OGIS: Spanning the Globe

Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) Director Alina M. Semo joined 63 information commissioners and ombudsmen overseeing access to public information from around the world in the first ever virtual convening of the International Conference of Information Commissioners (ICIC) closed meeting on June 23-24, 2021.

During the two-day session, Director Semo updated participants on the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) landscape in the United States, including the work of OGIS, the FOIA Ombudsman’s office. In observing one of the themes of ICIC’s 12th conference – transparency and trust in pandemic times – Director Semo noted the split between federal FOIA programs that made a relatively seamless transition to full-time telework during the COVID-19 pandemic and federal FOIA programs largely unable to telework because they process records stored in and retrieved from classified systems of records in secure physical spaces. 

Director Semo also reported that although the cost of processing FOIA requests and litigating FOIA cases increased in fiscal year 2020, the number of pending litigations is 0.2 percent of all FOIA requests filed governmentwide. She also discussed OGIS’s work to help requesters and agency FOIA professionals navigate the challenges of the global pandemic on access to information. 

Regional updates from members around the world illustrated the shared challenges that ICIC members face. ICIC members, including Director Semo, approved a resolution committing to the importance of proactive publication of information relating to the COVID-19 pandemic. ICIC members also agreed on strategic priorities for 2021-2024 and approved a governing handbook.

At the beginning of the pandemic, the ICIC and the International Council on Archives issued a statement calling for decisions by public entities to be documented, records and data to be secured and preserved, and access to digital content to be facilitated. And OGIS was among the signatories on an ICIC statement on access to information during the pandemic.  

While the two-day meeting was open only to members and observers, a series of eight webinars dubbed ICIC Wednesdays are publicly broadcast on the ICIC’s YouTube channel through December 2021.

ICIC formed in 2003 when a group of information commissioners met in Berlin and entered into declaration of cooperation that acknowledges that “[w]ithout discrimination any person must to be alow access the documents of public agencies.” Since OGIS opened for business in November 2009, it has participated in ICIC conferences in 2011, 2013,  2015 and 2017. In the fall of 2019, OGIS became one of the first accredited official members of the ICIC as it became a permanent network. ICIC members elected OGIS to its first-ever Executive Committee this past spring, which also includes representatives from Albania, Bermuda, Brazil, Chile, Kenya and South Africa. 

One thought on “OGIS: Spanning the Globe

  1. Some facts about Alina Semo and Carrie Mcguire of OGIS/NARA. In a process that is supposed to be neutral, Alina Semo allowed FDA and HHS to review and make changes to official OGIS communication prior to it being sent to me, the other party in a dispute. I found this out after being confused at why OGIS communication seemed to directly mirror FDA communication to me. I filed FOIA requests, was told by NARA it would be 2+ years for me to receive those records. I then attempted to resolve the matter outside of litigation, only for NARA/OGIS not to resolve the matter with me outside of litigation. I then sued and forced them to provide me the records. Seeing how OGIS provides government resources and communication opportunities that is not provided to the requestor brings the “neutral” and “objective” claim into serious question.

    Allowing one party in a dispute the ability to review official OGIS letters, and make changes to that communication, is not a fair or neutral process. OGIS also provided HHS and FDA with many phone call and webex meetings regarding my case over a 2 year period, yet OGIS did not provide me with the same opportunity to discuss matters and my side by webex or phone. I have asked an estimated 12 times over two years to have discussions the same opportunity offered to the other party in the dispute. After FDA stated they’re willing to engage in mediation over the phone with me, OGIS has never moved forward with planning and executing the mediation process. This has happened several times when I have attempted to engage in mediation disputes prior to being forced to litigate.

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