Today we present an interview with Benjamin Tingo, Chief Legal Officer and Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at OPEXUS (formerly AINS, LLC) and a member of the 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 who are appointed by the Archivist of the United States.
What prompted you to seek appointment to the FOIA Advisory Committee?
The Freedom of Information Act is a cornerstone of our democracy and informed citizenship. I have experience as a FOIA requester representing clients in litigation, and I am currently General Counsel and Vice President of Partnerships for the company that has been providing the FOIAXpress FOIA case management solution to the federal government for more than 20 years. I think I bring a unique perspective to the FOIA community and I am hoping to be able to leverage my experiences to improve FOIA administration.
What do you hope to accomplish from this experience?
I am looking forward to working with the Committee to collect perspectives on FOIA from both sides of a request — the requesters and the responders — and to synthesize that information to develop useful recommendations for improving FOIA and bolstering its usefulness in our society.
What is FOIA’s biggest challenge?
FOIA programs are currently drowning in requests. They have too many requests to manage, and the requests encompass a wider variety and volume of records than ever before. As a result, backlogs are increasing and requester frustrations are growing. If FOIA requesters can’t get timely access to the records they are requesting, then FOIA is not serving its purpose of increasing transparency and oversight of our government by its citizens.
Tell us about your favorite FOIA experience.
I don’t have a single favorite FOIA experience, but I most appreciate the power of the Freedom of Information Act when it is used to uncover shocking truths about our federal government’s activities. For instance, the FOIA was used in the mid-1970s to secure the release of documents related to MKUltra, the CIA’s behavioral control experiments, and the agency’s use of LSD on people without their knowledge or consent.