Welcome Remarks for the Office of Government Information Services Annual Open Meeting
Good morning and welcome to the fifth annual meeting of the Office of Government Information Services, the federal Freedom of Information Act Ombudsman.
I join you from my office in the flagship building of the National Archives in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. Acknowledging the indigenous lands upon which the National Archives was built in the 1930s is important to our role creating and nurturing a lens for viewing our nation’s history. As Felicia Garcia of New York University noted in 2018, land acknowledgments are important to respecting and recognizing indigenous peoples as well as the times of past to future.
The link between past and future is enshrined on one of the four monumental statues placed at either side of the two entrances of this great building. The inscription reads “What is Past is Prologue” and reminds us of the important role that land acknowledgments and government records can play in informing a better future for our great nation.
This is the second OGIS annual meeting to be held virtually. Since the COVID-19 pandemic forced the National Archives to close the physical doors to our research rooms, records centers, presidential libraries and museums in March 2020, our work of making access happen has continued virtually across the country. National Archives employees have continued to demonstrate creativity, initiative, and commitment to moving our mission forward throughout the pandemic.
I am thrilled to announce that beginning May 15, the Rotunda of the National Archives Building here in Washington, DC, will be open for viewing of the Declaration of Independence, US Constitution and Bill of Rights with limited capacity from 10 am to 2 pm on Saturdays and Sundays. Reserve timed entry tickets on recreation dot gov.
In its role advocating for a federal FOIA process that works for all, OGIS has been particularly active in the virtual space. In the early months of the pandemic, OGIS shifted seamlessly to online meetings to close out the third term of the FOIA Advisory Committee, a group of 20 FOIA experts from inside and outside of government tasked with making recommendations to me to improve the FOIA process. Last summer, the Committee sent me 22 recommendations, many of which OGIS is hard at work on. Under the leadership of OGIS, the fourth term of the FOIA Advisory Committee has met virtually three times, including its inaugural meeting in September 2020.
While a complete shift from in-person meetings was not something contemplated before the pandemic, we are pleased that attendance at these meetings and OGIS’s other events has risen in the last year. By expanding its reach— particularly to those with an interest in FOIA outside the Washington, DC, area—OGIS has welcomed to the virtual dialogue those outside the Beltway whose voices are not regularly heard in the conversation about FOIA.
Finally, please continue to stay safe, be well, and take care of one another. I look forward to seeing all of you at the next meeting of the FOIA Advisory Committee on June 10th! I now turn the meeting over to OGIS Director Alina Semo to update us on OGIS’s activities for the past year.