subcommittees are reviewing FOIA’s oversight and accountability mechanisms, possible improvements to FOIA’s fee structure, and making agency records publicly available without specific requests from the public..

In keeping with the terms of the Committee’s charter, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is currently accepting applications for a representative of a non-government organization (NGO) that advocates on FOIA matters. NGOs that advocate on FOIA matter that are or have been represented on the Committee include: the Campaign for Accountability, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), and the National Security Archive.

The Committee meets quarterly at NARA’s downtown DC location. However, you do not have to be located in the DC area to apply. People across the country rely on FOIA to access government records, and we want the Committee to reflect the diversity of requesters. Individuals interested in serving on the Committee must comply with the Committee’s bylaws.

To apply (or to nominate someone else), please send an email to ogis@nara.gov by Tuesday, June 23, 2015. The subject of the email should be your full name (last name, first name), and your email should include the following information:

  1.  A short paragraph or “bio” (no more than 250 words, please) summarizing your resume or otherwise highlighting the contributions you (or your nominee) would bring to this committee;
  2. A resume or curriculum vitae; and
  3. Your full contact information (or that of the nominee).

We look forward to hearing from you!

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Dispute Resolution Skills for FOIA Professionals Training Session: June 24, 2015

All in our places with sunshiny faces. Join us for a fun day of training. (NARA identifier 554838)

All in our places with sunshiny faces. Join us for a fun day of training. (NARA identifier 554838)

Do you find yourself locked in disputes with FOIA requesters (or agency colleagues)? Would you like to learn constructive ways to resolve or avoid disputes in the future?

OGIS will present a training session designed to help FOIA professionals develop dispute resolution skills on Wednesday, June 24, 2015 at the Archives building on Constitution Ave between 7th and 9th streets NW in Washington, D.C. This free, all-day session is appropriate for anyone in your agency who works with FOIA, including FOIA Public Liaisons, program managers, FOIA processors, FOIA attorneys and others. Participants will develop a working knowledge of Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques, learn how working with OGIS can help resolve disputes, practice active listening and good communication, and develop strategies for working with difficult people.

If you would like to register for this program, please visit our online training form. Space for this training program is extremely limited and the program fills up very quickly, so please do not wait to register.

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