Today we present an interview with Patricia Weth, Deputy Assistant General Counsel in the FOIA Branch of the National Labor Relations Board and a member of the FOIA Advisory Committee. This is part of a series of posts on the Committee, whose members are FOIA experts from inside and outside of government who are appointed by the Archivist.
Why did you seek to serve on the FOIA Advisory Committee?
In my career, I have often benefited from collaborating with my colleagues on a variety of issues presented by certain requests as they often bring a different perspective to our agency’s processing and FOIA analysis. I wanted to serve on the FOIA Advisory Committee because I loved the idea of collaborating with other individuals who wish to improve the FOIA process. I believe our work together will bring about positive improvements. Being on this Committee with other agency employees, educators, and representatives of the media and the requester community who share the compatible desire to work together for a common goal has been an inspirational and educational experience for me.
What do you hope to accomplish?
My hope is that this Committee will propose helpful recommendations that will streamline the FOIA process and provide agencies with the tools they need to meet their obligations under the FOIA.
What is FOIA’s biggest challenge?
Many agencies lack the proper resources, such as staff and technology, to allow them to meet the statutory requirement that FOIA requests be completed within 20 working days. Many people—both within the Federal government and in the requester community—are unaware of the huge amount of time and energy it takes to search for records and then review and prepare the records for release. I was once told by a requester that all I had to do push a button. If fulfilling FOIA requests were that easy, I can tell you that I would have a lot less grey hair and there would be no such thing as agency backlogs.
Tell us about your favorite FOIA moment.
I called a FOIA requester to get clarification on his request and to explain the types of agency records which he may be interested in obtaining. Upon introducing myself, the requester was so surprised that someone from the Federal government would telephone him regarding his FOIA request. During our discussion, he informed me that he appreciated my call and the information that I provided to him regarding the FOIA and my agency’s records. The conversation made me feel like I was doing good work. To this day, I think of this gentleman whenever I call FOIA requesters.