About the National Archives

Welcome Remarks for Saving the Freedom of Information Act

Greetings from the National Archives’ flagship building in Washington, DC, which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank peoples. I’m David Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, and it's my pleasure to welcome you to today’s conversation about the book Saving the Freedom of Information Act, with author Margaret Kwoka and Thomas Susman.

Before we begin, I’d like to tell you about two programs coming up in the next couple of weeks on our YouTube channel.

On Friday, November 19, at 1 p.m, Michael Burlingame will tell us about his new book, The Black Man’s President, and discuss Abraham Lincoln’s personal connections with Black people over the course of his career.

And on Wednesday, December 1, at 1 p.m., Fay Yarbrough will discuss her Choctaw Confederates, her new book about the Choctaw Nation’s role in the Civil War.

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As the keeper of this nation’s founding documents, we at the National Archives frequently note that “Democracy Starts Here.” And while the National Archives is well known as the home of the nation’s most legally and historically significant documents, one of our lesser-known roles involves the Freedom of Information Act—FOIA—which provides a right of access to federal records with certain exceptions.

The National Archives is home to the federal FOIA Ombudsman’s Office—the Office of Government Information Services—which is available to help anyone with the FOIA process. OGIS helps to resolve FOIA disputes, educates about the FOIA process, and recommends ways to improve the FOIA process for everyone.

In her new book, Margaret Kwoka posits that FOIA is largely used for purposes that do not foster democratic accountability. Her work on this book began with a simple question: Is FOIA working the way Congress intended?

Professor Kwoka’s extensive research shows that the news media, which Congress envisioned would be the most frequent users of FOIA, are largely not using the law. Instead, some federal agencies are inundated with FOIA requests in which requesters seek records about themselves. Other federal agencies receive requests for records that are used as part of a profit-making enterprise.

To address these issues, Professor Kwoka proposes a series of structural reforms that are designed to shift FOIA back to its original purpose of fostering democratic accountability.

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Margaret Kwoka is the Lawrence Herman Professor in Law at the Ohio State University Moritz College of Law. Her FOIA research has been published in the Yale Law Journal and the Duke Law Journal, featured in the New York Times, and recognized by the Law and Society Association with the Harry J. Kalven, Jr., Prize for Empirical Scholarship.

In 2016, I appointed Professor Kwoka to the second term of the federal FOIA Advisory Committee, one of four advisory committees here at the National Archives. The FOIA Advisory Committee makes recommendations to me for improving FOIA administration and proactive disclosure, and I am pleased to welcome Professor Kwoka back to the National Archives.

Joining her in conversation is Tom Susman, a long-time FOIA advocate who served with Professor Kwoka on the FOIA Advisory Committee and continues to serve on the committee. Mr. Susman spent nearly three decades in private practice handling FOIA-related litigation and regulatory matters before joining the American Bar Association first as director of governmental affairs and now as strategic advisor for governmental affairs and global programs.

Mr. Susman was the principal staff lawyer to the Senate Subcommittee that worked to enact the 1974 FOIA amendments. I can think of no better person to engage Professor Kwoka in conversation about whether FOIA is working the way Congress intended.


Now, let’s hear from Margaret Kwoka and Tom Susman. Thank you for joining us today.