We here at OGIS were so busy earlier in September that we missed a big one: OGIS’s second birthday. That’s saying something for a team that includes some talented bakers and chocolate aficionados.
Two years ago, OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet walked into an empty office with a big congressional mandate: offer mediation services to resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and federal agencies, and review agency policies, procedures and compliance with FOIA. Three short weeks later, Director Nisbet testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee, pledging that OGIS would try to help FOIA work better for all.
As we enter our third year and take a quick look back, we’re proud to have helped FOIA requesters in 48 states (anyone in Arkansas or Wyoming need help with FOIA?) and 13 countries, including Cambodia, Greece and India. We’ve also provided assistance to FOIA professionals in 34 Federal departments and agencies, including all 15 Cabinet-level departments.
Of the more than 750 cases that OGIS has opened, about one-quarter were true disputes between requesters and agencies. Three-quarters of those disagreements were resolved successfully through OGIS facilitation. As the FOIA Ombudsman, we’ve also provided ombuds services in more than half of our cases and in hundreds of “quick hit” phone calls by providing information, channeling communications between agencies and requesters, and handling complaints. We’ve helped veterans, researchers, agency FOIA professionals, immigrants, journalists, inmates and attorneys. Through it all, we believe that our work has made FOIA work better for the entire FOIA community.
The OGIS team also has created Dispute Resolution Skills Training for FOIA Professionals, which we offer every other month, along with agency-specific training on resolving disputes. We’re closing in on a web-based case management system. And we’ve helped agencies review their FOIA regulations.
There is still a lot of work to be done, including establishing a more robust system for reviewing agency policies, procedures and compliance; offering more requester training; shepherding a first case through formal mediation; and issuing advisory opinions if mediation fails to resolve disputes. Oh yes, and not letting OGIS’s third birthday slip by without cake!
Please let us know what you’d like to see OGIS accomplish in our third year.