Sunshine Week is less than six weeks away! Agencies, what are you doing to prepare?
Last year, Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero sent a message during Sunshine Week to National Archives’ staff reminding them that FOIA is everyone’s responsibility and responding to access requests doesn’t rest solely on the agency’s FOIA and archival staff. The message also stressed creating a team culture for responding to FOIA requests by keeping open lines of communication between program offices and FOIA offices.
We at OGIS encouraged heads of agencies throughout the Government to follow the Archivist’s example. Kudos to Energy Secretary Ernest J. Moniz, who last summer sent a memorandum to the heads of all of the Department of Energy’s offices stating his support for FOIA and encouraging Energy employees to do the same.
Last spring, ahead of Sunshine Week, the Chief FOIA Officer at the Department of Transportation (DOT), Judith S. Kaleta, sent a similar message to DOT employees. It states, in part, that “[a]ll DOT employees have an important role in the successful administration of the FOIA program.” Ms. Kaleta goes on to say:
“When a FOIA Office receives a FOIA request, it first asks the appropriate program office(s) to search for responsive records. Any DOT employee receiving such a request must search for responsive records and, to the extent records are located, provide them (even if the DOT employee believes that certain records, or portions of records, should not be released) to the FOIA Office to undergo a review. If an employee believes that any of the records may be subject to exemption from release, the employee should indicate that to the FOIA Office when providing records.”
As Ms. Kaleta’s message suggests, just because an employee is asked to search for records doesn’t mean that those records will be released. Reviewing records is part of the FOIA professional’s responsibility, but FOIA is everyone’s responsibility. There’s still time between now and Sunshine Week, March 16-22, 2014, for agency heads to help spread the word!