Getting to Know the FOIA Advisory Committee: Matthew Schwarz

Eighth grade students from St. Bonaventure High School spend recess period picking up trash on the beach near oil wells, 5/1972. Image from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) DOCUMERIA project. National Archives Identifier 542655.

Today we present an interview with Matthew Schwarz, an Attorney-Advisor in the Information Law Practice Group with the Office of General Counsel at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and a member of the 2020-2022 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 and who are appointed by the Archivist of the United States.

Why did you seek to serve on the FOIA Advisory Committee?

I’m interested in hearing perspectives of people across the government as well as the requester community to generate ideas to improve FOIA processing. Because government transparency and accountability is vital for a functioning democracy, the FOIA Advisory Committee assumes an important role in ensuring that the FOIA serves its purpose.

What do you hope to accomplish?

I hope to contribute to the discussions by bringing insight I have gained from working at multiple federal agencies handling initial FOIA requests, administrative appeals, and litigation. I have had the opportunity to see firsthand how agencies have implemented various innovations to improve FOIA processing, so I hope to work collaboratively with the other members of the committee to develop constructive, common-sense recommendations. I also hope to hear ideas from colleagues at other agencies and from the requester community to inform these recommendations.

What is FOIA’s biggest challenge?

The biggest challenge of the FOIA is that it lacks proper funding, so agencies often must redirect resources to keep pace with increasing demands. Proper funding could ensure that agencies across the government have dedicated FOIA staff and adequate technology to properly respond to requests and avoid costly litigation.

Tell us about your favorite FOIA moment. 

One of my favorite FOIA moments was seeing the recent results of revamping our FOIA administrative appeals program. We eliminated the backlog and substantially reduced our median response time to about one-fifth of the FY2019 median response time.