During my relatively short tenure as the Director of OGIS, I have endeavored to strengthen and mature OGIS’s mediation and compliance programs. Miriam Nisbet and all of the OGIS staff are to be commended for doing the very hard work of setting up and running a new government program. When I first walked through the doors of OGIS on August 10, 2015, my immediate priorities were to focus on program management, outreach, education and training, and staff development, while also solving problems and providing strong leadership on urgent and emerging issues. I focused on these areas because I know they are critical for the maturity and long-term success of the office, and have helped set a strong foundation for the coming years.
Together with the OGIS staff, we developed, drafted, and finalized a Fiscal Year 2016 – 2018 strategic initiative that connects OGIS’s work with the National Archives’ strategic goals and lays out our vision for the next two years. The FY 2016 – FY 2018 initiative clarifies our role as the FOIA Ombudsman, established goals for OGIS’s mediation and compliance programs, and includes a push to sharpen the skills that members of the staff need to successfully mediate disputes and assess agency compliance with the FOIA.
We also strengthened the office’s operation and fulfilled a recommendation by the GAO by developing performance measures that allow NARA leadership to better measure the efficiency and effectiveness of our work. In addition, I led the development of an OGIS program-wide Standard Operating Procedures (SOP). The SOP identifies roles and responsibilities of staff, administrative functions, general workflow, and how we execute our mediation and compliance functions.
OGIS recently completed drafting our proposed regulations which set out the implementing policies and procedures by which OGIS carries out its statutory mission, and explains OGIS’s statutory role in the FOIA process. The proposed regulations are currently in the interagency review process. The public will have an opportunity to comment when the draft regulation is published in the Federal Register. At that time, OGIS will post an update with additional information on how to submit comments on our website.
I also spearheaded the creation of an agency FOIA compliance self-assessment program to help the OGIS Compliance Team spot government-wide trends. Eighty percent of the 61 agencies OGIS invited to participate in the survey responded.
As the Chairman of the Federal FOIA Advisory Committee, the committee issued its final report and approved its first recommendation to the Archivist of the United States to improve the FOIA process: that the Office of Management and Budget update its 1987 fee guidelines for FOIA.
I also continued to strengthen relationships with key stakeholders in OGIS programs. I obtained buy-in from the Senior Officials regarding the importance of agencies updating their FOIA/PA SORNs to allow OGIS access to their FOIA files. Seventeen Cabinet and Non-Cabinet Departments/Agencies now have a routine use with OGIS language in their FOIA SORNs.
OGIS also organized a half-day Sunshine Week event marking the 50th anniversary of the FOIA and exploring the possibilities and challenges of using technology to open the government. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) delivered the event’s keynote address.
During this time, I have overseen the publication of four Agency Compliance reports making nearly 60 recommendations on ways agencies may improve their administration of FOIA. These reports include recommendations to Customs and Border Protection, Transportation Security Administration, United States Coast Guard, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In addition, our office published our annual report and a report on the use of “still interested letters” by agencies.
We all know that change does not occur quickly, but the foundation that has been laid over these last nine months will provide great benefits over time. I am proud of the progress we made, but there is more work ahead. I know that this office will continue working hard every day, dedicated to delivering better service to the public.
I want to thank Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero and Deputy Archivist of the United States Debra Steidel Wall for their unwavering support for OGIS’s mission, as well as Chief Operating Officer William Bosanko and Director of Agency Services Jay Trainer for their partnership in pursuing our shared goal of making access happen and connecting with our customers. I appreciate the opportunity to have led OGIS and their confidence in me.
As many of you know, I spent six years at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) FOIA Office, serving most recently as the Senior Director of FOIA Operations. During that time I oversaw several efforts to control DHS’s backlog, improve communication with requesters, and push forward innovative uses of technology to improve DHS’s FOIA performance. I was happy to see many of these efforts begin to pay off this year when DHS reported a 66 percent reduction in its Fiscal Year 2015 Annual FOIA Report. But, I know there is still room for a lot of additional improvements. Though, I am sure that there were many excellent candidates who could have continued to implement changes to improve the DHS FOIA program, I could not pass up the opportunity to continue the job myself as the Deputy Chief FOIA Officer. I look forward to continuing to work with you all in that capacity.