OGIS Publishes Assessment on Posting to FOIA Websites

Main Reading Room, Helsinki Information Library
(National Archives ID: 23932377)

This post was written by Meredith Doviak, Community Manager of the National Archives Catalog, who conducted this assessment on temporary assignment to OGIS as part of a National Archives and Records Administration Cross-training Program. 

OGIS is pleased to announce our latest issue assessment examining the methods agencies use to prepare documents for posting on agency FOIA websites. The assessment fulfills one of seven recommendations made by the 2016-2018 term of the FOIA Advisory Committee to the Archivist of the United States. 

Posting documents online in an electronic FOIA library or reading room is essential for meeting the statute’s requirements and ensuring requesters have access to information. Millions of pages of documents are now available through online FOIA reading rooms. To better understand the process of making these records available online, OGIS assessed the methods, processes, and procedures that executive branch agencies use to make documents available on agency FOIA reading rooms, also known as FOIA libraries. 

The assessment includes a process map outlining five steps and considerations for agencies to determine what documents to post on their FOIA websites, prepare the documents for posting, and maintain their FOIA libraries and websites to ensure continued benefit to the public. This assessment identifies 18 best practice recommendations for agencies to consider in providing access to documents and information to the widest audience possible, while creating the best possible online customer experience. 

These best practices include: optimizing usability of the reading room to focus on the needs and goals of the user; designating an IT employee to work with the FOIA office and collaborate with the agency’s Chief Data Officer; conducting a thorough user experience analysis to align the needs of the agency with the needs of its stakeholders; and following strategies for identifying and prioritizing three broad categories of records for proactive disclosure identified by the 2016-2018 FOIA Advisory Committee

“We think this assessment is the most comprehensive look at the issue of posting documents on agency websites undertaken to date, and we hope that it sparks further discussion and action by agencies on this very important topic,” said OGIS Director and FOIA Advisory Committee Chairperson Alina M. Semo. 

The assessment provides useful ideas for agencies to consider when evaluating their FOIA websites, and creating successful FOIA libraries and reading rooms that benefit both agencies and the public. 

We are grateful for the contributions of the many agency FOIA professionals who participated in our assessment survey, particularly in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the insights, feedback, and thoughtful considerations they shared informed the assessment, which we believe will improve the FOIA process for all.