Welcome Remarks at the Office of Government Information Services Annual Open Meeting
McGowan Theater, National Archives Building, Washington, DC
June 14, 2019
Good morning. Welcome to the National Archives or as I like to say “My House.” Whether you are joining us here in person in the McGowan Theater or virtually on the National Archives’ YouTube Channel, we thank you for joining us today for the third annual open meeting of the Office of Government Information Services, or OGIS.
We are here today because Congress directed OGIS in 2016 to have an annual open meeting to inform the public about its reviews and reports, and receive public comments.
This September marks the 10-year anniversary since OGIS opened its doors as the Federal Freedom of Information Act Ombudsman. Although “ombudsman” is not in OGIS’s name, Congress has specifically referred to OGIS as the FOIA Ombudsman.
The word “ombudsman” comes from Swedish and literally means “representative.” At its most basic level, an ombudsman assists individuals and groups in resolving conflicts or concerns. Often, an ombudsman advocates on behalf of a designated population, such as patients in long-term care facilities. OGIS advocates for no specific population, but for the FOIA process. Whether providing dispute resolution services to requesters and agencies; assessing an agency’s compliance with FOIA; or identifying new issues or opportunities for systemic change, OGIS advocates for a Federal FOIA process that works for all.
OGIS’s work dovetails quite appropriately with two of NARA’s four strategic goals: Connect with Customers and Make Access Happen. Every day, OGIS connects with a diverse group of customers—both requesters and agency FOIA professionals—to assist them through the FOIA process—whether through informal and formal education about the process, or guiding and coaching to resolve and even prevent disputes.
OGIS staff members “make access happen” by providing resources that promote public participation with the FOIA process. The OGIS staff works hard to educate requesters about how FOIA can be used to access Federal government records, and about the important balance between transparency and privacy in making records available publicly.
Before turning the program over to OGIS Director Alina Semo, I note that as OGIS marks its 10-year anniversary later this year, we also celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment giving all American women the right to vote. Accessing public records through a FOIA process that works for all and providing voting rights to all regardless of gender are two crucial foundations of our democracy. A recently opened exhibit here at the National Archives, “Rightfully Hers: American Women and the Vote,” tells the story of securing voting rights for all American women. I hope you’ll take a few moments after today’s meeting to visit the “Rightfully Hers” exhibit which is open through January 3, 2021.
Thank you. Over to you Alina to update us on OGIS’s activities in the last year.