FOIA officers: I’d like to see what you do all day. Really.
A while ago I had the opportunity to talk with about 100 FOIA officers in the federal government about FOIA from the requester perspective. I mentioned that the determined, distrustful and demanding face of many FOIA requesters hides a lack of understanding about what FOIA officers within agencies go through to respond to requests. And I made an offer: I’d like to follow a FOIA officer at any agency around for a day to see what FOIA officers need to do every day to push FOIA responses out the door. Do they spend their day on the phone tracking down which offices may hold relevant information? Do they hunch over desks redacting documents? Do they badger government employees to go through their files and find documents, or convince reluctant employees that disclosing information upon request is not only lawful but required? Once a response is ready to go out the door, do they consume energy filing reports to log their efforts for the annual reports? I’d really like to know, and I’m willing to relay my experience to the public through this blog. This is not a hit job — I promise no gotcha journalism. I just want to know what it’s like to respond to FOIA requests, reduce backlogs, avoid unnecessary delays, and make sound decisions to disclose or withhold.
Are relationships with requesters really as bad as the stereotypical image of yelling, demanding requesters? Or is my hunch right that mostly callers are respectful if a little perplexed and uneducated about the reviews and steps necessary before a response goes out?
So this is a genuine appeal to FOIA officers everywhere to help me understand how your day goes. Maybe you don’t want me hanging around all day. A half day might work. Or even a one-hour call. I’m flexible. Let’s talk.