New Year’s Message from the FOIA Ombudsman

The FOIA Ombudsman went though a lot of "change" during 2015. (NARA Identifier 296602)
The FOIA Ombudsman went though a lot of “change” in 2015. (NARA Identifier 296602)

“Change” was 2015’s word of the year for the FOIA Ombudsman.

In a year of great change for OGIS, I may have been the most obvious one: I took over as the office’s second Director in August 2015. When I accepted the job, I knew that as the FOIA Ombudsman I could have a much larger impact across the FOIA landscape, and do more to help improve the FOIA process for agencies and requesters alike. I want to thank Archivist of the United States David Ferriero for giving me this opportunity, and my predecessor, Miriam Nisbet, for her strong leadership of the office. I also want to thank my Deputy Director, Nikki Gramian, for doing an excellent job of running the office in the interim.

Another obvious change over the last year has been the creation of our Compliance Team. In 2015, OGIS issued assessments of agencies’ FOIA compliance for the National Archives and Records Administration’s Special Access and FOIA Program, and for the Federal Emergency Management Agency and United States Coast Guard at the Department of Homeland Security. The Compliance Team also started work on assessments of FOIA programs at the Transportation and Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection. If you are interested in our Compliance Team’s future plans, you can look at our FY 2016 Calendar, which lists our upcoming assessments.

We have also seen continual growth in demand for services from our Mediation Program. When OGIS opened in 2009, requests for help with the FOIA process awaited us. In addition to providing high-quality mediation services, our Team has also developed a strong dispute resolution skills training program. Thanks to our training, 600 FOIA professionals at 58 departments and agencies have learned skills that help them prevent and lessen disputes with requesters. I am very proud of my Mediation Team’s accomplishments, and look forward to working with them to see that we continue to improve the program in the coming year.

During 2015, we also made an effort to make sure we regularly communicate with our stakeholders. As you might have noticed, we began following a regular posting schedule on our blog: in 2016, we plan to post material to the blog every Wednesday. 2015 also saw our launch into the world of social media via our Twitter account.

If I had to guess what will be the word of the year for 2016 for the FOIA Ombudsman, I would say that it will once again be change. We have many exciting plans for 2016, and I look forward to telling you more about them in the future.


James V.M.L. Holzer