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Make your voice heard: the FOIA Advisory Committee seeks public comments

Got a FOIA bee in your bonnet? The FOIA Advisory Committee wants to hear from you! (NARA Identifier 514417)

Got a FOIA bee in your bonnet? The FOIA Advisory Committee wants to hear from you! (NARA Identifier 514417)

On January 27, 2015 the FOIA Advisory Committee met to discuss its progress on examining three important FOIA issues: proactive disclosures, FOIA fees, and FOIA oversight and accountability.

The Committee opened the meeting by voting unanimously to approve the October 21, 2014 meeting minutes. The Committee also approved the bylaws drafted by the Committee’s Bylaws Working Group.

The Committee spent most of the meeting discussing status reports from the Proactive Disclosures, FOIA Fees, and Oversight and Accountability subcommittees. The meeting subcommittee reports are available on OGIS’s website, as are the transcript and video from the meeting.

As the FOIA Advisory Committee works hard to examine some challenging areas of FOIA law and policy, it needs your help. Input from the public will help the subcommittees better understand the issues that FOIA requesters and agencies face.

Proactive Disclosures Subcommittee co-chair David S. Reed noted the two specific issues the subcommittee is exploring: using data to held figure out what records the public would like the government to post proactively; and reconciling the FOIA’s proactive disclosure requirements with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act which requires agencies to make all posted records accessible to people with disabilities.

To help determine which records are of high value to the public, the subcommittee is using agency records of what the public is requesting under FOIA (commonly referred to as “FOIA logs”). Mr. Reed requested that Federal agencies provide the subcommittee with robust, detailed FOIA logs to analyze.

“Section 508” is the shorthand agencies and users use to refer to the requirements for Federal agencies to make their electronic and information technology accessible to people with disabilities. To improve the subcommittee’s understanding of the relationship between Section 508 compliance and proactive disclosures, Mr. Reed requested that Committee members, Federal agencies or the public share experiences where the requirements of Section 508 prevented an agency from making proactive disclosures. Mr. Reed also asked for examples of where an agency made a proactive disclosure before making the record Section 508 compliant (for example, posting the record online while it was undergoing remediation).

The FOIA Fees Subcommittee is developing a survey for FOIA professionals that will examine the current fee structure and how agencies handle requests they consider burdensome. The subcommittee asks the public to submit example survey questions that will help the subcommittee gather the information it needs to better understand this issue. It also welcomes recommendations on how to improve the administration of FOIA fees.

The Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee has compiled a list of FOIA reports, reviews, audits, and inspections and made them available on the subcommittee’s webpage. The subcommittee welcomes your suggestions on U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) Audits and Reports and Agency Audits, Reports and Reviews to include in its collection. The subcommittee will review the reports to identify successes and challenges as well as gaps and areas for additional oversight.

The Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee will also assess the role of FOIA Public Liaisons at agencies to help determine what is working at certain agencies and how the roles differ between agencies. To complete this work, the subcommittee will hold a roundtable with agency FOIA Public Liaisons and be sending a survey out to FOIA Public Liaisons. The subcommittee welcomes any suggestions and feedback you have with regard to FOIA Public Liaisons and FOIA oversight and accountability.

Please visit the FOIA Advisory Committee’s webpage, including the Public Comments page, for information about the Committee and how you can get involved. Do you have ideas or opinions you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you!

FOIA Advisory Committee to Meet January 27, 2015 – Update

Photograph of Workers Shoveling Snow from the National Archives Building Constitution Avenue Entrance , 01/02/1936  (NARA Identifier: 7820535 )

Photograph of Workers Shoveling Snow from the National Archives Building Constitution Avenue Entrance, 01/02/1936 (NARA Identifier: 7820535 )

The next meeting of the FOIA Advisory Committee is scheduled for Tuesday, January 27 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. The meeting will take place in the Archivist’s Reception Room (Room 105) at the National Archives Building, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C. Doors for the meeting open at 9:30 a.m.

In anticipation of inclement weather:

–If the Federal Government is open with unscheduled leave or telework, we will hold the meeting as scheduled.

–If the Federal Government has a delayed arrival policy, we will start the meeting at 10 a.m. as scheduled.

–If the Federal Government is closed the meeting will be cancelled.

Check our operating statusFacebook pages, and Twitter. Keep informed about the National Archives and Record Administration’s Washington, DC, area operating status through the OPM website or our status line 301-837-0700.

The meeting is open to the public. Those interested in attending the meeting in person are required to register in advance and will be subject to security screening. Attendees are required to show one form of Government-issued photo identification (e.g. driver’s license) to gain admittance. Space is limited, so register to reserve your place on the list soon!

Eventbrite - Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee Meeting

If you have any questions, please contact Christa Lemelin at 202-741-5773.

 

Record Keeping for FOIA Requesters 101

Choose any record keeping method that works for you! (NARA Identifier 6348589)

Choose any record keeping method that works for you! (NARA Identifier 6348589)

Here at OGIS, we love good record keeping practices. Not only are we housed within the National Records and Archives Administration (NARA), which has responsibility for setting the federal government’s record keeping policies, we also know that strong agency record keeping is the backbone of a good Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office. If an agency is not keeping good records, it is considerably harder—if not impossible—to locate records that are responsive to a request.

Record keeping is not just important for agencies; it can be critical for FOIA requesters. Here are a couple of tips for navigating the FOIA process as smoothly and efficiently as possible:

Keep track of your tracking numbers. FOIA requires agencies to provide requesters with a tracking number for each request that will take longer than 10 days to process. Requesters should be able to use this number to find the status of their request online or on the telephone. Having a system to track your tracking numbers is particularly important if you have a number of outstanding requests because it will help make sure that the agency can quickly check the status of your request and minimizes any confusion about which request you are calling or emailing about.

Choose the tracking method that works best for you. Like handwritten lists? Go for it. Prefer using a spreadsheet that allows you to sort and search? Great. A number of private services also store information about FOIA requests, sometimes for a fee. Whichever method you choose, be sure to include a couple of key pieces of information along with the tracking number, including the subject of the request, the agency processing the request, and the date you sent your request.

Document your initial request and appeal. It’s important to have proof that you sent a FOIA request or an appeal on a particular date in the event that machines malfunction or humans make mistakes. FOIA requests generally are processed on a first in, first out basis. The date of your initial request determines where your request is placed in the agency’s queue. If an agency loses your initial request and you can show when it was sent, the agency might be willing to put your request in the place it would have been in the line if it had been logged in appropriately. For appeals, the date is important because many agencies require that appeals be made within a certain time frame. (Appeal times vary by agency and generally run 30, 45 or 60 days, although they range from 10 days to no time limit.) Some agencies may consider appeals that are filed late, but some will not.

If your request is printed (because you are mailing or faxing it) or you are sending it as an email attachment, remember to include the date on the upper right-hand corner. An easy and cost-effective method to document submission of your initial request is saving the record that the request was sent, whether via email, fax, or registered mail.

Following these easy steps helps you protect your rights under the FOIA, and helps make sure the process is as painless as possible for both the requester and the agency.

FOIA requesters, how do you keep track of your requests? Agency FOIA folks, what record keeping best practices have you observed among your requesters? Please share in the comments.

FOIA Advisory Committee to Meet January 27, 2015

 

While we can’t promise to have rocking chairs with built in fans available at the next FOIA Advisory Committee Meeting, we’d be glad to save you a seat (NARA Identifier 594932)

While we can’t promise to have rocking chairs with built in fans available at the next FOIA Advisory Committee Meeting, we’d be glad to save you a seat (NARA Identifier 594932)

Mark your calendars and reserve your seat for the next meeting of the FOIA Advisory Committee on Tuesday, January 27 from 10 a.m.  to 1 p.m. The meeting will be in the Archivist’s Reception Room (Room 105) at the National Archives Building, 700 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, in Washington, D.C. Space is limited and our list fills up quickly so reserve your place on the list soon!

Eventbrite - Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee Meeting

The FOIA Advisory Committee brings together agency personnel and outside stakeholders who have considerable expertise in the law and the FOIA process to talk about how to improve the system. The Committee has three subcommittees that are looking at specific areas of concern: making more government information available outside the FOIA process; examining the fee system; and investigating current oversight and accountability systems.

This meeting provides an opportunity for the public to hear updates from the subcommittees  and to provide input for the Committee to consider. You do not have to attend the meeting in person to share your views with the Committee. You can submit questions and comments to the Committee at: https://ogis.archives.gov/foia-advisory-committee/contact-us-submit-comments.htm

While we can’t live stream this meeting, we will record it and make it available on YouTube as soon as possible. You can find recordings of past meetings, plus meeting agendas and documents referenced during the meeting here.

For questions about accessibility or to request accommodations, please contact Christa Lemelin at 202-741-5773 or foia-advisory-committee@nara.gov.

 

Change is in the Air

Here at OGIS, we have been contemplating more than just the autumn leaves (NARA identifier 6000604)

Here at OGIS, we have been contemplating more than just the autumn leaves (NARA identifier 6000604)

If you keep an eye on OGIS, you know that we are celebrating some exciting changes and welcoming new staff. Beyond those changes, we are also saying goodbye to Miriam Nisbet, OGIS’s first Director, who retired at the end of November.

Miriam herself has written about her career in fostering access to information, and we will be forever grateful for her work establishing OGIS in its first five years. On a more personal note, we will miss her thoughtful, insightful leadership as we navigate OGIS’s path forward.

Change can be challenging, but also exciting. NARA will be hiring a new OGIS Director in the coming months, and we look forward to new leadership and the opportunities and challenges the future will bring.