We at OGIS are always looking for ways to streamline our procedures and we’ve encouraged your input. This time is no different as we seek your support in ginning up some mojo for an OGIS routine use!
Yes, an OGIS routine use, as in a Privacy Act system of records routine use. Without getting too technical (or boring you to tears), a routine use is a mechanism for sharing information without an individual’s prior written consent. Agencies can do that by including routine use language in Privacy Act system of records notices (SORNs).
If you’ve worked with OGIS, you may recall that one of our case procedures is to obtain the requester’s consent to share information with Federal agencies. We do that so that when we provide mediation services, we do not violate the Privacy Act of 1974. We instituted this procedure because agencies’ Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request and appeal files are protected by the Privacy Act of 1974, which prohibits agencies from sharing information contained in these files without the requester’s prior written consent or the existence of a routine use allowing this type of disclosure. See 5 U.S.C. §§ 552a(b) & (b)(3).
When an agency’s Privacy Act SORN contains a routine use allowing the agency to share information with OGIS, it reduces the delay between opening a new OGIS case and resolving the dispute because we do not need to wait for receipt of the requester’s consent. It’s cost effective, too.
The Departments of Health and Human Services, Justice, State and Transportation and the Office of Special Counsel have all revised their SORNs to include a routine use for this purpose. The U. S. Postal Service’s revised SORN will become effective on October 15, 2012. We’re very pleased with their action and applaud this effort to build efficiencies into the FOIA administrative process.
OGIS worked with the Department of Justice (DOJ) to develop a model routine use that agencies can use, which appears below. In an effort to keep the momentum going, we ask FOIA professionals to share this language with their Privacy Act Officers to hasten this important revision to the agency’s FOIA request and appeal SORN.
Here is DOJ’s model language:
To the National Archives and Records Administration, Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), to the extent necessary to fulfill its responsibilities in 5 U.S.C. § 552(h), to review administrative agency policies, procedures, and compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and to facilitate OGIS’ offering of mediation services to resolve disputes between persons making FOIA requests and administrative agencies.
We’re on a roll and with your assistance we can keep the mojo going towards streamlining our procedures and improving how FOIA works. If you have other suggestions, we’d love to hear from you!