Advisory Committee Puts Forward Unanimous Recommendations to Improve FOIA

FOIA Act Advisory Committee Meeting
Members of the FOIA Advisory Committee during their meeting at the National Archives in Washington, DC, on July 21, 2016. NARA photo by Brogan Jackson.

On January 16, 2018 the FOIA Advisory Committee voted unanimously* in support of several recommendations to improve the administration of FOIA. Members of the three Subcommittees – Proactive Disclosure, Efficiency and Resources, and Searches – spent a little over a year researching issues and developing these recommendations.

The FOIA Advisory Committee brings together agency FOIA professionals and requesters to identify the greatest challenges in the implementation of FOIA and to develop consensus recommendations to address these issues. The Committee’s membership reflects the diversity of the FOIA community – including representatives of Cabinet-level and independent agencies, journalists, historians, academics, commercial requesters, open government advocates and others.

During the meeting, the Committee discussed and voted to support four proposals from the Proactive Disclosures Subcommittee. The aim of the proposals is to:

  • increase the release of agency FOIA logs in a way that is most useful to improving understanding of agency records and how the law is being used;
  • provide agencies with criteria for setting priorities for proactive disclosure;
  • give agencies a guide to categories of records that should be regularly released based on the ease of making them available and their importance for understanding the government’s actions; and
  • address requirements that documents on agency’s FOIA websites are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

The Committee opted to table one item from a Proactive Disclosure Subcommittee recommendation involving categories of records that should be proactively published; members of the Committee will further investigate agency policies concerning the publication of employee email addresses and consider the matter again at its next meeting.  The Committee also made changes to the Section 508 accessibility recommendation to highlight the sense of the Committee that agencies should be encouraged to not remove documents that are useful to the public from an agency’s FOIA website. Finally, the Committee also voted to support a set of best practices identified by the Efficiency and Resources Subcommittee and a set of recommendations and best practices offered up by the Searches Subcommittee. Minutes from the meeting and revised recommendations will be posted on the FOIA Advisory Committee webpages as soon as practicable; in the meantime, you can find video of the meeting on the NARA YouTube Channel.

At the FOIA Advisory Committee’s final meeting of the 2016-2018 Term, which will be held in the William G. McGowan Theater on April 17, 2018 from 10 am to 1 pm, the Committee will vote on its Final Report. The Committee’s Final Report will include all of its final recommendations and a description of the Committee’s research and deliberations. You can keep up with the work of the FOIA Advisory Committee by regularly checking this blog and following us on Twitter.

*In order to avoid a potential conflict of interest, the Director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) abstained from voting on all of the recommendations, and the Director of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) abstained from voting on specific recommendations related to OGIS and the Chief FOIA Officers Council.