Getting to Know the FOIA Advisory Committee: Bobak Talebian

Bobak Talebian, Director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice, providing remarks at the March 13, 2023, OIP Sunshine Week program. Photo courtesy of Alina M. Semo.

Today we present an interview with Bobak Talebian, Director of the Office of Information Policy (OIP) at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) 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?

I serve on the Committee in my capacity as Director of the Office of Information Policy in accordance with the Committee’s charter. Although my membership is through the Committee’s charter, I look forward to being part of the new term and continuing the dialogue between agencies and the requester community. 

What do you hope to accomplish from this experience?  

I think the best part of the Committee is that it helps us bridge the gap between requesters’ and agencies’ experiences with the FOIA process and it allows us to learn from each other to improve FOIA administration. I hope that in this term we can continue to foster dialogue between agencies and the requester community and leverage the experiences of the Committee’s diverse members.

What is FOIA’s biggest challenge?

With over 800,000 FOIA requests received and processed every year for millions of pages of records in various formats, I think the biggest challenge in FOIA is the need to continually evolve and modernize processes and resources to meet this high demand.  This is why the work of this Committee and the Chief FOIA Officers Council is so important, and why this has also been a large focus of our government wide efforts at OIP.   

Tell us about your favorite FOIA experience.

I know many of my colleagues and friends across the government and in the requester community feel the same way, but I feel very fortunate to be in a profession with such an important mission that is key to our democracy.  While not a single experience, my favorite moments in FOIA involve working with so many dedicated FOIA professionals across the government committed to serving the core purpose of the FOIA and then seeing the results of that work when requesters use the information disclosed to inform the public. My other favorite FOIA experience would be the development and successful launch of the National FOIA Portal which involved close collaboration between OIP, the Department of Justice’s Office of the Chief Information Officer, and General Services Administration’s 18F team of technology consultants and designers.  The agile and user-centric approach used in developing the National FOIA Portal has been a cornerstone of our efforts to continue to improve and our approach to other FOIA technology projects.