A Peek Inside the Sausage Factory

We’re busy making best practices. Hope you’re hungry! (ARC Identifier 522689)

While many (correctly) associate OGIS with mediation services to resolve FOIA disputes, those services are not the full extent of our mandate. Congress created OGIS to also review agencies’ FOIA policies, procedures and compliance. Sounds great, but how does OGIS learn what agencies are doing, and what do we do with that information?

Obviously, our work providing mediation services gives us some perspective on how agencies do their FOIA work. But another way that we review what’s happening in FOIA shops across the government is by reading annual Chief FOIA Officer (CFO) Reports. FOIA requires each agency’s CFO to report to the Attorney General on the agency’s performance in implementing FOIA. The annual reports, to the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy, provide a broad overview of the leadership and direction of each agency. These reports are a great source of details about what is working in agency FOIA shops. For instance:

  • The United States Postal Service appointed a representative from each of its departments who works with the records management division to identify records that should be proactively disclosed online.
  • The Federal Communications Commission created a new website that makes government data available in formats that can help entrepreneurs build innovative applications, including making APIs available for developers.
  • A FOIA program manager at the U.S. Department of State provides weekly training for new information management officers sent to overseas posts and responsible for FOIA duties.

You may have heard Congress’s process of making laws described as “making sausage” (in that you don’t want to see how it’s done). Once we’ve  sifted through the CFO reports, the details we glean become our favorite ingredient in our version of “sausage” – OGIS’s recommended best practices. We share best practices in a number of ways, including in our reports, special publications, and this blog.

We’ll be publishing a new round of best practices (serving up more sausage!) in the coming months in conjunction with our report on Fiscal Year 2012.