Meeting Our Challenges

This post was written by Miriam Nisbet, former Director of the Office of Government Information Services 

DF-ST-85-03481We’ve made no secret of how proud we are of all that OGIS has accomplished in its four years. We have assisted hundreds of FOIA requesters and dozens of agencies by resolving FOIA disputes that might otherwise have gone to court. We have worked with agencies to better fulfill their responsibility to provide good customer service to FOIA requesters. Above all, we have put Congress’s novel idea – to apply Alternative Dispute Resolution techniques to the highly adversarial FOIA process – into action.

While we know that OGIS is providing a valuable (and valued) service, we know that we some work to do to fully implement our mandate; we discussed this in our 2013 Report. A recent audit of OGIS by the General Accountability Office (GAO) pointed to some of these same lessons we have learned in the last four years:

  • It is challenging to define “success” in providing mediation services. Litigation results in a clear winner (and loser). But considering that the goal of our process is compromise, how can we best identify a successful mediation?
  • OGIS’s mandate is broad. Like every part of the government today, we must do more with less. This means that we have had to make difficult choices about how to best use our limited resources.
  • The demand for OGIS’s services is great. Our caseload is very large (especially considering that we have only seven staff members) and it continues to grow. This presents an additional challenge as we work to implement our mandate more fully.

In response to GAO’s findings, we are creating an action plan to respond to the challenges identified in the report. We look forward to sharing our plans with you in the coming weeks.