Chief FOIA Officers Council Meeting (Virtual Event)
Thursday, April 29, 2021
9: 30 a.m. - 11: 30 a.m. (ET)
Event Producer: Welcome and thank you for joining today's Chief FOIA Officers Council meeting. Before we begin, please ensure you have opened the WebEx participants and chat panel, placed in the associated icon located at the bottom of your screen. If you require technical assistance, please send a task to the event producer. Please note that all audio connections are muted at this time. You are, however, welcome to submit written questions throughout today's presentation. To submit a written question, select, "all panelists" from the dropdown menu in the chat panel, enter your question in the message box provided and send. As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. With that, we'll turn things over to Alina Semo, Director of Office of Government Information Services. Please go ahead.
Alina M. Semo: Thanks, [Teagan 00: 00: 40]. Good morning everyone, and thank you for joining us today for our second virtual Chief FOIA Officers Council meeting and perhaps not our last. I hope everyone has been staying healthy, safe, and well. I am Alina Semo, Director of the Office of Government Information Services and co-chair of the Council. Let me introduce my co-chair, Bobby Talebian, Director of the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice. Bobby?
Bobby Talebian: Thank you so much, Alina, and thank you all for joining us. We're looking forward to a great agenda and meeting today.
Alina M. Semo: We do have a full agenda today. In a minute, you will hear welcoming remarks from Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero. Bobby and I will provide an overview of the Chief FOIA Officers' landscape for new CFOs that are joining us for the first time today. That will be followed by some updates from both OIP and OGIS. You will next hear from the Council's two committees, the Technology Committee and the Committee on Cross-agency Collaboration and Innovation. You will want to stay tuned in for a presentation from the chair and vice chair of the Chief Data Officers Council. We are excited to have them join us later this morning.
During the course of the meeting, we will pause and check in to see if there are any questions from our agency FOIA colleagues that come in via chat. We are also simultaneously live streaming today's meeting on the NARA YouTube channel, and we will be monitoring the chat functions both on WebEx and YouTube, so please chat any questions you may have. We have reserved time at the end of today's session for public comments. We will be opening the telephone lines at the end of our meeting for the last 15 minutes for any oral questions or comments from the public. We are monitoring the chat on WebEx and on our YouTube channel. We will read out loud any substantive questions or comments we receive from the public. At this time, I would like to introduce Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero.
David S Ferriero: Thank you, Alina. Good morning, and welcome from 700 Pennsylvania Avenue where we'd ordinarily be meeting, and I very much look forward to the day when we will actually welcome you back to this building. The National Archives is a shrine to American democracy and plays an important role in the Freedom of Information Act landscape. The National Archives is home to both the federal FOIA ombudsman office, OGIS, and to the Office of the Chief Records Officer of the United States government.
As the senior officials tasked with ensuring agency FOIA compliance, you know firsthand the crucial link between an excellent records management program and an efficient, responsive FOIA program. April 13th marked the 106th birthday of the late US representative, John Moss of California, who worked for six congressional sessions, 12 years, to get the original FOIA through Congress. In urging his house colleagues to vote for the measure in 1966, Representative Moss said, "We must remove every barrier to information about and understanding of government activities, consistent with our security if the American public is to be adequately equipped to fulfill the evermore demanding role of responsible citizenship."
55 years later, FOIA continues to play a role in helping Americans fulfill what Representative Moss called, "The demanding role of responsible citizenship." So it is important to note that one need not be a citizen to file a FOIA request. In fiscal year 2020, more than 790,000 FOIA requests were submitted to federal departments and agencies. Fulfilling these requests becomes more and more challenging as the amount of government information and data swells. Last summer, one of the four federal advisory committees here at the National Archives, the FOIA Advisory Committee, delivered to me 22 recommendations for improving FOIA administration. Two of those recommendations are directed at the Chief FOIA Officers Council. I'm pleased that the Council has already established a Committee on Cross-Agency Collaboration and Innovation, and I look forward to learning more about its agenda in the coming year, as well as the work of the Technology Committee.
Many of you have not been back in your offices since early March 2020. The last year has challenged all of us, but has also created opportunities to look at new ways of doing things. And I hope today's meeting sparks thought about opportunities for finding innovative ways to administer FOIA. As we enter our second year of physically distancing ourselves from one another, please continue to take care and stay safe. And I now turn the meeting back to Alina.
Alina M. Semo: David, thank you so much. Really appreciate that. Teagan, next slide, please. At this time, Bobby and I would to spend a few minutes providing an overview of the CFO landscape and CFO Council. Bobby, over to you.
Bobby, I think you're muted. Please unmute yourself.
Bobby Talebian: I'm sorry. I was just saying, can we go to the next slide please? Thank you.
Good morning again. And so Alina and I, we thought since we have so many new CFOs joining us ... we're looking forward to meeting our new CFOs and also thanking our veterans CFOs for joining us from today's meeting ... that we would take this opportunity to just briefly review the roles, the important roles of agency's Chief FOIA Officer and the Chief FOIA Officers Council.
The role of the CFO actually was first established by an executive order, but then later codified in the FOIA by the Open Government Act of 2007. And the FOIA specifically requires that each agency designate a Chief FOIA Officer who should be a senior official at the assistant secretary or equivalent level. Over the years, we have certainly seen the importance of this role and how critical it is in agency success in administering all aspects of the FOIA, from proactive disclosures to responding to requests. And in 2019, the Department of Justice issued a memo asking agencies to review their Chief FOIA Officer position to ensure that it is at the appropriate level. And so we've then followed that up by asking agencies to regularly review that position in their Chief FOIA Officer reports. Next slide.
The FOIA has specific responsibilities that it provides for the Chief FOIA Officers, but overall the Chief FOIA Officer role is meant to be a senior official responsible for ensuring the overall effectiveness and efficiency of your FOIA programs. The responsibilities listed here on this slide are directly from the statute, but as you can see, essentially the CFO should be in a position where they are regularly able to monitor all aspects of the agency's FOIA administration, and then either make changes or provide recommendations to the head of the agency to make adjustments in practices, policies, personnel and funding that may be necessary to ensure that you're continuing to improve your FOIA administration, and also making sure that your agency is efficient and appropriately applying the law.
Of course, we also look forward to working with the new Chief FOIA Officers and continue to work with our veteran Chief FOIA Officers here at the Department. And each year, agencies report to the Department of Justice through their Chief FOIA Officer report on five key areas of FOIA administration, implementing a presumption of openness, having effective systems for responding to requests, utilizing technology, continuing to increase proactive disclosures, and improving efficiency and timeliness. Next slide.
Alina M. Semo: So the next two slides, I'm going to cover. Continue the many responsibilities of the Chief FOIA Officers. And by now, I'm sure everyone is really exhausted. There's a lot to do. We are definitely aware that CFOs not only have a large number of responsibilities under FOIA, but that CFOs also wear several other hats at your respective agencies. So we know there's a lot going on and you have a lot to juggle.
But I wanted to highlight three bullets on this page. Training all agency staff, not only the personnel at your agency, and reminding that FOIA is everyone's responsibility remains critical, even today. And we do hope you will serve as our primary agency liaison with my office and Bobby's. But again, we understand you may need to delegate that, so long as we know who that is, but please check in with us and we're here to help you. And we thank you for designating FOIA public liaisons. Requesters tell us having a good FOIA public liaison makes a world of difference. Next slide please.
So on this next slide, a continuation of the CFO's responsibilities. Most agencies' FOIA regulations are up to date by now, but it is important to keep up with any changes that require updates to regulations. And proactive disclosures is a topic that the CFO Council has discussed in the past and that continues to be very important. And you'll be hearing about that at various points from us today. And of course, near and dear to my heart, dispute resolution services with OGIS or the FOIA public liaison, it remains very critical and a very important part of what OGIS does. Next slide, please.
Bobby Talebian: And of course, you are members of the Chief FOIA Officers Council and our Council meeting today. The Council is formally structured to have Alina and I as Directors of OIP at the Department of Justice and the Director of OGIS at National Archives to be the co-chairs and comprises the Deputy Director of Management at OMB, as well as each agency Chief FOIA Officer that's joining us today. The FOIA also allows us, as co-chairs, to designate other employees or officials. While this is the formal construct of the Chief FOIA Officers Council, we could not have the success we've had with this Council and across all of the initiatives that we have had without all the hard work of the FOIA officials that have joined us in these public meetings and have served on the committees and all the work that we're going to discuss today. Next slide.
So the FOIA also details specific responsibilities for the Chief FOIA Officers Council, and these are directly from the statute, to develop recommendations for increasing compliance and efficiency, sharing best practices and innovative approaches to FOIA, identifying and developing initiatives to increase transparency and promoting common performance measures. All in all, these responsibilities underscore the opportunity that we have here with the Council and to leverage all of our experiences across 118 agencies across the government that are implementing the law to share best practices, learn from each other, cross-collaborate, and find new ways to both make sure that we are all meeting the core purpose of the FOIA and improving our administration of the FOIA for the large volumes of requests agencies are getting from year to year. So we look forward to talking a little bit about what we've done for these responsibilities and also building on those. Next slide.
Alina M. Semo: So this may be a little repetitive of what Bobby has already said, but the Council is, again, a great opportunity for us to share updates from both OIP and OGIS and share best practices with each other and learn from each other. And also for the Council committees, I'm very excited that we now have two Committees to provide updates on their work. And as we will see later this morning, it's a great opportunity for us to collaborate with several other councils. Today, you will hear from the Chief Data Officers Council, and we hope that in the future we'll have other councils come and join us as well and present about their work. Next slide please.
So I am excited to report the Council now has stood up two committees. For a couple of years, only one committee existed. They started out as the Technology Subcommittee, and then we promoted them to a full Committee. The Committee on Cross-Agency Collaboration and Innovation is our newcomer, and we are going to hear from them later today, you will hear from both sets of co-chairs actually today, and we are very grateful for the work the co-chairs have already put in and will be putting in in the future. And please consider volunteering for one of the committees. You will be joining other FOIA colleagues who are passionate about improving the FOIA landscape overall. So you'll see contact information for the committee co-chairs later, and don't be shy. Sign up. Next slide, please, Bobby, over to you.
Bobby Talebian: Thank you. And then lastly, both OIP and OGIS serve as an important resource to agencies. And so we wanted to highlight for our new CFOs some points about our office and the resources and how we can help with your agency. So OIP is responsible for encouraging agency compliance with the FOIA in the Department's FOIA guidelines, as well as overseeing agency FOIA administration. And we carry this mission out in a number of ways, by issuing policy guidance on all aspects of FOIA administration, holding workshops and sharing best practices, providing training. I mentioned the Chief FOIA Officer is responsible for ensuring that agencies have sufficient training both for FOIA professionals and program personnel that are responsible for helping their agency implement the law.
Here at the Department of Justice, we provide established training for both FOIA and non-FOIA professionals, but we also are available to come to you, these days virtually, and provide tailored training specific to your agency and your agency's needs. We also manage your agency's FOIA reporting obligations and provide individual legal advice on FOIA matters through our FOIA Counselor Service line. Next slide.
There are a number of resources available on our website to you and all of our agency FOIA colleagues here ... on our website, we have all of our FOIA policy guidance, the Department of Justice Guide to the FOIA, which is a comprehensive legal treatise on all aspects of the law, from procedural requirements for active disclosures to exemption applicability. We regularly provide summaries of new court decisions so that agencies are up to date on the latest status of the law. And all this is on our FOIA website. You can also follow us on our FOIA blog posts for any new events, training, or any new events regarding FOIA. We also have FOIA training resources on our website that you can use at your agencies, as well as a self-assessment toolkit for objectively looking at your agency's FOIA programs. Also, we've managed, which I'll get to a little bit later, FOIA.gov, which is the government central website for FOIA. Next slide. Back to you, Alina.
Alina M. Semo: Thanks Bobby. So this is the world of OGIS all in one slide. While the concept of dispute resolution as a way to improve customer service and the FOIA process has been around for a number of years, Congress embraced dispute resolution in the Open Government Act of 2007, and created OGIS with the passage of the Open Government Act of 2007. And at the time of the passage and since, Congress has referred to us as the FOIA ombudsman.
We formally opened our doors in September 2009, and the statute gives us two very clear missions. First, we are responsible for reviewing agencies' FOIA policies, procedures, and compliance with the FOIA statutes, and identifying procedures and methods for improving FOIA compliance. We do so in a variety of ways, including targeted agency assessments, more general issue assessments through our work on the FOIA Advisory Committee, which I chair and which I will discuss a bit later this morning, and our work on this Council, the Chief FOIA Officers Council. I invite you to visit the compliance section of our website. There, you will find the 14 agency-specific assessments we have conducted so far, as well as eight issue assessments.
Second, we are charged with providing mediation services to help resolve disputes between requesters and federal agencies as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation. Last year, we received over 4,000 requests for assistance. The first thing to know about our dispute resolution program is that we do not dictate solutions or tell agencies they have to turn over records. Our mediation services are completely voluntary, and we have had both agencies and requesters participate or decline to participate. Most often, we act as the facilitator to help agencies and requesters better understand the issues and the other party's position. The statute specifically says our mediation services are a non-exclusive alternative to litigation. We try to prevent litigation by explaining the FOIA process, how the search was conducted, or an explanation of records withheld under each of the exemptions, but there's nothing in the statute that prevents a requester from filing a suit after going through our process.
Generally, once the case is in litigation, we are no longer involved, but a lot of times, the explanations we provide help requesters get a better understanding of the agency's response. So we also look to the agency to help us provide more detailed explanation. A number of requesters have told us that after they've worked with us, they understand why the information was withheld or why the agency search did not locate any records. So in short, we believe OGIS does work.
Other activities include outreach, regular meetings with our stakeholders, participating in range of training and teaching activities. And I want to pause and just note that up until the pandemic, we had been providing in-person training to help agency FOIA professionals prevent and resolve disputes without the need to evolve OGIS. Our training program on dispute resolution skills for agency FOIA professionals was extremely well-regarded and in high demand. However, the pandemic has caused us to retool and refocus our training, and we are working to move to an online virtual experience platform. We look forward to being able to roll that out in the not-too-distant future. Next slide, please.
Please follow us through our regular blog posts and our Twitter feed and visit our website, which is listed here on this side, for more information. Next slide please.
So we're going to pause for a minute, Bobby, just to check in with Martha to see if we have any questions on the chat so far.
Martha W. Murphy: No questions so far, other than things that I have addressed in the chat.
Alina M. Semo: Terrific. Thank you. So it sounds like everything's crystal clear. All right, Bobby, back over to you.
Bobby Talebian: Thank you, Alina. So we'll move onto the next item on our agenda, if you go to the next slide. And so we wanted to provide some updates and some reminders of some of the recent work and upcoming initiatives. Next slide.
First, as many of you know, last month, agencies published all of their annual FOIA report data, as well as their Chief FOIA Officer reports. As you can see here, all of the data has been uploaded to the FOIA.gov. And you can see here just as far as number of requests received and processed government-wide, agencies are still receiving a very high number, and over 700,000 requests received and processed. We did have a little bit of a dip there, but as illustrated, by a lot of the Chief FOIA Officer reports there are a lot of factors contributing to that, including the pandemic. Next slide.
So some upcoming reminders of FOIA reporting. First, I want to thank all the agencies and agency officials who've been working on their annual FOIA report for this past year and their Chief FOIA Officer report, especially the annual report I know is a large undertaking for a lot of agencies to validate and clear that data. And so we thank all these who worked on their data last year, and were able to timely provide their reports to the public so that we can load them on FOIA.gov. We look forward to, as in prior years, issuing a summary of government-wide annual FOIA report data very soon. We'll also this summer be issuing our annual summary and assessment of agencies' 2021 Chief FOIA Officer reports, and issuing any guidance based off the results of those reports. So please stay tuned for that. Also, this summer, we'll provide agencies with new reporting guidelines for the 2022 Chief FOIA Officer reports. All of this will be published on our FOIA blog posts and our website. So please follow our blog, our FOIA posts for notices about these events. Next slide.
Of course, we'll continue to work on FOIA.gov, the central website for FOIA for the public for the federal government's FOIA administration. Just a brief recap, 2011, we launched FOIA.gov as an open government initiative to serve as a dashboard for your agency's annual FOIA report data so that the public and agencies could easily review the annual FOIA data in open formats and in ways that they could compare your data over time and across agencies.
We built on that to make sure that that FOIA.gov served as more than just a dashboard, but an essential resource for the public to not only learn about your agency's FOIA operations through your annual FOIA data, but also more important, to learn about the FOIA process, have a place where they could search for records that have been posted that might help either meet their records request needs, or find the right agency to make the request, and also to have ... well, in 2018, then we launched the national FOIA portal on FOIA.gov, we added the functionality allowing requesters to not only have access to significant information and resources about each agency's FOIA administration, but have the ability to be able to make a request to any agency through this one single site.
In 2019, in order to achieve that goal given on the issue guidance for achieving interoperability with the national FOIA portal, and that directive requires that agencies who must, provided an exception by the end of this fiscal year, become fully interoperable with the FOIA. Next slide.
So we have been working directly with your agencies to ensure that you're on the path to be able to become interoperable. But as a reminder, there's two forms of interoperability with the national FOIA portal. If your agency has an automated case management system, you're required to work to implement the FOIA.gov API so that the requests that are made through FOIA.gov to your agency are directly ingested into your case management system. Agencies with not automated solutions, primarily those agents who have a very small numbers of requests, are required to achieve interoperability by being able to accept from FOIA.gov a structured email that provides the request.
As I mentioned, the directive requires that agencies become interoperable with either of these approaches by the end of this fiscal year. And we'll continue to work with and communicate with agencies to make sure you can meet this requirement. I encourage you to please reach out to us if you have any questions or any issues arise as you're working to achieve interoperability. Next slide.
We've also been working on enhancing and building on our work on the site on different pages of the site. Specifically earlier this year, we launched a new, redesigned ... an update to the annual FOIA report data page. The new page, taking direct user feedback, now is much more streamlined and combines all the functionality in a much more intuitive way where you can make both basic ... run basic reports on your agency's data, but also more advanced reports as well, comparing multiple agencies against each other, or filtering down ... filtering the data that you want per agency. Next slide.
We highlighted this at the last Chief FOIA Officers Council meeting, but we're also very excited to continue our work with GSA 10x team. In working to find us a solution that helps improve the searchability of the records posted in your agencies' FOIA libraries. So essentially allowing requesters to be able to search across all agencies' FOIA libraries for information that is already posted online to help proactively meet their records requests needs, or to potentially be able to help identify the correct agency where they may want to make the request, or to even ... also to help them maybe make a more targeted request based off the information that's already practically disclosed.
We're excited to just have launched now into our phase two of this project with the 10x team, which will be a much more robust discovery phase. And we'll include a lot of opportunity for us to engage with both the public requesters and agencies in getting direct user feedback on what this could look like and what would be the most helpful and efficient, effective way for us to develop this solution. Next slide.
We're also looking forward to now, as the next project, updating the quarterly report data page, similar to the annual FOIA report data page to make it more streamlined and to make it easier for agencies to provide their data directly through their FOIA.gov accounts.
Now that we're coming to a phase where agencies are becoming interoperable with FOIA.gov, we're also taking a fresh look at a discovery of additional functionality that would make this site more robust and more efficient and more effective for both requesters and agencies. And both for the 10x and our additional discovery, we're looking forward to meeting with you and hearing your needs in discussing potential solutions and impacts on your FOIA administration, as well as meeting with requesters in the public. So we will be reaching out, but if you have a specific interest in working on these projects with us, this is a great opportunity for us to be able to hear from you directly what could be helpful in implementing into our process your agency's specific needs. So please feel ... please reach out to us at OIP if you are interested in being a part of any of these projects on FOIA.gov. Next slide.
We are also still working and planning on updating our FOIA assessment toolkit. New modules to come soon ...
Bobby Talebian: Updating our FOIA assessment toolkit, new modules to come on practice disclosures and the administrative appeal process. We're also incorporating technology into each of the modules, as well as providing a new format so that it's even easier for you to use the assessment where there would be a fillable version where it auto-populates information, and it's much easier for agencies to use the toolkit.
Of course, lastly, I wanted to highlight, we recently, just this past March, had a new Supreme court decision on Exemption 5. And as you all know, Exemption 5 incorporates into the FOIA the civil discovery privileges, and it has two requirements. The threshold requirement that information be intra- interagency as well as for there to be a civil discovery privilege that applies. Here, the court focused on the deliberative process privilege and which applies when information is predecisional and deliberative. The court's decision focuses on the predecisional element. And not to get too much into it with the time that we have today, but we are going to issue guidance on the impact of this, the court's decision, and that'll be coming up soon. So stay tuned for that, as well.
With that I'll just pause to see if there are any questions.
Martha W. Murphy: There's no questions on the chat, yet.
Alina M. Semo: Okay. We've obviously got a very quiet audience today, Bobby.
Bobby Talebian: That's all right. We'll have the time at the end, too, for any questions. So if anyone has any problems, we've kind of gone through, please feel free to chime in at any time. But with that, I will hand it over to Alina.
Alina M. Semo: Yes. Thank you. Next slide please.
Okay. So my turn to give some updates to everyone listening, joining us today. Some OGIS updates.
Next slide please.
One of several ways that OGIS tries to improve the administration of FOIA is through our work on the FOIA Advisory Committee, which I chair. The OIP Director, Bobby, most recently, has been a continuous member of that committee. The Committee brings together members of the FOIA community from inside and outside of government to collaboratively identify the greatest challenges in the administration of FOIA and develop recommendations for the Archivist of the United States.
There have been three complete terms of the committee thus far: 2014 to 2016; 2016 to 2018; 2018 to 2020. You get the idea. Every two years. The current committee term, 2020 through 2022, is in full swing. And four subcommittees have been working hard: Legislation, Process, Classification, and Technology. They're all actively engaged and meeting on a regular basis.
We have created a terrific recommendations dashboard in order to keep track of the great work the committee has done since its inception in 2014. I have included the link here.
My thanks to my wonderful staff at OGIS. I'm going to give a shout out to our compliance team. In particular, Kirsten Mitchell, the compliance team lead, and Christa Lemelin [L 00: 34: 44] compliance team member who has really been working hard on this dashboard, and also keeping it up because that's part of the battle here.
Next slide please.
So as of today, the Committee has made a total of 30 recommendations to the Archivist, and we have advanced over 35 best practices. They cover a broad range of topics, all designed to improve the FOIA process and access to government documents.
Here, we have grouped them by general category.
And this is just a snapshot from our website. And you can view all of this information and more.
Next slide, please.
So as you can see from this graph, we consider 6 of the recommendations completed. 19 are in progress, and 5 are pending. In other words about those 5 that are pending, we have ideas about how to get them started, but there are only so many hours in a day. I want to address 5 of the 19 recommendations that are already in progress.
Here at the National Archives the pandemic has affected us as dramatically as at other federal agencies, but because a number of National Archives employees deal directly with members of the public, at research rooms, museums, presidential libraries... They've had to retool during remote-only work.
Now employees have been redeployed to other important projects that can be accomplished remotely. And OGIS, in particular, has been lucky enough to be able to draw the interest of five different NARA employees who are assisting with five of the Committee's recommendations, three assessments, and two training projects. I'm just going to list them very quickly.
Recommendation number 2020-01 is the first recommendation of the 2018-2020 term, is an assessment of what information agencies publish on their FOIA websites to help requesters with the FOIA filing process. This project will build on results of NARA's records management self-assessment that we conducted in early 2020 by assessing compliance against guidance from OIP. And this project will inform further guidance on how agencies can improve online descriptions of the FOIA process. So it will be forthcoming from OIP at a later date.
The second assessment is an annual performance plan view for 15 cabinet-level departments and 103, I understand now maybe there's 104, independent agencies to see if these annual performance plans mention the FOIA. This project seeks a review of all of these annual performance plans, and follow-up to be expected with a handful of agencies that do include FOIAs. And [inaudible 00: 37: 40] mention the FOIA, rather, in their performance plans to assist OGIS, and possible recommendations to the legislative and executive branches. This is recommendation number 7 from the last term.
The third assessment is to help identify ways some federal agencies use to allow access to common categories of first-party records without requiring a request under the FOIA and Privacy Act. I will also mention that the current committee term is also looking at this as well, and is hard at work. But we're getting started, and building on the results of the 2021 Chief FOIA Officer reports that Bobby mentioned earlier, which asks agencies to provide a description of the types of first-party requests that they receive, and whether agency officials have explored establishing alternate means of access to those records outside the FOIA process. So we will be looking to those results. This is recommendation number 14.
There are two training models that we're going to be working on in collaboration with our Chief Records Officers training office. And we're very thankful for their help, and also in close collaboration with OIP.
The first one is the development of briefings for senior leaders during transition to a new administration, or any change in senior leadership that happens from time to time, to provide an understanding of FOIA resources, obligations, and expectations, as well as records management.
Opportunities exist for at-a-glance resources for our new Chief FOIA Officers, as well as Senior Agency Officials for Records Management, SAORMs as we like to fondly refer to them, as well as political appointees. This is recommendation number 6.
The second training module is a development of targeted training and federal records management for FOIA officers and FOIA professionals, as well as the FOIA module, which already exists, in part, in federal records management training that the National Archives already has available. We'll be adding to that. For all federal employees in accordance with both FOIA and the Federal Records Act. The training will focus on adequate documentation, agency file plans, and records schedules. Electronic record keeping, NARA's capstone policy for email record keeping, and best practices for conducting electronic record searches. Work on all aspects of these recommendations is underway, and we are excited to see the end-product which we will share with everyone when they're ready for prime time.
Next slide, please.
We have three upcoming opportunities for both FOIA professionals and members of the public to learn more about what is happening in the FOIA realm.
On May 6, our colleagues at the CDC will be discussing how they perform enterprise-wide FOIA searches in response to requests, and responding to questions and comments.
On May 12, OGIS is holding its annual open meeting where we will be discussing our annual report, which we hope to have finalized and published on our website by that date.
And on June 10, the FOIA Advisory Committee will hold its next public meeting with report-outs from all four subcommittees that I described earlier.
So please tune in for all those events.
Information is already up... The legislation link is already up for the CDC event, and registration information will be forthcoming, so please follow us on our event pages on the OGIS website.
Next slide please.
So I'm going to pause for a second, now, to see if there are any questions on any of this before we move forward. Martha, I need that question.
Martha W. Murphy: Yes, we did have a question that goes back to Bobby's presentation. What advice do you have for benchmarking? I understand there are deadlines and best practices. Is there a way to compare performance on various metrics with comparable agencies or components across the government? The averages and totals are less informative for comparison purposes.
Bobby Talebian: Yes. Thank you for that question. That's a great question.
So a couple of resources that I mentioned for that, specifically... One is I would encourage agencies of similar size and nature, they can compare their data with similar colleague agencies on FOIA.gov. So you can see a large, decentralized agency versus medium/small agency, how your colleagues are used to doing, but specifically, as far as benchmarking, we do emphasize certain milestones in the Chief FOIA Officer reports that OIP then subsequently assesses. In a particular thing, like your average processing time for simple requests, we want that to be as close as 20 days as possible, and so we score agency based off of that.
The number of requests you process compared to prior years, your backlog, not just in terms of reducing backlog, but what proportion of your requests are backlogs, as well as your progress on closing your oldest requests. Your 10 oldest requests, your 10 oldest administrative appeals, and your 10 oldest consultations.
So our summary in assessment of prior years, Chief FOIA Officer reports, are on our reports web page.
Also, the new guidelines for 2021 are on our page, as well as milestones that we are going to be assessing from year to year. So I would look to those as metrics and milestones to work towards every year as benchmarks.
Martha W. Murphy: [crosstalk 00: 43: 45] Okay. Thank you. Thank you so much. All right.
Alina M. Semo: So I think we're running about five minutes early, Bobby. That's a first for us.
So hopefully we’ve got on deck, Eric Stein and Michael Sarich, who are our co-chairs of the Technology Committee. And on the agenda, next, they are going to be giving us some updates. So I'm going to turn it over to them without much further ado, and ask our event producer to please go to the next slide.
All right, Eric and Michael you're on. Thanks.
Eric F. Stein: Thank you, Alina. Thank you, Bobby. Good morning everyone. My name is Eric Stein, and I'm joined by my colleague Mike Sarich. We're the co-chairs of the Chief FOIA Officers Council Technology Committee. We want to thank you for your time this morning. We put together a presentation to cover what this Committee has been doing since the last briefing of this group. Keeping in mind that some of you have not ever attended this meeting before, and those of you who are joining us again, we'll pick up where we left off last time.
We want to thank you for your leadership and support in your respective agencies for the various FOIA programs, particularly with an eye on technology. And we'll be covering a variety of topics, including what we've accomplished and what's coming up next.
So with that, I'm going to turn it over to Mike Sarich. And if we can go to the next slide, please.
Mike Sarich: Good morning. And thanks, Eric.
The Technology Committee is a creation of the FOIA Advisory Committee that Alina was just discussing. And that body recommends to the Archivist that FOIA leaders study the utilization and deployment of technology in FOIA programs across agencies, and identify the best practices, and make some recommendations that can be implemented government-wide. And that's just what we're doing.
We have over 40 members from at least 25 different departments and agencies, and we're always on the lookout for new members and fresh ideas. So now I'd like to run through our organization and kind of give you an idea of our focus areas for the Committee on the next slide.
So for me, it's a real privilege to be able to share the work of our members. Our group is an action-oriented body dedicated to providing tools to FOIA professionals. And the contributions from these working groups are already paying dividends in the FOIA family.
So initially, the Technology Committee put together a global look at the intersection between FOIA and technology. And we published that report last February. With that global perspective established we've pivoted to focus on seven key areas that I'll kind of walk through, now.
The first one is FOIA searches. So how technology can assist with the adequacy of search, documenting searches, and how technology is considered, you know, when you're thinking about how to, and where to, search.
The next two, I'll take together. The FOIAXpress and FOIAonline. These groups exist to identify recommendations to improve these top products, to better support FOIA processing throughout federal agencies using these tools. Because we have a body of folks using the same tool, we can kind of bring those folks together and solve our common problems and look for solutions to common challenges.
The next one is artificial intelligence. We provide tools to educate FOIA professionals about artificial intelligence, answer questions raised by various FOIA professionals and their agencies about the most appropriate AI tools. And as Eric will share in the accomplishments, we've already had some very successful presentations on AI in the FOIA space, how it can be used for your agency, and so on.
The next piece is 508 compliance and collaborative tools. This is a really interesting action-oriented group that's focused on two areas of attention in the FOIA space. The first is kind of the explosion in IT tools, and the implications in record production and improving processes. The hurdles that 508 compliance can be for some agencies are addressed, so we can seek to put out as much information to the public and our transparency mission as possible.
The next one is FOIA and classified information. Those are FOIA issues involving how technology is used for classified, classifiable, and then, of course, the classified information in the IT community.
And finally video redactions. We're reviewing current practices, challenges, and advances in their view, redaction, and release of video footage. We have an explosion of that record-type being requested across the federal family, and there are challenges inherent in the production of those record requests.
So each of these groups has a charter that guides its work. And now Eric will guide you through some of the accomplishments of these groups, and the next slide. So back to you, Eric.
Eric F. Stein: Okay, well, thank you, Mike. We have accomplished quite a bit, despite the challenges of the pandemic. Technology has been that much more important to all of us in so many different ways, whether it be at work or in our own personal lives.
And if you look through here, we picked up in November 2020 with our presentation that month on artificial intelligence. And our chair for our AI working group led a presentation, a virtual workshop, an AI-101 session if you will, to get our employees throughout the government familiar with concepts of artificial intelligence.
People jump to very specific interpretations of what they think AI is. We work to debunk certain myths and say, here's what AI can do in a federal record landscape, and here's how it could potentially be helpful in FOIA. And in recent discussions, we've come across a lot of interest in, not just using AI machine learning and different concepts to help find and locate records, but also in how to apply redactions on records. And while there's still a lot of work to be done, with either the tools available or federal agencies, there's definitely appetite and interest in leveraging technology more, with the work of our employees, of course, to execute FOIA requests.
So this session was excellent because it really provided a primer about AI, and an opportunity for FOIA professionals to come together and ask questions about anything on their mind, and kind of put their guard down and say, okay, what do we know about AI and what don't we know, and how can it really be used in FOIA? And is it being used at all our agencies, right now, for FOIA?
Fast forwarding a little bit to January. And in between November and January timeframe, we continue to work on our charters for the various working groups. As we've briefed this body before each of our working groups has a charter, and they're publicly available on the OGIS Technology Committee website.
The charters were designed so each group has a clear, defined scope, and a list of deliverables. And after we achieve and complete those deliverables, we're going to determine whether we keep some of these working groups going or sunset them, and then create new ones for emerging topics as they come out from our discussions from meetings like this, or just as they emerge as FOIA work progresses.
So in January we finalized our working-group charters. We started the research for those deliverables. A lot of these charters had similar research deliverables, where our members of our committee... And just a quick shout out to those of you joining us today, I see several of you on the participants list here, thank you for joining us. None of this works without our wonderful members who take time out of their days to come work with us and collaborate on these issues.
So our charters, almost all of them, had a research component where we looked at past Chief FOIA Officer reports, the most recent ones, other publicly available information, liaising and talking with other federal agencies, many of you here today, and sometimes just getting feedback even from the public and other groups with different concepts and ideas, and taking that back and discussing it.
So that's what we're doing in January. And then February, we ultimately published the charters online. So again, here's a link to it. If you're interested in reading about those charters and what we're doing in those groups, you can read about them using that link.
Next slide please.
So in March, we were very fortunate that we were able to participate in two of the OIP best practices workshops. First one in the intelligence community. And another one with the broader FOIA community that doesn't work on national security information. It was a very great discussion for FOIA practitioners to discuss some of the challenges at the start of the pandemic, what we've been doing in the year since, and what we're going to be doing moving forward.
And the Technology Committee was able to listen to feedback from the different agencies and the different experience from the panelists. And then take that back to our respective working groups and incorporate into our research and deliverables.
With that. Michael, I'm going to turn over to you because April, 2021, this is really something that you've been leading. So why don't you talk about the draft video redaction paper and where we are with that?
Mike Sarich: Great, thanks Eric.
So, as we mentioned, each of the charters have deliverables. And one of the ones that we've just recently wrapped up the draft of is the video redaction paper discussion. And just to give you a 30,000 foot view of some of the issues that the video redaction group has worked with is record retention schedules.
Some record retention schedules for closed circuit television might be 30 days, whereas others might be 75 years past incident in a law enforcement context. So dealing with just that scope of what is available for a legitimate FOIA request or protected FOIA request to ask for those records and whether you have to produce them or not, you know, as long as they depend on the record control schedule. The different technologies that are available to FOIA practitioners to handle these types of requests. Do you have a Ferrari type thing with all kinds of bells and whistles that you can make the next iteration of The Mandalorian on? Or do you need something that's a little bit more stripped down that can functionally get you from point A to point B without having all of those additional bells and whistles.
It's an important topic that implicates both budgets, training, and the ability to have the folks in your FOIA teams or on your FOIA shop, they can actually do this work in their current roles and with their current skillsets.
So there are a number of issues that the video redaction draft paper addressed. And we're looking forward to getting that out to the wider FOIA community. And what that really does, I think, highlight as they're often talked about, the action-oriented nature of this Committee in terms of getting tools out into the hands of people, into the hands of the FOIA practitioners across the federal family.
And I'm really excited to share that the other working committees, the other working groups, are making just as fast progress, and their deliverables that are in the charters are on their way toward being met in the coming quarters.
So with that, we'll talk about some of our kind of key findings to-date. And we'll toss it to you, Eric, to talk about the misconceptions in searches. On the next slide, please.
Eric F. Stein: So here, building off of what Mike just said, this is kind of where the rubber meets the road. In addition to having some of our draft papers and deliverables now being circulated and prepared for public release according to the charter deadlines, which we're striving to accomplish. And you can check on that website to see those, for when we post those respective papers.
We've been doing a lot of engagement with other agencies, and having done the backend, I think we started in late 2018, we started the Technology Committee? And having worked through a year without the pandemic, the pandemic, and here we are now, we're learning a lot and we're seeing more and more buy-in and engagement from our colleagues and many of you here with us, today.
So the first point, here, is probably one of the biggest findings we've had since our last meeting. And that is, there are major, major misconceptions about the ability of federal agencies to conduct searches of the electronic records for FOIA cases. And we say this to share, for your awareness, these misconceptions can really skew opinions and thoughts and understandings, and lead to frustration, even among requesters. They think that they contact an agency, and we just hit a button and we can search in a federated way all the different databases and archives in your custody. And those of us in FOIA know that's not the case the overwhelming majority of the time. And we bring this up because we have a Searches Working Group that's been discussing this, that will have the deliverable, themselves. But understanding this from a dialogue, especially with the public, that we just can't hit search on the terms you give us in one place.
We have to search many, many places. We have lots of different records coming in. Then you have challenges of duplication of large volumes of electronic records, electronic data, different data sets that may not be compatible, and all types of formatting and other challenges.
This was eye opening for us because, going back to our AI-101 primer, we may want to do something related to the electronic search capabilities to kind of lay out, here's what our capabilities are. And we do want to respond to requests that come in, but there are limits on what we are and are not able to do. And I think also people will see that there's technology, and really sophisticated advanced technology out in the private sector and in different places, and they may assume that we have those same capabilities in different federal agencies. That's not the case.
I mean, some of you here, today, may, in addition to being your Chief FOIA Officer, or just your FOIA Officer or agency, serving the privacy office, or you have another role in the IT department, or you may be wearing many hats. And so this may just be one of your many responsibilities. In some of the other agencies here, you are the Chief FOIA Officer role, and you have to work with your Chief Data Officers or your Chief Information officers. In some cases, you are the Chief Information Officers. So the federal landscape is a little bit different in each agency.
So this was a pretty big eye opening discovery. We had some discussions with the public and other agencies. And we're going to continue to build on providing clear understanding of, here's what we're able to do, and I'm working with our federal agency partners to execute the best possible searches given the technology available.
Michael, over to you.
Mike Sarich: Sure. And really what we've seen in many ways is the ability of events, as we all know in the FOIA space, events in the news, drive, and can drive, FOIA requests. So certainly agencies like the Centers for Disease Control, and others, and [inaudible 00: 59: 01] administration, we've seen a tremendous uptick in requests related to COVID.
Likewise, with a number of events that have happened in the community over the last year we've seen an uptick in requests for video. Whenever you see things on the news at large gatherings, folks... Almost invariably there's a federal presence there taking video of that event, either for evidentiary purposes or for whatever purpose, a legitimate governmental purpose, there is to engage in that activity. So what we've seen, again, is an explosion in the interest of, how do I process this request, because it is a federal record created in the course of business operations, and we're hanging on to this and we're using this in our operations.
Now we have an affirmative obligation upon request to produce this information. Oftentimes we have a desire to proactively disclose this information, and we want to make sure that we're protecting the relevant privacy interests of the folks in hand. And so this has really been a huge issue for us, which is one of the reasons, as I mentioned previously, why I'm so excited about the work of the video redaction committee, and getting this paper out into the hands of the practitioners across the federal family.
Eric, you touched on search, already, with this and the importance of it. Would you like to talk about classification, getting that information out, as well, as we move forward?
Eric F. Stein: Sure. We did touch on search a little bit already, so I won't go into too much detail there. But just to say, from our discussions of the Search Working Group, one of the things we're finding is we really wanted to highlight best practices and what works at the agencies, and beyond. Just like we use these terms, or we use Boolean logic, or we use... What tools or capabilities exist.
What we found is it's been easier and a little bit more productive in discussions to highlight challenges we are facing, especially in this remote hybrid onsite telework environment. And so we're really starting to drill down on what are the search capabilities the agencies can perform remotely, and which ones require onsite work.
And that ties nicely into classification. On classified information... Of course, we can't go into classified information for a whole bunch of reasons, here, but we can talk about their challenges that agencies that deal with classified information, or the declassification of information for public release through FOIA. And what we were even looking at just very much staying in the lane of classification FOIA, because there are a lot of bodies looking at classification, declassification matters.
But with regard to FOIA, when you have classified information, how different agencies are able to work with one another with the technology they have, move records, comment, liaise, provide feedback on referrals and consultations, some of the challenges and limits of technology given that some agencies have more people on site than others...
What can be done right now and what could be done when we are in a better place in the pandemic and more people are on site and able to process this information. And I think one of the biggest and most interesting things coming out of this group is again, if and how we can leverage a technology like AI or Technology Assisted Review in the future to help identify records that may be responsive. So for example, if you're looking up a specific topic and you do a search of an archive or database, and you use three terms using technology that'll help you find, maybe records that don't use those three terms, but are very much related to that topic on classified systems, which has its own challenges. And it's probably as much as we can say about that right now, but really good discussion, really nice group of employees working throughout the federal landscape on the classification and declassification environment.
And finally, actually I'll say one more thing. We are looking to make sure we're leveraging work already being done by agencies' declassification programs, which do review millions of pages annually for their 25 year review requirements for Executive Order one, three, five, two, six, and otherwise. So a whole lot of interesting stuff being done in this area, but still very much constrained by the pandemic.
And finally, or at least finally for me at least before we turn it back over to Mike on this slide, AI, Artificial Intelligence, and going back to this that we're seeing more and more in articles and coverage about AI and what AI is doing. What we found pretty much is that AI is being leveraged in some agencies, a small number. Mainly more in records areas, not so much FOIA yet, but it's coming. We can see that there are certain tools and applications for case processing where AI is going to be available.
It was not available already, and will be deployed more in the future. And this is going to be important because as we search these large volumes of electronic archives and get thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, millions of potentially responsive records, the amount of time it takes to manually go through that large volume makes FOIA almost impossible in certain instances. And we need to figure out a way to work through the challenges of large volumes of data, a steady stream of incoming requests as Bobby showed in that chart earlier. Despite the pandemic, we still received over 700,000 requests as a government this year, and how to leverage technology in an ethical, responsible and careful way that helps get to the intent of the FOIA law and transparency. But while also making sure that we protect the information that needs to be protected appropriately, on privacy and other sensitivities.
So, what we're going to do next for our Artificial Intelligence group, we're looking at a couple of things. One is to have some sort of AI for federal employees, the part two training, if you will, building off of this initial primer. Here's what AI is.
And then also looking at, and this is a nice tee up for Mike to take over here. What's out there in the private sector and for the public. What tools are out there, what technology, and what capabilities? And equally important, the needs of different agencies vary so much that there are a lot of great solutions we've already seen out there, but then figuring out how did they become customizable and tailored to the needs of a specific agency in their IT environment, in their own ecosystems, interoperability, all the challenges. There are a lot of great tools, but they don't necessarily fit within agencies IT infrastructure and landscape. So, understanding better what's out there, how to leverage in GSA schedules that may provide access to certain tools. And with that, Mike I'm going to kick it back over to you for the final item on the slide because I think we're now ready for vendor data discussion.
Mike Sarich: Great. Thanks Eric, I appreciate that. And as Eric mentioned, artificial intelligence is kind of, for some folks anyway, it's this mystical almost magic type of a topic. And when we see a hundred plus agencies and multiples of that number, organizations running FOIA programs faced with the same challenges that everyone else faces with different levels of resources and different levels of bandwidth to be able to kind of attack this issue and this challenge, is kind of this mandated requirement that we have to do, and we have to produce these records in 20 days and get these things out and be as transparent as possible. We see a huge diversity in ability. And, so one of the things that we believe in is as a core is equity, and kind of leveling the playing field, providing an opportunity for FOIA practitioners across the entire federal family, to be on the same page with everyone else, in terms of knowing all of the best practices, having access to the tools that they need to tackle their mission.
And so a piece of that is preparing a virtual, slash, vendors, slash, technology event, where we can present all of these tools to the FOIA community. The best of the best there to do that. Now, as we all know, that's fraught with challenges and making sure that all the T's are crossed and I's are dotted. It's especially more complicated in the pandemic world to make sure that everyone that needs to be consulted is consulted, that everything is done in accordance with multiple sets of regulations. And so we're very fortunate and blessed to have Bobby and Alina to work with on this. And the goal here is coming up here in the fall to have a virtual vendor technology event, so folks who may be in a small shop, or maybe in a big shop, can have access to and see the diversity tools.
You know, you may be in a shop where you're locked into one tool. For example, I'm at the Veteran's Health Administration, we have an office information technology and they selected the tool. So when I came to work, that's what I have. But if I would like to advocate for a different tool or for other tools, then it's critical that I know about them. And then I'm able to connect with other people in the federal family who have used that tool perhaps, or who have had some experience in that area. And so having this kind of community day, this day where folks can kind of come together, ask questions, get the best information, that kind of candid advice from someone who may be using product A or product B and learn. We're still working out details on how all of that would comply with all the appropriate rules and regulations governing these events.
But, we think that this can be potentially transformative because again, the diversity of programs is so great. A hundred plus programs, multiples of that, folks working as a lead FOIA Officer and in a program, and so you might be in a different, a component of an agency running a large volume FOIA office, but you don't have the opportunity to connect and liaise with different folks and learn about these different products. So, I think that's a really important piece that we're going to be able to do, and we're excited to bring that thanks to the great work of the folks on our Committee. We're excited to be able to bring that to the FOIA community. And as Eric mentioned earlier, we have some of our great Committee members as participants watching this. This work couldn't be done without their great work, without the hard work of each and every one of those members, 40 plus members on the committee. So we're really, really appreciative of that. And so we'll move to the next slide and talk about the things that we're going to be doing in the future and our next steps.
Eric F. Stein: Sure Mike. Before we go there, I just want to go back to your point on the vendor day, whether you're a large agency or a small agency. One of the things we've really worked hard to do is make connections. We get contacted by smaller agencies where it's a one-person shop doing all these things. So, what we do is try to put you in touch with other small agencies or share what we've learned from these discussions. And a lot of it is the agencies will share with us, here's how we handled the solution. Sometimes it's helpful, sometimes it's not, but we tend to find more times than not, it's helpful to collaborate and just know that you can come to this group. We're such a large group in terms of the 40 some odd members in different agencies.
The FOIA community in the grand scheme of things is so small, we're able to put different offices in touch because we do get contacted about ... We get many questions about, I don't have resources to do this, or it might just point out my CIO shop or my IT shop put this together, and here's what I have. For those of you here today, if you are the Chief FOIA Officer and you haven't done any outreach to your IT shop, or your Chief Data Officer, or there's different, components that may be relevant to your FOIA program, we really, really encourage you to do so. Don't underestimate the value and importance of that leadership role that you're in and what we hear from our members of our committee, and even just FOIA practitioners, is having that support from leadership on high really makes a big difference for, at least identifying solutions or teaming up issues for potential solutions and even morale in general. And even just with those two things, sometimes we're able to resolve problems. So Mike, [crosstalk 00: 09: 27] the first year, please.
Mike Sarich: Sure thing. And just to give you guys a real quick thumbnail, best use case study for this. Recently, we have four different agencies, one that has successfully implemented the tool, and three that were considering the implementation of this tool. They'd already bought it and they're working on, kind of their go live schedule. So, talk about the best practices and implementing that tool. So, hey, what worked for you? What didn't work for you? What did you find useful? What drove metrics when you implemented this portion of that tool? What really was the biggest bang for your buck when you did that? And to be able to have that kind of candid conversation among FOIA professionals, you had that forum for professionals to come together and candidly share the pitfalls and the highs that they were able to achieve using these products has been really, really important.
So it's just a quick, best use case or use cases of the power of this Committee to be able to bring people together. So talking about our next steps, as we mentioned, we have deliverables in the charters and they're posted on our website that we had in the link earlier. As we begin to put those out, so for example, video redaction papers should be out very shortly. We're going to post those there, and we'll do everything we can to make sure folks understand that these are out and about. So please be looking for those. And these are volunteers that have come together to improve the FOIA community. All of these volunteers that we have on this committee are fantastic. Eric and I are the two guys that are fortunate enough and lucky enough to be able to share their good work, but really the work that's gone on by these guys has been fantastic. So, that's what we're going to be doing with the draft deliverables. And then Eric can talk us through some of the workshops that we're planning.
Eric F. Stein: Sure. So building on the AI session we already mentioned, we'll have a follow up for AI for FOIA professionals. And again, one of the things our committee is focused on is building up connections among the FOIA practitioners with an eye on technology and the tools. So we have this AI event scheduled, and we're looking at a potential for other events based on the various working groups we have. First thing, I think for most of our charters and our deliverables, we want to get the initial papers out and then see what type of response, if any, we get. And whether that leads to what happens often is after we do our research, we draft the papers and start drafting, and we see if there might be an appetite for a discussion on searching electronic archives or how to work with classified information, which is hard remotely, or AI in general, and where exactly we start because if we just jump in saying, all right, here's how to use AI for FOIA. And you're an agency that doesn't even have any ... Well, I just need a case processing system, or I still use Excel to track my cases. We can really miss the mark there.
So, we're looking at right now, the next upcoming event would be the AI one, but the other ones could be the different search areas. But we also want input from all of you, whether it be from you specifically as the Chief FOIA Officers, or your proxies, or your employees, and that'll steer the ship as to what we do next. And then going back to the vendor day, to you Mike for a sec. One thing, the point you made before about building off of the vendor day and the connections, even looking at shared solutions across the government, where if one agency has a technical capability that may have cost a good amount of money to purchase, before we have another agency go out and purchase a tool for something they may use once or twice or three times a year, if ever. Instead of wasting money in building and going and purchasing a tool you'll use once or twice, maybe leveraging agreements across agencies.
And this might be something for our colleagues and our other committee here, as the reports to this body to look at, how can we leverage those agreements for technical solutions? So we can leverage mean budget as much as possible. So Mike, back over to you.
Mike Sarich: Yeah. And what we're here in part is to solicit feedback and input by all these Chief FOIA Officers. If there's a product that you think that we should be going after, on vendor day, and saying, Hey, we use this product. It's really been beneficial to us in driving performance. We've been able to hit metrics A, B and C because of this product. We've been able to either transform operations, or this has been a consistent workhorse for years that we've used. And we think that other agencies could probably benefit from this because ultimately at the end of the day, we're all working towards making Bobby's presentations even better and better, right. Watching that the Delta between the request received in process, making sure that that process is over received and backlogs are going down, and so on.
So, if you've got a tool, or you've got an idea, we want to hear from you, right? We want to hear from you. We want to give voice to your voice. We want to amplify your voice. We want to make sure that we really are sharing the best of the best. So, if there's something that you know about and you have an idea and say, Hey, this would really be beneficial for the larger family to know about. Please send it along. And likewise, as we identify new areas and working groups for 2022 as the working groups that we have that focus right now on those seven key areas. As their work wraps up, these are very energetic folks. And we've got a lot of people that are working to continue the iterative process of improving the FOIA programs and FOIA processes across the federal family.
If there's an area in your program, where it'd be really great if we had a systemic look at this on a governmental level about issue A or B, something that you may have worked on your entire career, or something that may have just popped up. Then please, send that to us because we're a body with open ears and active arms. We're working all oars in the water, growing to get to where we need to go, and I can't get there without, kind of active input. So that's kind of why we're here. So we'll toss it back to you Eric to talk more about kind of soliciting feedback from the FAC, FOIA Advisory Committee and others.
Eric F. Stein: Sure. Just our point here is we're interested in feedback from all of you today. I understand there may be at least one or two questions in the chat. So we will open up for questions in a moment, but we're soliciting feedback from the FOIA Advisory Committee, previously mentioned by Alina, is the separate body that is a public and private partnership that all of you with this Chief FOIA Officer, all the Chief FOIA Officers here, federal agencies and the public. So, if you do think of anything just to reiterate Mike's point, please do share with us. And our contact information is on, I think, one of the final slides, speaking of which we did add in an appendix slide here that we're not covering today. It's in the slide deck.
It just shows what we briefed this body on, previously on what we accomplished between our last meeting and the previous meeting. And for some of you, you may already be familiar with it, but if you're new, we do encourage you to take a look at what we have been up to. And it has the long timeline of what we've been able to get done over the past year. So, why don't we go to the next slide, please.
All right. So here's the contact information I just mentioned. And at this point, I think we're going to open it up for questions. There's I understand at least one in the chat and anything else, any other questions that have come in, so.
Martha W. Murphy: Hi, this is Martha. Yes, we did get one question in the chat, which I think you addressed a little bit, but I'm going to read it out. Regarding misconceptions, has the committee addressed differences that small agencies face with technology challenges? You mentioned the vast differences across the government regarding searching various databases, et cetera. The small agencies have even fewer resources available. And this also applies to vendor technology access. This person's annual budget is less than $10 million, so they can't really afford a lot of solutions. Again, I think you've touched on this a little bit, but perhaps round it up.
Eric F. Stein: Sure. I think just a few thoughts. Some would say $10 million is a huge budget compared to some of the agencies we deal with because we've actually, I'm sorry to kill again, because I've used this joke before, or this comment before. But someone said, we were talking about interoperable technology. I was like, can I just get a new fax or a new photocopier? It was a photocopier. Can I get a new photocopier? That would be really helpful. And the copiers machines to help print out requests or digitize them. So, in terms of these issues and challenges, you have very small shops and operations. Those challenges are just as real as those of us who are larger agencies that have millions of dollars and are processing thousands, tens of thousands of requests annually.
I would encourage you to reach out to us with specific questions or concerns because we'll drill down as to what exactly do you want, would you like us to assist with, or where you think we could help you. But stretching lean budget is something we talk about time and time again. And before we go into money, because it's kind of a trap. People go talk about money and resources and people. And we try to really put our fingers on what the problem is, and if it's technology, we keep it in our lane. And if not, we then say Bobby and Alina, we have this challenge, it's kind of out of scope for us. Can both sort of IP help them and they couldn't take those issues. So those are kind of my initial reactions. Mike, what do you think?
Martha W. Murphy: Sure. I mean, to Eric's great point there that a double-sided scanner, just something as simple as a double-sided scanner has the power to double the productivity of an individual performing that task, right? And that's a very simple, several hundred dollars or less now, piece of equipment that can be put on someone's desktop, right? So, there are a very low cost, high productivity drivers that we seek to identify and encourage agencies to use that aren't using that. And what is great is the opportunity to talk to other folks who have had that light bulb moment already because we're limited in how many light bulb moments we have in a day, right? So, if someone else has had that light bulb moment and they can share it and help address a challenge that you might have, I think all of us sometimes find ourselves so in the weeds of a problem, a different agency's perspective, a fresh set of eyes can really help point you in the direction of a solution and can make your life a lot easier because as Eric mentioned, you get into money, you get into STEs, you get the resources. Everyone is stretched thin and everyone's working at maximum capacity, especially these days in the COVID era. So, the simple solution is this low hanging fruit is out there for all of us, and having friends in the community, in the FO.
A community to be able to help point you to some of these has been really impactful and game changing for so many folks. But yeah, I would say that, yeah, there's definitely ways to do it and please use our contact information. Communicate with us, email Eric or myself. And, we'll share this information with our larger community, the big throbbing brain of the tech committee, and so often great solutions come from those folks that we're so fortunate to work with.
Eric F. Stein: Yeah. And I just want to add there too [crosstalk 01: 22: 38]. Oh, sorry. Real quick, I just want to add on Mike's [crosstalk 01: 22: 43].
Martha W. Murphy: No, you go ahead Eric. Sorry.
Eric F. Stein: A couple of points that just over the past year, really impressed by agencies that have figured out how to digitize mail. I mean, it's not highly complex to scan, but to have people willing to come in and scan, especially at the start of the pandemic before there was a vaccine available. We had challenges where, how do I work on cases remotely and agencies figured out how to scan mail to make sure that it was digitized, including faxes. Now, some agencies already had that in place, but I think others have put in place. I know at least one or two have put in place the ability as faxes come in now, they're scanned and directly sent via email to agencies to start processing.
Otherwise, those cases were just queuing up. The fax machines were just loading, the paper was coming in, but there was no action because no one was in the office, especially early March 2020. So, there have been some practical examples of how technology has been used. And somebody who just said, we don't even know where to start on how to digitize faxes, or who do I even talk to about a scanning mechanism. So, they've reached out to us and we put them in touch with other agencies or discuss, here's what's worked for the larger agency, a small agency. Here's what you need practically because I think that's where we actually get the best bang for our buck. People want to know how do I do what they're doing? And then they figure out what their issues with resources and otherwise. Sorry, back over to you Martha.
Martha W. Murphy: Oh, no problem at all. The question that came in is what are the top 10 productivity drivers for small agencies? I expect you all to have the exact answer for this right now, but.
Eric F. Stein: I feel like we're on one of the shows, like the top 10 reasons are. I don't know if we have the top 10, but I can rattle off a few off the top of my head. Mike, and then see what you think. I think for small agencies, it's tough because some small agencies get a lot of FOIA requests and some larger agencies get fewer FOIA requests, but I think it comes down to the record types being reviewed and sought. And so for a small agency, it's tough because agency size is not necessarily a great indicator of what type of FOIA requests and processing. I think if we go to the record types, if it's an agency that pretty much gets requests for the same form, the same standardized type of information, having tools that allow you, especially for technology to do some sort of auto redact feature or no, like in this form we're going to redact boxes one, three, five, 10, 15, 20.
That could be a big productivity driver and a good return on investment because you want it to do as much manual review. And there's less room for margin of error of someone actually going through and just missing a box like that. For the agencies that do more reports and narrative driven products, and they're heavy on what's in the content of their records very significantly. I don't know if we have just, from a technology perspective, one great recommendation here. But I think you have to look at the record types and we can definitely take this back to our group to look at, but I don't think we've specifically looked at the top five or the top 10 for small agencies in general, but we have had small agencies. I mainly identify challenges and try to help them with that. Mike, what do you think?
Mike Sarich: Well, so I put in the chat, our report from February 14th last year and just in a minute, in a thumbnail, a senior level support for three or four programs is really important. And that goes into what I call the align-assess act model for running a FOIA program. And so first thing for the trainer is that your agency is aligned and people understand the importance of this mandated program that you have to perform and produce these records. That kind of alignment is important from leadership down.
And then, the second piece for productivity is to assess your operations. The DOJ toolkit is fantastic. We've used it that at VHA and you can really go step by step by step. And then the new tools about these going to release to the larger FOIA community. I would highly encourage you to use those because then you'll get a look at a small agency where areas that you might not be aware of will come into focus. They'll come into sharp focus because you'll see how you stack up against a really solid benchmark.
Now, not every one of those areas may be a hundred percent applicable to you, but you'll be able to quickly kind of get through those. And then once you've done that assessment, if you want to really drive for productivity, act on that. So, align, assess, and then act, and then pretty much any agency or any FOIA program can find the success that we've been fortunate to have at VHA. And many other agencies have been fortunate enough to have, but taking a look at that, getting that leadership support, making sure everyone's aligned in the same mission, doing an honest look, an honest assessment of where you're at and where you have to go and then take action to get there. Set those benchmarks and move forward there. And the tool is very simple and easy to use. It doesn't take a ton of bandwidth and I think you'll be really, really happy with your return on investment for the time that you put in for that kind of honest eyeballs assessment of your program.
Eric F. Stein: And if we didn't answer your question fully, we encourage you to follow up with us afterward. Are there any other questions today?
Martha W. Murphy: Nothing else in the chat.
Eric F. Stein: Okay. Well, we want to thank you all for your time. And with that, like I said, we have an appendix slide here and we can skip the next slide and the next slide after this. And we're going to hand it over to the Committee on Cross-Agency Collaborative Innovation. Thank you again, everyone be safe and be well. Take care.
Mike Sarich: Thank you guys.
Mike Bell: Good morning everyone. My name is Mike Bell. I'm the FOIA Officer of the Department of Transportation, and I'm one of the co-chairs of the [COCACI 01: 28: 40] Committee, an acronym that has grown on us over the last few months. And my co-chair is here as well.
Abi Mosheim: Hey, good morning everyone. My name is [Abi Mosheim 01: 28: 49]. I'm with the Consumer Product Safety Commission, and Mike and I are here today to share with you news about the Chief FOIA Officers Council's latest committee. We like to call it COCACI for short because it is a mouthful. We're a very new committee, growing vibrant committee. And so, let's get started and let you know how we're doing. Next slide please.
Last year, if you recalled the last meeting, [OGIS 01: 29: 20] and DOJ announced the creation of the new committee, and it came from recommendation 16 of the FOIA Advisory Committee's final report, the 2018-2020 FOIA Advisory Committee's final report. Next slide please.
So, recommendation 16 recommended that the Chief FOIA Officers Council create this committee to look at research and propose a cross-agency grant program and other revenue sources for FOIA program, to review and promote initiatives for clear career trajectories for FOIA professional building on the GIS job series and in coordination with existing agency efforts, and to explore and recommend models to align agency resources with a commitment to agency transparency. Next slide please.
So our committee met in March, it was on March 9th, 2021, our very first meeting. And we had the author of recommendation 16 join us and go over the intent and objectives. And from that, we decided on the creation of three sub-committees. We didn't want to limit ourselves to just the recommendation points, the three categories in the recommendation, but the subcommittees that we have created do flow from there and also from the situation that we're all in now, which is the pandemic and how we've gone from being in person, and I know at least in our office, we had a mix of electronic production and paper production. And now that it's all electronic, just the challenges that we're facing across the federal government, in our FOIA offices and how we can remedy some of the challenges that we're facing, find solutions. So the three subcommittees that we created include Pandemic Virtual FOIA Offices, Government Information Specialist Job Series, and Standardizing Technology. And Mike is going to tell you more about those three subcommittees.
Mike Bell: Yeah. Next slide, please. The committees that we have formed are pretty much in the new stages, where we just started forming them. And we're going to start sending out timelines over the summer and come up with charters, but we have gone ahead and come up with some goals for them. And that's really what I want to go into at this point.
Our first one, because it's the big elephant in the room, the Pandemic Virtual Offices Subcommittee. I think all of us know by now are keeping our heads up. We've been working from home max telework for over a year. Now, all I know is, I don't know what day of the week it is sometimes. And I had to Google how to tie a tie today. But I do know that my first day of teleworking was March 16, 2020. That was a Monday. And there really wasn't much lead time because we were just thinking, okay, do we have enough work to keep everyone busy for two to four weeks, when we're away from the office? And that's what everyone was thinking at the time. So, there wasn't a whole lot of pre-planning that went into this telework because it came on us so suddenly. However offices, not just FOIA offices, but everyone across the government adjusted really quickly and came up with a lot of really good ideas. And many of those have been talked about in some of the DOJ best practices forums that they have held.
And some of the DOJ "best practices" forums that they've held, to keep people informed of what's going on. But what we want to do with this Committee is to actually take a deep dive into those ideas and see how we can really implement them across the government and also how we can maybe transform them for when we go back to the offices, in whatever form that is. Because we all know it's not going to be business as normal when we go back. More likely, it's going to be some kind of hybrid FOIA office. Instead of going in five days a week, people may only go in for two days a week, which is different than everyone teleworking at home. So we really want to look at ideas on how we can transform them to work once we get back into this new normal, which everyone's been talking about for the last year. Next slide, please.
The second subcommittee is about the GIS jobs series. The GIS job series has been around for about a decade now. I worked on it, implementing it way back when I was with BOD. We changed the job series, we tried to make it independent from just being admin. workers. But there hasn't been a whole lot really done since then. So, we're trying to see how agencies can actually benefit from having this independent job series and [inaudible 01: 34: 31] some of the things we're going to focus on. Recruiting for positions: there are plenty of good FOIA people out there, but it's tough to try to get them to apply to your agency. So we want to see how we can help along with that. Career advertising: very few children want to grow up to be FOIA officers when they get older, except maybe Bobby. Yeah, he's probably the exception to the rule. But most of us we got into this because we saw maybe a job offer out there or something on U.S.A. Jobs.
So we had to find the job or the career. What we want to do is try to find a way to get those good people and recruit them into the government and into FOIA because we can't depend on just these good people that are out there just accidentally finding FOIA. We want to go out there and get them. Finally, uniformity in grades. We know every agency is different. That's pretty obvious, but we want to make sure that certain functions align with certain grade levels. We just want to make sure that agencies are on the same level with that and on the same page. So, when you hire other people, you know you're getting a person with the right qualifications and experience. Finally, the final two items there: cross-agency details and cross training. These are kind of ambitious goals that we want to take a look at.
But, really, we think that these might benefit small agencies, is what we've been talking about. I work at Department of Transportation. We have a lot of FOIA analysts across many different offices, different operating administrations. So we actually have a good, detailed program that we try to take advantage of to give people different experiences so they can just learn a little better. But if you're a one-person FOIA agency, that's tough to do. And while we know there's going to be funding issues, I really want to take a look at how we can pull something off that a FOIA person from a smaller agency can maybe spend maybe even a week or two somewhere else and get a different perspective on their job. So, that's one of the things we're going to take a look at on that subcommittee. Next slide, please.
Okay, our final subcommittee is just about standardizing technology. There's plenty of ways to say, "use program X," you know, FOIAXpress or FOIAonline. But if you don't know the right way to use it, or if the agency doesn't have the proper resources, it's not going to do you any good. And the Technology Committee that we just heard from, they're kicking butt right now with all the solutions that they're coming up with. But what we want to do is just to complement what they're doing and just make sure that agencies have the right infrastructure and processes in place to take advantage of these solutions. Because technology really doesn't do anyone any good if you're not using it the right way. I just always think back to a phrase that I heard, "It's a poor musician who blames his instrument."
And it's easy to blame technology if we're not using it right. So, we want to make sure that all agencies are on the same page, that phrase again, with how they use technology, to make sure that they're using it in the right way. And just make sure that agency resources are aligned to take advantage of the technology that's out there because it's changing very fast and there's no way we're getting back to a paper world. So all FOIA offices have to be ready to take advantage of it. And as people said, the smaller offices... it's tough for them because of budgets. So if we can find a way to put a process in place that they can use this technology, that would definitely be a success for our committee. Next slide.
That's the end of the committee part. But, I know Alina said earlier, talking about recruiting members, our committee is brand new. We're a little under half the size of the Technology Committee. So we really want some good people who want to work hard. As Abi said, we're not limiting ideas. If another subcommittee comes up from an idea that we received, we're going to go with it. So email either one of us, if anyone's interested and I guess we'll see if there are any questions.
Martha W. Murphy: There are no questions in the chat at this time.
Mike Bell: We'll definitely email [crosstalk 01: 39: 23] if you have any additional ideas for subcommittee topics, or if you want to join our committee, we would welcome you with open arms. So we look forward to working with everyone and thanks for having us today.
Abi Mosheim: Thank you all.
Alina M. Semo: Thanks very much. Abi and Michael, thanks again. Take care guys. So I know we're running a few minutes behind schedule, but I will now ask our event producer to just please flip over to our other slide deck. And I am very excited to introduce the CDO Council chair, Ted Kaouk, and vice chair, Dan Morgan. Bobby and I had the good fortune of being able to present at a CDO Council meeting earlier this year, so we are returning the favor. Although, they're doing us a favor by being here so we really appreciate it. Ted serves as the Chief Data Officer at the United States Department of Agriculture. In this role, he is responsible for developing strategies that enable USDA to fully leverage its data as a strategic asset, improving organizational decision-making and outcomes for citizens. He was selected as the first chair for the CDO Council due to his expertise and leadership in data analytics.
That's at least what your bio says, Ted. So I know you're living up to the hype. Dan is the Chief Data Officer of the United States Department of Transportation. He has overall responsibility for the departmental data program and data compliance across the department. He is responsible for establishing a clear vision of the data management in DOT and the application of DOT data for decision-making. He serves as data strategist and advisor, steward for improving data quality, liaison for data sharing, and developer of new data product. Wow, Dan, that's a lot. Okay. So without further ado, I'm going to turn it over to you.
Dan Morgan: Thanks.
Ted Kaouk: Well, thanks Alina. Hopefully you can hear me and it's great to be with everybody today. Thanks again. So really excited to just engage with this community and with the public and talk a little bit about the work of the CDO Council. Maybe we can go to the next slide. But just to put in context, some of the background around the CDO Council, I think just even thinking about the recent administration focus on, on Beta. On how the major challenges we're trying to adjust, whether that's COVID-19, or economic recovery, or climate change inequity. Really how those executive orders signal the importance of the broader data work in government and a need for reexamining, how we collect, use, share and disseminate data. So many of those executive orders are unified for call for better data management practices, skills and infrastructure.
Thinking about the executive order on advancing racial equity and support for underserved communities, they've established the data working group that's going to study and provide recommendations on inadequacies and federal data collection activities and policies and infrastructure. There's a call for a data-driven response to COVID-19, and looking at our data collection and sharing of publication practices, as well as the need for privacy protections. There is an emphasis on talent and data skills that are needed to support these activities. And really just holistically, when you look at those executive orders, the work that we've been engaged in, in the CDO Council really helps to reinforce the importance of that work and to challenge us. In terms of the CDO Council itself, the foundations for Evidence-Based Policy Making Act of 2018 required that all agencies in government for the first time establish Chief Data Officers.
And it also established the Chief Data Officer's Council. So our Council now includes approximately 80 members from both CFO and non-CFO Act agencies across the government. And we're responsible for implementing the federal data strategies' individual actions at our agencies and for creating data-driven organizations in partnership. And I think that's where the collaboration is going to come into the discussion today with our other Evidence Act officials, including Chief FOIA Officers and evaluation officers and statistical officials, as well as others. Our vision is to lead transformational change that improves the nation's ability to leverage its data as a strategic asset. And some of the characters we've had recently after about a year of working to scale up the Council and to understand our work better is really our ability to have a vibrant learning community, to ensure that CDOs and that profession are advanced, but also how we're collaborating with other councils across government.
So, go to the next slide. We have some statutory responsibilities. And so in terms of supporting those and also supporting the current administration priorities, we're really engaging in these kinds of things in four ways. Gathering input from the public, engaging and understanding the uses for and priorities around improved data collection and dissemination. Working with our community to understand the good work that's been going on for many years, but how we can leverage those best practices for CDOs and our partners, in the wider data community to improve each agency: data collection, data governance, data sharing, data skills, data inventory. And then also building capacity across government so that we are building our practices in a way that they're informed by a data ethics framework that advances equity, while reducing bias in our data, looking at our data science practices. We have a number of priority projects that we're engaging in to prototype and look at solutions.
And then this broader opportunity to collaborate with other evidence-backed councils and other data-focused councils, like the FOIA Council is one of our major priorities to support these statutory goals. So going into the next slide, just also talk about our work to support implementation of the Federal Data Strategy. As many of you may know, the first Federal Data Strategy was kicked off in 2020. The action plan outlines some pretty aggressive actions and milestones that are foundational work. Each agency has been implementing individual actions, identifying the data needed to answer priority questions, standing up data governance boards, assessing our data and related infrastructure maturity, doing data skills assessments at our agencies, and really looking ahead to updating our agency open data plans and publishing and updating our data inventory. So we've been supporting the work of that federal data strategy through the community building and through our development of best practices, as well as our working groups.
And we've set up a structure to help us to implement that. So we'll go on to the next slide and just take a quick look at our overall structure. We have an executive committee, so both Dan and I serve as chair and vice chair on the executive committee. We have a membership from the office of the federal CIO as well as from [inaudible 01: 46: 47] at the office of management and budget. Obviously in our larger Council, we have our agency CEOs and I think really critically our ex officio members from councils, like the FOIA Council. And then we have a number of working groups that both align with the administration priorities, but also like on COVID-19, where we're working to support common decision making tools and sharing information across agencies and giving broader access to public health data that's needed by our individual agencies to support safety of our workforce and ongoing operations.
We've also established other working groups that are really designed to, over the short, medium, and long-term, improve our ability to improve data sharing practices, data inventory, and data skills. And so that's where the collaboration and our team with the great, not only the knowledge that the individual CDOs have, but also their broader organizations and our ex officio members and the members that are working together with us. And so I think Dan will be talking a little bit about some of our planned activities for 2021 this year, but also more detail about some of the collaboration structures we started to put in place with the other council. So I'm going to turn it over to Dan to talk about the second half of the presentation. Thank you.
Dan Morgan: Sure. Let's go ahead and jump to the next slide.
So obviously, as a Council, we have to meet. Like you, as a FOIA Officers Council, we're quite large. Every agency has a CDO, not every agency has other evidence act officials. So not every agency has a statistical official and not every agency has an evaluation officer. So CDO is in interesting places where membership, isn't equally engaged across evidence activities because of the nature of the statute. But, we set up a variety of discussion sessions on things like federal data strategies, action plans, and how agencies are addressing some of those actions. And Ted mentioned we've got our ongoing working groups. Like you, some of our working groups are newer than others. The COVID-19 working group was one of our first ones.
I think it's important to remember, the CDO Council was only established January of last year. And so we've been forming, storming, and norming in the middle of the public health emergency and COVID-19 was top of mind for us as we started to form our work. We have a website now, it's cdo.gov. And, of course, we are still working on how we're going to work on public engagement, doing things like you do with public meetings. So we have an opportunity to learn from you in the Chief FOIA Officers Council about how to make this virtual meeting format work. Well, of course, we use internal collaboration tools across government. Many of you who are inside government are familiar with OMB Mac. Our OMB Mac site is open for everybody. So if you search for Chief Data Officers Council, you'll find our materials and no need to request access. But what I really want to double down on the strategic linkages piece and the cross-agency council work that we've been doing.
So one of the things that we recognized early on is that data is really a team sport. To that point, we have identified a number of other councils that exist, where we can collaborate on projects together, where we can share ideas across councils, where we can attend each other's working groups to be able to share information across boundaries. So we actually set up a number of ex officio relationships with the Chief Evaluation Officers Council, with the Chief Information Officers Council, with the Privacy Council, the Interagency Council of Statistical Policy. I'm proud to say that we have a relationship with Bobby and Alina as the Chief FOIA Officers ex officio. We've also established one for the federal records management Council with Laurence Brewer, the Chief Records Officer of the United States, serving as the ex officio. And we have others like the Federal Geospatial Data Committee.
I do know that one of the things that came out of the FOIA Advisory Committee is a recommendation for more collaboration across the FOIA and record councils to the CDO Council. And we're going to continue working with Bobby, Alina, and Laurence to figure out how best to make that work, to meet the spirit and intent of that recommendation and how we can work together to make sure that CDOs understand how data's currently managed under the Federal Records Act and the FOIA, but also how we can leverage some of the things that you are doing with your Technology Committee to understand how advanced technologies can help us both be successful. One of the things that we have the advantage of working on through the CXO Council process is that [inaudible 01: 52: 07] operates a funding process called the CXO funding process.
The projects that we have underway there are data skills workforce development. Very soon we'll be releasing the data skills playbook for folks to see. We've also been working on sharing dashboards across agencies with an emphasis on human resources and diversity. Ted's been leading a project on natural language processing for public comments and the department of interior's leading a project on interagency collaboration on wildlife fire fuels. As we see the new administration coming online, we expect an update to the federal data strategy action plan, and we work closely with the office of management and budget to provide meaningful input from a CDO Council perspective, what the action plan says so that we can help CDOs effectively implement the action plan. Those are our key activities here in our FY '21, and probably heading into FY '22, as well. And we'll have some new projects that will be coming online, but that's our focus area right now. I think we have time for maybe one or two questions, if there are questions in the chat.
Martha W. Murphy: There's only one question in the chat. Someone wanted to know if political appointees are part of the council's membership.
Dan Morgan: No. So every CDO is required to be a career official.
Martha W. Murphy: That's all.
Ted Kaouk: I think the only clarification I would make there is that's true with regard to CDOs. We do have representation from the office of management and budget, so it certainly is possible that we could have membership, but not at the current time.
Dan Morgan: Good point, thanks, Ted.
Alina M. Semo: Okay. Well thanks very much, Ted and Dan, we’re really happy that you could join us today. [inaudible 01: 54: 11] We're running a little behind schedule. So thanks for hanging in there with us, and we hope to have you back and we'll continue this collaboration. This has been just great. And we've had a couple of people ask us for your PowerPoint presentation. We'll make sure that we post that on our website and give access to everyone to that. So, thanks again.
Bobby Talebian: Well, thank you so much, Ted and Dan.
Ted Kaouk/Dan Morgan: Thanks, Bobby. [crosstalk 01: 54: 36].
Alina M. Semo: All the slides are already on our site. Look at the chat and I've posted a couple of times in there.
Bobby Talebian: Great. Thanks, Mike. I really appreciate that.
Alina M. Semo: By the way, the amorphous Martha is Martha Murphy, the [inaudible 01: 54: 50] Deputy Director [of the Office of Government Information Services]. She has chosen not to be on camera today, but I'm sure she is always camera ready. And Martha, thank you again for monitoring the chat and helping us with all of that. So Teagan, if we could go back to our slide deck, the next slide, please. All right. So we have now reached the public comment section of our meeting. We did promise to leave time for that. We look forward to hearing from any members of the public who have ideas or comments they would like to share. We would like to open up our telephone lines now to begin, if you could please provide instructions for our listeners for how to ask the question or make a comment via telephone. That would be great.
Event Producer: All right, at this time, if you'd like to ask a question or make a comment, please dial pound two on your telephone keypad. You'll hear a notification when your line is unmuted. At which point, please state your name and question. Once again, dialing pound two, one to gate that you wish to ask a question or make a comment.
Alina M. Semo: Okay. I also want to remind everyone. You may also submit written comments. Please email them to OGIS open meeting, all one word, @nara.gov. We will post any written comments we receive on our website. Any oral comments will be captured in the transcript of the meeting, which we will both post as soon as it is available. So Martha, can I turn to you first, any questions or comments from the public via the chat function that have come in during the course of the meeting?
Martha W. Murphy: We only had one question that came in through the YouTube chat. Someone has a question about classification in FOIA, and maybe we can just clarify the overlap. The question was, "Why do some FOIA officers refuse to be backed by records and claim that FOIA is not for the classification, whereas other FOIA officers do declassify historical records using the [inaudible 01: 56: 47] with actions.
Bobby Talebian: So I can speak to that just generally. Of course, when applying exemption one agencies are responsible to make sure that the information is properly and continues to be properly classified. But, if information is with [inaudible 01: 57: 04] in exemption one, there is a process to be able to challenge that classification and have that freshly reviewed to determine if it should continue to be declassified. And so that process was there. And of course, classification only relates to exemption one, but obviously there could be overlapping exemptions. So hopefully that responds to the question. But more generally, there is a process for if you believe that information should be declassified to challenge the actual classification.
Alina M. Semo: Thanks, Bobby, Martha, anything else on chat?
Martha W. Murphy: Nothing else at this time.
Alina M. Semo: All right. Teagan, do we have anyone on the telephone line who would like to chime in?
Event Producer: I'm not showing any questions or comments on the phone at this time? Once again, if you would like to make one, please dial pound two on your telephone keypad.
Alina M. Semo: Okay. We're going to give folks a couple more seconds to think of their comments, but please know that the Chief FOIA Officers Council is happy to receive comments at any time. We'd love to hear your thoughts, comments, feedback, things that you would like to see in the future. And that also of course includes all of our FOIA colleagues who are here with us today. If there are any particular agenda items you would like for us to include in our next Chief FOIA Officers Council meeting, Bobby and I are very open to that. Right, Bobby?
Bobby Talebian: Absolutely.
Alina M. Semo: Okay. All right. Well, I'm pausing for a second. If there are no other chat questions or phone questions, I think we can actually wrap up our meeting on time. Yay.
Event Producer: Excellent. Nothing here. Okay.
Martha W. Murphy: Nothing here either. Okay.
Alina M. Semo: Okay, great. Thank you very much, Martha and Teagan. So Bobby and I both very much hope to have another CFO Council meeting later this fall. Please stay tuned for further announcements on an exact date and time, as well as registration information. I predict that it's probably going to be virtual again, although everything's a little bit up in the air. So bear with us. Thanks Teagan for advancing the slide. Thanks again to all of you for joining us today. I hope everyone and their families remain safe, healthy, and resilient. Bobby, over to you.
Bobby Talebian: Thank you. Thanks Alina. And thanks to everyone for joining a really great meeting today, but a special thanks to our presenters, particularly the two co-chairs of the committees. And especially for all the people who are on those committees, for all the great work. Just one more last plug, please reach out if you want to, if you want to participate in any of those committees. And as Alina said, we are very open to your thoughts on what the next meeting should look like.
Alina M. Semo: Teagan next slide.
Alina M. Semo: This was Mike Sarich's contribution. So I just wanted to make sure we got it in there. Thanks again for joining us today. Have a great day and stay safe out there. It's supposed to get very windy. Take care, everyone.
Event Producer: [crosstalk 02: 00: 23] That concludes our conference. Thank you for using events services. You may now disconnect.