FOIA and Records Management: So Happy Together

Today on the FOIA Ombudsman, Laurence Brewer, the Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government, discusses the critical partnership between FOIA staff and records professionals in agencies. His office has developed a two-page tipsheet for how records management and FOIA teams can work together. For more information, please follow Records Express, the blog of the Office of the Chief Records Officer. 

As we observe Sunshine Week, March 14-20, 2021, I am reminded of the important partnership between FOIA professionals and records managers. Both groups are essential to transparency and open government, and both play a key role in helping their agencies stay responsive, efficient, and compliant with regulations. 

The Open Government Directive of December 2009 said, “The three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government.” Good records management is the backbone of open government, and by working together, FOIA and records management programs can help support our agencies’ important work and support the right of the public to stay in the know about their government.

Our programs’ missions have many fundamental goals in common, and strong agency records management programs support effective FOIA programs in many ways:

  • Federal records document the decisions, actions, policies, and history of our government and our nation. Good records management programs help our agencies find and take action on that information, and they help FOIA programs identify and locate requested records quickly and efficiently. 
  • Strong records management programs help agencies protect the privacy and security of information while ensuring that records can be found with minimal time, effort, and expense. Whether searching for records for audits and inspections, business use, decision making, legal cases, or FOIA requests, well-managed records facilitate the information workflow and help staff ensure that the right information is found and made available.
  • Well-supported records management programs help agencies have clear visibility into what types of information are created and stored, how and where they are stored, and how they are managed. Good recordkeeping also supports openness and transparency about agency decisions and activities and accountability to the stakeholders and the public the government serves. 
  • Established records management practices for retention, transfer of historical records, and the disposal or deletion of records no longer needed for agency business all help agencies manage their information efficiently and effectively while ensuring that we all have access to up-to-date information.
  • Agency records management and FOIA programs provide access to records of interest today. They also support the identification and transfer of permanent records to the National Archives, ensuring future generations’ access to our nation’s ongoing story.

The Office of the Chief Records Officer for the United States Government is working hard to help agencies move into a new era of digital government and electronic recordkeeping. We look forward to continuing our work with OGIS and the FOIA community to improve the ways our agencies store, retrieve, preserve, and provide access to the records of our nation.