Make your voice heard: the FOIA Advisory Committee seeks public comments

Got a FOIA bee in your bonnet? The FOIA Advisory Committee wants to hear from you! (NARA Identifier 514417)
Got a FOIA bee in your bonnet? The FOIA Advisory Committee wants to hear from you! (NARA Identifier 514417)

On January 27, 2015 the FOIA Advisory Committee met to discuss its progress on examining three important FOIA issues: proactive disclosures, FOIA fees, and FOIA oversight and accountability.

The Committee opened the meeting by voting unanimously to approve the October 21, 2014 meeting minutes. The Committee also approved the bylaws drafted by the Committee’s Bylaws Working Group.

The Committee spent most of the meeting discussing status reports from the Proactive Disclosures, FOIA Fees, and Oversight and Accountability subcommittees. The meeting subcommittee reports are available on OGIS’s website, as are the transcript and video from the meeting.

As the FOIA Advisory Committee works hard to examine some challenging areas of FOIA law and policy, it needs your help. Input from the public will help the subcommittees better understand the issues that FOIA requesters and agencies face.

Proactive Disclosures Subcommittee co-chair David S. Reed noted the two specific issues the subcommittee is exploring: using data to held figure out what records the public would like the government to post proactively; and reconciling the FOIA’s proactive disclosure requirements with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which requires agencies to make all posted records accessible to people with disabilities.

To help determine which records are of high value to the public, the subcommittee is using agency records of what the public is requesting under FOIA (commonly referred to as “FOIA logs”). Mr. Reed requested that Federal agencies provide the subcommittee with robust, detailed FOIA logs to analyze.

“Section 508” is the shorthand agencies and users use to refer to the requirements for Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. To improve the subcommittee’s understanding of the relationship between Section 508 compliance and proactive disclosures, Mr. Reed requested that Committee members, Federal agencies or the public share experiences where the requirements of Section 508 prevented an agency from making proactive disclosures. Mr. Reed also asked for examples of where an agency made a proactive disclosure before making the record Section 508 compliant (for example, posting the record online while it was undergoing remediation).

The FOIA Fees Subcommittee is developing a survey for FOIA professionals that will examine the current fee structure and how agencies handle requests they consider burdensome. The subcommittee asks the public to submit example survey questions that will help the subcommittee gather the information it needs to better understand this issue. It also welcomes recommendations on how to improve the administration of FOIA fees.

The Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee has compiled a list of FOIA reports, reviews, audits, and inspections and made them available on the subcommittee’s webpage. The subcommittee welcomes your suggestions on U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Audits and Reports and Agency Audits, Reports and Reviews to include in its collection. The subcommittee will review the reports to identify successes and challenges as well as gaps and areas for additional oversight.

The Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee will also assess the role of FOIA Public Liaisons at agencies to help determine what is working at certain agencies and how the roles differ between agencies. To complete this work, the subcommittee will hold a roundtable with agency FOIA Public Liaisons and be sending a survey out to FOIA Public Liaisons. The subcommittee welcomes any suggestions and feedback you have with regard to FOIA Public Liaisons and FOIA oversight and accountability.

Please visit the FOIA Advisory Committee’s webpage, including the Public Comments page, 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!