Meet OGIS’s New Director, James Holzer

  • OGIS's new Director surveys the FOIA landscape (Obviously, this is not a photograph of Dr. Holzer). NARA Identifier 2130972
    OGIS’s new Director surveys the FOIA landscape (Obviously, this is not a photograph of Dr. Holzer). NARA Identifier 2130972

    How about we start off by asking you to tell us a little about yourself?

Most importantly, I’m a family man. I have three kids and a wonderful wife.

I’m originally from California and lived a number of places during my thirteen years as a part of the Air Force, including Florida, England, the Azores islands, and a stint back in my home state. I also deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • What was your first experience with the Freedom of Information Act?

I processed FOIA requests while I was stationed at Edwards Air Force Base. During that time I primarily dealt with requests for contracts and records related to personnel issues. There was not much of a training program at the time, and I still remember spreading out records across the floor to try to figure out how they should be organized and handled.

I was hired by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as a FOIA processor in 2009. When I started the journey from California to the East Coast with my family, I still did not have a start date at DHS, or any place to live. Luckily, by the time we hit Arizona we had a place to move into, and by the time we hit Arkansas I had a start date. While I was at DHS, I began assisting with our annual reports to the Department of Justice and became very interested in how making good use of the right metrics can improve the FOIA process.

  • We understand that you were a key proponent of using technology to improve FOIA requester’s experience and improve the process. Can you tell us about some of those projects?

Technology is not a silver bullet, but it has great potential. I believe that one of the important factors in using technology is being clear about the problem you are trying to solve.

While at DHS, I spearheaded the deployment of an enterprise-wide FOIA processing solution, the development of an online form that enabled FOIA requesters to submit requests to any DHS component, an online check status feature, a redesign of the DHS FOIA Office website, and the proactive posting of thousands of pages of records. These efforts were aimed at improving DHS’ responsiveness, helping requesters navigate the process and improving the requester experience.

  • How does your background and schooling inform your current work?

My experience in the military informs much of my world view. I benefitted greatly from having the opportunity to work with a wide variety of people and I gained an understanding and appreciation of organizational structure and hierarchies. Most of all, my experience taught me the importance of having a clear mission, and using appropriate tools to accomplish goals in support of that mission.

Similarly, when I received my Doctorate of Management from the University of Maryland, University College, my dissertation focused on strategy formulation in the public sector. Success in the public sector, similar to success in the private sector, is dependent on having a vision and an outline for how to get there. Creating change in the federal government is dependent on consistently making small changes over time.

  • What are you particularly excited about doing in your new role at OGIS?

I am excited to be working at the National Archives, which provides me an opportunity to have a much larger impact across agencies, and to do more to help improve the FOIA process for agencies and requesters alike.

As I continue to settle into my new role at OGIS, I look forward to talking with our stakeholders about what changes are needed in the FOIA landscape, and how OGIS can contribute.