FOIA Ombudsman Office Marks First Year

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), the agency created by Congress to oversee compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and serve as an ombudsman for FOIA requesters, recently marked its first year of existence. OGIS has issued a report on its website documenting the agency’s performance over the past year.

OGIS is part of the National Archives and Records Administration.

OGIS is responsible for reviewing policies and procedures of administrative agencies under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA); reviewing compliance with FOIA by administrative agencies; and recommending policy changes to Congress and the President to improve the

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administration of FOIA. OGIS also is responsible for offering mediation services to resolve disputes between persons making FOIA requests and administrative agencies, and may issue advisory opinions if mediation has not resolved the dispute.

In fiscal year 2010, the office handled nearly 400 cases from 40 states, the District of Columbia and seven countries. 83% of cases have been resolved with 17% still pending. The office reached its full staffing level of seven in May.

The caseload is expected to increase over the coming year as both requesters and federal agencies become more aware of OGIS. In addition, all federal agencies are now required to have chief FOIA officer which should also increase the number of cases referred to OGIS.

The categories of cases handled by OGIS were fairly diverse:

  • Denial—25%
  • Delay—21%
  • Ombudsman Issues—19%
  • Privacy Act—15%
  • Information—14%
  • Fees—6%
  • Misc. —1%

OGIS has also issued a “best practices” briefing paper to assist requesters in making a FOIA request. On the government side, OGIS has worked with federal agencies to institute training for their employees who handle FOIA requests to improve their responsiveness. OGIS is also assisting agencies applying in the use of Alternative Disputes Resolution (ADR) to FOIA cases.