For OGIS, road to recommendations reveals not enough independence

When the Office of Management and Budget cleared the FOIA Ombudsman to issue its recommendations for improving FOIA operations, it was a win in the battle for open government.  However, the difficult process, in which we and others made a stink and Congress had to become involved, has made clear that the Office of Government Information Services does not yet have the independence that Congress considered so crucial for it to succeed.

OGIS & OMB decide not to make recommendations to Congress

We are deeply disappointed and concerned that the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) — the FOIA Ombudsman — will not be transmitting its recommendations to Congress for improving FOIA. OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet sent a letter to Senators Patrick Leahy, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Ranking Member Charles Grassley noting that OGIS sent draft recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and after consulting with them decided not to send recommendations to Congress.

Leahy and Grassley: We want those OGIS recommendations. We do, too.

A month after senators Patrick Leahy and Charles Grassley complained bitterly, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) has still not released its long-delayed recommendations to Congress and the President on improving the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process.  OGIS should immediately release to the public recommendations for substantially improving how FOIA works for both agencies and requesters and regularly report on the government’s progress.

OGIS puts up new website

The FOIA Ombudsman is rolling out a new website this week.  The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) created a sleek design with a library of informative background for new requesters and technical background for more experienced requesters. Much of the new site will be immediately useful to FOIA users.  The OGIS Library should prove useful for requesters who are new to FOIA and want to better understand the FOIA-speak that they sometimes receive in agency responses, although this material is similar to the technical background on the Justice Department’s FOIA.gov. Other parts are aspirational:  OGIS includes a section on [More]

OGIS announces annual report, new blog

Our friends at the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) are expanding the office’s online presence with a new blog, “The FOIA Ombudsman: Information and Advice”. Although the office and its staff have been busy with Sunshine Week activities, they have also found time to release their first annual office report: “The First Year: Building Bridges Between FOIA Requesters and Federal Agencies”. The report shows the office working to integrate statutory directions, practical expectations, and competing policy priorities as it strives to help both requesters and agencies use FOIA more efficiently and effectively.

Advocates, officials discuss sunshine measures

Here’s a brief summary of testimony by witnesses at a hearing of the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning on the Freedom of Information Act.  Our appreciation to Chairman Patrick Leahy for holding the hearing (and adjusting the schedule to avoid conflicting with “FOI Day” at the Freedom Forum).

Mining to resolve a dispute, OGIS gets the shaft

CNN’s Anderson Cooper talks a lot about transparency.  He focused on transparency troubles while covering the gulf oil spill. Watching the Chilean mine rescue unfold, on October 12th Cooper noted that the Chilean government’s rescue operations have been more transparent than similar responses to mining disasters in the U.S. If the way the Labor Department ignored the FOIA mediator’s office is any gauge, he may have a point.

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]