National Archives News

National Archives Celebrates Open Government During Sunshine Week

By Kerri Lawrence |  National Archives News

WASHINGTON, March 12, 2019 — The National Archives and Records Administration kicked off its Sunshine Week celebration on March 11, 2019, with an afternoon of speakers and panel discussions focusing on the role of open government and electronic recordkeeping—past, present, and future. The events, sponsored by the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), were held at the McGowan Theater in the National Archives Museum in Washington, DC.  

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Chief Judge Beryl A. Howell, U.S. District Court in the District of Columbia, and Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero discuss open government and the legal landscape at Sunshine Week events on March 11, 2019, at the National Archives in Washington, DC. (National Archives photo by Martha Murphy)

Each year, Sunshine Week honors and promotes a dialogue about the importance of open government and access to information—values that are central to the mission of the National Archives, according to Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero.

“I can’t think of a better place to be celebrating Sunshine Week than here at the National Archives, because we not only contribute, but serve as a leader in open government,” Ferriero said in his opening remarks.

“As our nation’s recordkeeper, our holdings span our great nation’s history and capture its experiences and soul . . . among the 15 billion textual records and 43 million photographs, many already online with more available digitally every day,” he added.

Ferriero participated in a one-on-one conversation with Beryl A. Howell, Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, discussing the role of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), open government, transparency, and the legal landscape.  

Howell, who worked with FOIA throughout her career, in all three branches of government, shared that she eagerly accepted the invitation to participate in the event because “I think it’s incredibly appropriate to be celebrating Sunshine Week and the Freedom of Information Act—which has its goal [of] disclosure of government information—at a place that’s responsible for preserving it.”

OGIS Director Alina Semo, who facilitated the afternoon conference, said this Sunshine Week was particularly special to the agency, since OGIS is also celebrating its 10th anniversary as the FOIA Ombudsman later this year.

“Ten years ago, in the Fall of 2009, OGIS first opened its doors to help FOIA requesters and agencies navigate the FOIA process and help improve it along the way,” Semo said, noting that more than 15,000 requests for assistance have been fulfilled since OGIS began.

“I am especially excited that, during this year’s event, we have been able to bring together representatives from all three branches of government—judicial, legislative, and executive,” she said.

Other highlights of the day included opening remarks by U.S. Senator John Cornyn of Texas, and closing remarks by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Both lawmakers have had a role in the evolution of FOIA and shared their view it plays in an open and accessible government.

A discussion panel, moderated by Thomas M. Susman, Director of Governmental Affairs for the American Bar Association and Founding President of the D.C. Open Government Coalition, looked at “OGIS @ 10: Past/Present/Future.” Panel members included Krista Boyd, General Counsel for the House Committee on Oversight and Reform; Lydia K. Griggsby, Judge of the U.S. Court of Federal Claims; Miriam Nisbet, former director of OGIS; and Semo.

A second panel explored the topic “Looking into the Crystal Ball: How Will Electronic Recordkeeping in Government Agencies Change over the Next 10 Years?” Moderated by Jason Baron, Of Counsel, Information Governance and eDiscovery Group, Drinker Biddle & Reath, LLP, panelists included Laurence Brewer, Chief Records Officer for the U.S. Government; Courtney Anderson, Senior Electronic Records Policy Analyst at the National Archives; and Jonathan M. Redgrave, managing partner of Redgrave LLP.

The National Archives Sunshine Week events, which were free and open to the public, are currently available to view on the National Archives YouTube Channel.

Throughout Sunshine Week, the National Archives is also sponsoring a special citizen archivist mission focusing on transcription of two historically important civil rights cases held at the National Archives at Atlanta: Browder V. Gayle, which contains documents resulting from a Federal court suit that challenged segregation within Montgomery, Alabama’s public transportation system, and Williams V. Wallace, a lawsuit that was pivotal in inspiring Congress to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Citizen Archivist Dashboard offers more information on how to engage in the transcription challenge.

The American Society of News Editors launched the Sunshine Week initiative more than a decade ago in 2005, and it has been embraced by journalists, librarians, concerned citizens, civil society organizations, elected officials, and government employees alike as an opportunity to discuss the importance of open government and its impact.  

You can find other events throughout the government celebrating Sunshine Week 2019 on the Sunshine Week's Event Calendar. For more information on how the National Archives has celebrated Sunshine Week in the past, see Archives Celebrates Information Access. To learn more about OGIS's work, visit their web page or follow the FOIA Ombudsman blog.