Assessing FOIA Reading Rooms

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The following post is written by Meredith Doviak, our National Archives colleague who is helping us assess methods agencies use to prepare documents for posting on agency FOIA reading rooms.

In the decades since Congress amended FOIA in 1996 to expand the role of the agency FOIA reading room, the expectations and use of Federal agency websites to provide access to information has skyrocketed.

Millions of pages of documents are now available through online FOIA reading rooms. To better understand the process of making these records available online, and to ensure users have consistent access to the information they need, OGIS is conducting an assessment of these reading rooms, including the methods agencies use to prepare documents for posting. 

The assessment will fulfill a recommendation from the 2016-2018 term of the FOIA Advisory Committee which recommended to Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero that he task OGIS with studying “the different methods and processes agencies use to prepare records for posting to FOIA reading rooms.” The recommendation also asks OGIS to identify best practices. 

As a foundation for the assessment, we recently published a report based on the results of the Records Management Self Assessment (RMSA) survey, which found that Federal agencies are generally complying with FOIA’s mandate to create procedures for preparing documents to post on FOIA reading rooms. We want to learn more about how agencies are doing this and the challenges they face. As part of the assessment, we will be contacting FOIA officers at various Federal agencies to learn more about how they prepare documents for posting to FOIA reading rooms.  

We look forward to sharing the result of these interviews in a future OGIS compliance report. We anticipate that this assessment will help us better understand the universe of agency FOIA reading rooms, our shared challenges, and most importantly, identify best practices to help agencies with similar challenges make connections and learn from each other. 

Some of the questions we hope to answer include: What are your workflows and procedures for preparing documents for FOIA reading rooms? What metadata standards are used when posting documents online? What metrics do you use to evaluate the use of documents in FOIA reading rooms? How do you communicate with users? What challenges do you face? 

We hope you will consider helping us answer these questions to help improve FOIA compliance across the government, as well as recommend improvements to the FOIA process for all stakeholders and users. 

If you are interested in participating in our assessment, please contact us at ogis@nara.gov.

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