It will come as no surprise to our regular readers when we say that the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 has resulted in substantial changes to OGIS’s operations. As we have talked about in a few blog posts, OGIS now has an expanded role in providing dispute resolution throughout the FOIA process. The amendments have also strengthened our mandate to review agency FOIA compliance and to identify strategies to improve compliance.
Under the amended statute, requesters are given information about the availability of dispute resolution services from agency FOIA Public Liaisons and OGIS at several stages in the administrative process. This requirement had an immediate and dramatic impact on our caseload: our recently-released Fiscal Year 2016 Annual Report described a 142-percent increase in demand for our services in the last quarter of FY 2016 compared to the number of cases opened during the same period in FY 2015. The jump in our caseload has continued during FY 2017: before the end of the first half of FY 2017, we opened nearly twice as many cases than we did during all of FY 2016.
As we work on these new cases, we have observed that requesters are often confused about who they should contact for assistance, and they appear to not understand our role vis-à-vis the role of agency FOIA Public Liaisons. For example, we have had situations where requesters have contacted us instead of filing an appeal, or attempted to file an appeal with us rather than the agency.
To better explain OGIS’s role in the process, and the types of assistance that we can offer requesters, we have published a new handout. The handout, which is available on the OGIS Toolbox in the Resources section of our website, clearly describes Who We Are, What We Do, and how to get in contact with us. The back of the handout gives a brief description of the kinds of assistance you can expect to receive from us versus an agency FOIA Public Liaison before you file a request, during the FOIA process, and once the administrative appeal process has concluded.
If you have any suggestions for how we can better serve our customers, we hope to see you at our April 20th Annual Open Meeting in the William G. McGowan Theater at the National Archives. As we announced last week, during the public meeting, we will provide an overview of our reviews and reports; the public will also be able to submit oral and written statements. Learn more and RSVP via Eventbrite to attend. If you are unable to attend in person, we will be livestreaming the meeting on the National Archives’ YouTube Channel. Use this YouTube link to watch the meeting beginning at 9 am.