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What’s a FOIA Public Liaison?

As regular readers of this blog already know, OGIS was created when the 2007 OPEN Government Act amended the FOIA. However, the Act didn’t stop there — it also formalized the role of the FOIA Public Liaison (FPL). Specifically it says:

FOIA Public Liaisons shall report to the agency Chief FOIA Officer and shall serve as supervisory officials to whom a requester under this section can raise concerns about the service the requester has received from the FOIA Requester Center, following an initial response from the FOIA Requester Center Staff. FOIA Public Liaisons shall be responsible for assisting in reducing delays, increasing transparency and understanding of the status of requests, and assisting in the resolution of disputes.

As described by the OPEN Government Act, the role of the FPL is not all that different from the role that OGIS plays in the FOIA landscape. Both serve as a listening ear for FOIA requesters, and both work to resolve FOIA disputes. FPLs are OGIS’s first point of contact within an agency when a dispute arises, and we consider them to be our special partners in resolving disputes.

While the OPEN Government Act’s definition of a FPL is simple and straightforward, we know that the reality of their positions is anything but. Some agencies have created new FPL positions that are completely dedicated to assisting requesters and resolving disputes. Other agencies — many of them smaller agencies — added the FPL tasks listed in the Act to the already-full plate of someone within the FOIA shop. We’ve also found that FPLs have a variety of approaches to their job, including everything from agitating for change within agencies to reiterating the party line.

While OGIS understands the fact that FPLs are as different from one another as the agencies they represent, we believe that they benefit from a consistent message from OGIS. One important way that we communicate with FPLs is through dispute resolution skills training. The purpose of this program is to equip FPLs with the tools they need to “[assist] in the resolution of disputes.” Frankly, we hope that this training makes OGIS’s facilitation services obsolete in the long run.

If you are a FOIA Public Liaison, we would love to hear from you in the comments below about what you do. We also want to know what OGIS can do to help you with your job.