FOIA: Spread the Word!

FOIA is making news these days. (ARC Identifier 552929)

FOIA is everyone’s responsibility. This is a common refrain for FOIA processors and records managers, but we have observed that it can be a challenge to impress upon those outside the FOIA department that FOIA is their job, too. For those who don’t live and breathe FOIA, having a cumbersome, time-sensitive project like a FOIA request foisted upon you when you are already busy can really ruin your day.

We’ve heard over and over that when agency heads make FOIA a priority, others do, too. We’ve made this point in our recommendations and we are sure to discuss it when we meet with agencies.

Considering the importance of top-down support for FOIA, we were very happy that the head of our own agency, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), publicly showed his continued support for FOIA during Sunshine Week. Archivist of the United States David Ferriero sent this message to all employees of NARA:

To: All Employees

FOIA Is Everyone’s Responsibility

FOIA matters. Each year, nearly 650,000 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are made to Federal agencies, including more than 13,000 to NARA in Fiscal Year 2012. NARA’s core mission, of course, is to make our archival records available to the public, including through FOIA.

Responding to access requests doesn’t rest solely on NARA’s FOIA and archival staff. FOIA is everyone’s responsibility. This year, as we celebrate Sunshine Week by displaying the original FOIA statute in the East Gallery of the National Archives’ Rotunda in Washington, D.C., I thank you for taking seriously your responsibility to meet FOIA’s important legal obligations and remind you that FOIA applies equally to our internal operational records.

 Every document you create and email you send in the course of doing your job may potentially be a Federal record subject to FOIA. As you may know, FOIA provides the public with the right to access Federal records with limited exceptions. After all, in a democracy, the government is conducting business on behalf of the public. When a member of NARA’s FOIA staff contacts you about records your office may have, please respond and keep open a line of communication with the agency’s FOIA professionals. FOIA gives Federal agencies just 20 working days under the law to respond to requests, and that can happen only through teamwork and a commitment to FOIA from everyone.

 FOIA nurtures our democracy through transparency and accountability, helping countless people each year learn about some aspect of their government. This is especially important here at NARA, where records matter. I thank each one of you for your commitment to FOIA and the public’s access to government records.


Archivist of the United States

We thank the Archivist for his commitment to FOIA and his willingness to remind all employees of NARA that when you get right down to it, we are all FOIA professionals. We encourage the heads of other agencies to send a similar communiqué to their employees to remind them that when we work together, FOIA works better.