New OGIS leadership off to a good start with agency FOIA reviews

Recently, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) began conducting compliance reviews of agency FOIA operations and posting its findings online, to share with the public and with other agencies. These no-nonsense analyses involve examining agency annual FOIA reports, interviewing FOIA personnel, and surveying agency staff; the idea is to accumulate institutional knowledge and refract it back through agencies to make FOIA work better. Notably, OGIS sharpened its reviewing skills at home, starting at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), which underwent the inaugural reviews (here, and here). Now, the Department of Homeland Security, as the agency with the highest [More]

OGIS’s “Final Response Letters” Go Behind the Scenes

We’re glad to see that OGIS has begun posting its “Final Response Letters”, in which the office explains what FOIA requesters have sought from agencies, what OGIS has done to help requesters, and how agencies have reacted. Although OGIS has only posted 26 letters so far, we can start to see some trends among the requests, denials, appeals, and reviews. First, OGIS has been able to provide assistance in the form of increased information, or education, or both, in nearly every case listed. In over half of the cases described, OGIS was able to obtain additional information the requester(s) had [More]

Some context for some surveillance

When news broke recently that federal officials were pushing for new regulations to facilitate online eavesdropping (“U.S. Tries to Make It Easier to Wiretap the Internet”, New York Times, September 27, 2010), it seemed like there were two ways to interpret the situation: Did the proposed powers represent a significant change from the status quo? The administration’s proposal… would require reconfiguring of the Internet to provide easier access to online communications. —ACLU Or did the proposed powers merely enable law-enforcement officials to continue doing what they had been doing? We’re not talking expanding authority. We’re talking about preserving our ability [More]

ICE rethinks an immigration disclosure; hoping for a trend

In light of President Obama’s first-full-day-in-office proclamation about transparency and FOIA, and the subsequent FOIA memorandum from Attorney General Eric Holder, we have been both hopeful and cautious when it comes to evaluating the Administration’s progress. Evaluating progress means looking at changes in numbers, and changes in experiences. One of those experiences involving a small newspaper and a story about immigration-related arrests may show the trends are encouraging. Four years ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrested twenty-six people at a Bellingham, WA business, on suspicion of illegal immigration. A local newspaper, the Bellingham Herald, promptly filed a FOIA request for [More]

A win for OGIS!

Today The Associated Press story showing that political officials reviewed FOIA requests proves that the Office of Government Information Services can effectively resolve disputes and avoid potential litigation (not that we necessarily doubted OGIS). (For full disclosure, the AP is a member of the Sunshine in Government Initiative.) AP’s Ted Bridis reports that political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security ordered career staff to give them a heads up when a FOIA request came in for sensitive information.  AP describes it this way: [DHS] detoured hundreds of requests for federal records to senior political advisers for highly unusual scrutiny, [More]