Final Report of the 2018-2020 FOIA Advisory Committee Delivered to the Archivist

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) has delivered the Final Report and Recommendations of the 2018-2020 term of the FOIA Advisory Committee to the Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero. The report is the result of two years of hard work by the Committee’s 20 members, who include FOIA experts from inside and outside of government. The Committee’s charter tasked it with studying the FOIA landscape across the federal government and making recommendations to the Archivist. During the 2018-2020 term, the Committee formed three subcommittees to consider ways that federal agencies can improve records management practices, tackle time and volume issues, and adopt a vision of FOIA for the future. The reports of the Records Management, Time/Volume, and Vision Subcommittees are available on our website.

Based on the work of the subcommittees, the Committee identified and approved 22 recommendations for the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), OGIS, the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy (OIP), federal agencies, the Chief FOIA Officers (CFO) Council, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), and Congress.

OGIS will partner with these entities to help implement the recommendations. OGIS is nearing completion on work on most of the recommendations from the 2016-2018 term of the Committee. Please stay tuned to this blog for more on that in the coming months.

Briefly, in its final report, the 2018-2020 term of the Committee recommends that:

Enhancing Online Access

  1. OGIS assess information about the FOIA filing process available on agency websites, with the goal of informing further OIP guidance on how agencies may improve online descriptions of the process.

  2. OIP issue guidance related to the inclusion of records management-related materials and FOIA handbooks on agency websites.
  1. Agencies work toward the goal of collecting, describing, and giving access to FOIA-released records in one or more central repositories, and on agency websites.

Improving Training

  1. NARA and OIP offer records management training to FOIA officers and FOIA Public Liaisons in federal agencies, and include a FOIA module in records management training courses open to all federal employees.

  2. OIP issue guidance requesting agencies to provide annual mandatory FOIA training to all new and current employees and contractors. OGIS and OIP review agencies’ current FOIA training requirements and content.

  3. OGIS and OIP assist agencies in developing FOIA and records management briefings for incoming senior leaders following changes in administration or leadership.

Raising the Profile of FOIA within Agencies

  1. OGIS and OIP review the FOIA performance measures used in Agency Performance Plans and Reports, encourage agencies to include FOIA in their performance plans and submit the results of their review and any recommendations to Congress and the President.

  2. OIP collect information as part Chief FOIA Officer Reports regarding FOIA standard operating procedures.

  3. NARA incorporate and further develop the idea of public access to federal records, including through FOIA, as part of its Federal Electronic Records Modernization Initiative (FERMI).

  4. NARA and OIP establish liaisons with the Chief Data Officers Council to ensure that Council officials understand the importance of federal recordkeeping and FOIA requirements.

Embracing New Technologies

  1. OIP provide guidance to agencies on the use of e-discovery tools to assist agencies in their searches of electronic records in response to FOIA requests.

  2. Agencies publicly release FOIA documents on their FOIA websites and portals in open, legible, machine-readable and machine-actionable formats.

  3.  Agencies review their FOIA-related technological and staffing capabilities within two years to identify the resources needed to respond to current and anticipated future FOIA demands.

Providing Alternatives to FOIA Access

  1. OGIS and OIP help agencies explore and consider alternative, more efficient ways for requesters to access records about themselves.

  2. Agencies make commonly requested documents available outside of the FOIA process, including in publicly accessible online databases.

Recommendations for the Chief FOIA Officers Council

  1. The CFO Council create a committee to research and propose cross-agency grant programs and other FOIA funding sources, create career paths for FOIA professionals, and promote models to align agency resources with agency transparency.

  2. The CFO Council work with agency leadership to issue an annual memorandum on the importance of FOIA. 

Recommendation for the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency

  1. The Chair of CIGIE consider a cross-cutting project examining how successful agency FOIA programs are in providing access to agency records in electronic and digital form.

Recommendations for Congress

  1. Congress engage in regular and robust oversight of FOIA, hold more hearings, establish regular and coordinated communication with agencies around FOIA issues, and strengthen OGIS with clearer authority and expanded resources.

  2. Congress address the funding for agency FOIA programs and ensure that agencies have sufficient resources to comply with the FOIA.

Additional Recommendations: Looking to the Future

  1. The Archivist of the United States actively guide ongoing and future federal data strategies to include FOIA and federal recordkeeping policies.

  2. The Archivist promote research into the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve FOIA searches and efficiently process FOIA requests.