The following post is from OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet:
The Freedom of Information Act directs OGIS to recommend “policy changes to Congress and the President to improve the administration” of FOIA. Since late 2009 when OGIS opened as part of the National Archives and Records Administration, the Office has looked for and shared ways to improve FOIA.
Last week, OGIS shared with Congress and the public five policy recommendations, some of which relate to improving how OGIS carries out its work offering mediation services and reviewing FOIA policies, procedures and compliance. Other recommendations relate to more systemic issues such as coordinating multi-agency requests and improving public access through a one-stop FOIA hub. (Because OGIS is part of the National Archives, an executive branch agency, any recommendations to Congress must go through an inter-agency review process coordinated by the Office of Management and Budget.)
These recent policy recommendations are among many observations OGIS has had since 2009 to improve FOIA. Most of OGIS’s recommendations don’t necessarily rise to the level of changing law or policy and instead are best practices or less formal suggestions on ways folks can try to make FOIA work better. For example, OGIS has focused several suggested improvements around the importance of good communication after seeing a pattern of difficulties between requesters and agencies and within agencies themselves. OGIS also has suggested dozens of improvements for agencies in processing FOIA requests and for the public in requesting records.
While Congress regularly fine-tunes FOIA— about every 10 years since it was enacted in 1966 — these simpler changes also can contribute to improving the FOIA landscape. In addition to OGIS’s suggested improvements that span all aspects of the FOIA process, the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy also issues regular guidance on FOIA law and policy that helps to make a better FOIA.
Because all types of recommended FOIA improvements are important, OGIS began compiling its working list of suggestions on its website. Improving FOIA is the home for all of OGIS’s recommendations — to help FOIA function well and as intended as an important avenue for access to government information.
Our work as the FOIA Ombudsman certainly gives us an important vantage point to create this list, but observations from the FOIA community will help build it. We hope to hear from requesters, agency FOIA professionals and anyone else who might have suggestions on how to improve the FOIA experience. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.