10/21 FOIA Advisory Committee Meeting Wrap-Up

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Rethinking FOIA takes careful study. (NARA identifier 195912)

On October 21, 2014, the FOIA Advisory Committee met to continue its efforts to examine and address FOIA oversight and accountability, proactive disclosure, and FOIA fees.

Archivist of the U.S. David S. Ferriero opened the meeting by noting that the momentum behind government openness and transparency is growing around the globe. In September, President Obama spoke at the Open Government Partnership meeting at the United Nations about the importance of Open Government and U.S efforts. President Obama referenced the work of the FOIA Advisory Committee, citing efforts to modernize FOIA so that it’s easier to administer and use.

Mr. Ferriero also acknowledged Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) Director Miriam Nisbet who will retire from Federal Service at the end of the year.

To ensure that the Committee’s Oversight and Accountability, Proactive Disclosures, and FOIA Fees subcommittees have a clear path in the coming months to recommend improvement to FOIA, the Committee dedicated the majority of the meeting to status reports from the subcommittees’ Co-Chairs.

Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee Co-Chairs Martin Michalosky and Mark S. Zaid reported that the subcommittee agreed to focus its efforts on

  • identifying current authorities for oversight and past actions (program reviews, audits, reports, inspections, etc.) that have been completed by open government groups and others over the past 10 years;
  • determining opportunities for additional oversight;
  • assessing the implementation of the FOIA Public Liaison role and determining opportunities for improvement;
  • evaluating past litigation review efforts; and
  • determining opportunities for further oversight.

Mr. Michalosky noted that the subcommittee discussed oversight practices that work well within agencies, including self-policing, internal audits, as well as what agencies do across the board. Mr. Zaid observed that reports, studies, hearings, and investigations regarding FOIA oversight are not available in one central place and suggested creating such a collection online.

Proactive Disclosures Subcommittee Co-Chair David S. Reed presented an overview of the FOIA’s proactive disclosure requirements and the Department of Justice’s guidance encouraging agencies to proactively make information available to the public. Mr. Reed touched on the DATA Act and the benefits of standardizing proactive disclosures. Mr. Reed and Co-Chair Eric Gillespie explained the challenge the subcommittee faces in breaking down Federal agencies’ FOIA request by record type, request type, or requester type and in obtaining FOIA logs with sufficient descriptions to get the data needed for analysis. Mr. Reed and Mr. Gillespie asked whether there are agencies represented on the Committee that would be willing to pilot a project with the subcommittee on this issue.

FOIA Fees Subcommittee Co-Chairs James Hogan and Ginger McCall noted that the subcommittee had explored how Federal agencies and FOIA requesters perceive FOIA fees, how data could help define and analyze the issues, and how other countries handle open access law fees. Issues identified by the subcommittee include

  • lack of understanding among FOIA requesters and Federal agencies regarding fee-related FOIA definitions and requirements;
  • the lack of consistency in fee-related decisions; and
  • how fees are used in voluminous and vague requests.

The Committee has set an ambitious agenda. We look forward to updating you on the Committee’s work. Please visit the FOIA Advisory Committee’s webpage and subpages at https://ogis.archives.gov/foia-advisory-committee.htm for information about the Committee and how you can get involved. Do you have ideas or opinions you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!