Chief FOIA Officers Council Meeting (Virtual Event)
Wednesday, November 17, 2021
10:00 a.m. - 12: 30 p.m. (ET)
EVENT PRODUCER: Ladies and gentlemen, welcome. And thank you for joining today's Chief FOIA Officer's Council meeting. Before we begin, please ensure that you have opened the Webex participant and chat panels by using the associated icons located at the bottom of your screen. Please note all audio connections are currently muted and this conference is being recorded. You are welcome to submit written questions throughout the meeting, which will be addressed at the Q&A session of the meeting. To submit a written question, select All Panelists from the dropdown menu in the chat panel. Then enter your question in the message box provided and send. To ask a question via Webex audio, please click the raise hand icon on your Webex screen, which is located above the chat panel, to the right. To place yourself in the question queue, if you are connected to today's meeting via phone audio, please dial pound two on your telephone keypad, to enter the question queue. If you require technical assistance, please send a chat to the Event Producer [Michelle Ridley]. With that, I will turn the meeting over to Alina Semo, Director, Office of Government Information Services. Alina, please go ahead.
ALINA M. SEMO: Thanks, Michelle. Good morning, everyone. Apologies for the slight delay in us getting started, but we assure you that we still have a great program up ahead. Thank you again for joining us today for our second virtual Chief FOIA Officers Council meeting. Probably 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 here at the National Archives and co-chair of this Council. Let me introduce my co-chair, Bobby Talebian, Director of the Office of Information Policy. Bobby.
EVENT PRODUCER: Bobby, please unmute your line. We're unable to hear you. I will do that for you right now.
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Thank you. [crosstalk 00:02:20].
Thank you. Can you hear me? Thank you, Alina. And thank you all for joining us for a great meeting today. We have a really great agenda and look forward to getting into it.
ALINA M. SEMO: In a minute, you're going to hear welcoming remarks from Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero. And then Bobby will introduce the Associate Attorney General, Vanita Gupta, who will provide opening remarks as well.
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Alina and I will then each provide an overview of OMB [Office of Management and Budget] notices work since our last meeting; we have some exciting updates to share. And then you will next hear from the Council's two Committees. The Committee for Cross Agency Collaboration and Innovation, and the Technology Committee. Excited to have the two co-chairs of the Committees join us later this morning, along with a few members of the Committee. And we're going to plug in. Now and throughout, we hope that the work that they're doing, which truly, really appreciate, inspires other agencies to both take advantage of those resources, but also to join our efforts and join the Committee. So, we're always taking volunteers. And if you're interested in volunteering, please do reach out to either Alina or myself or directly to one of the co-chairs of the Committees.
ALINA M. SEMO: Great, thanks very much, Bobby. I want to just second that plug. We definitely need more volunteers. During the course of our meeting today, 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 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. You'll see the slide that we have up that says chat to all panelists, to ensure that comments are seen by our moderators. That's very important. Bobby, over to you.
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Thank you, Alina. As we have in the past, we will reserve time at the end of today's session for public comments. We'll be opening the telephone lines at the end of our meeting for the last fifteen minutes. For any oral questions or comments from the public, we ask out of consideration to others and the time that you please limit your comments to three minutes. And once your three minutes has expired, we'll let you know so that we can move on to the next commentator.
We're monitoring the chat on Webex and on the NARA YouTube channel. And we'll read out any appropriate questions or comments we received from the public. Alina.
ALINA M. SEMO: Thanks. We have received several written comments and submissions in advance of today's meeting. We have reviewed all of them carefully and evaluated them prior to posting nine of them to ensure they satisfy our posting policy on public comments. So, I want to invite everyone to look at our website, archives.gov/ogis and go to the Chief FOIA Officers console link on the left-hand side. And there you can see the comments that have been posted. We posted these public comments after remediating them to ensure that they're compliant with section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.
I also want to note that the chat function in Webex or the NARA YouTube channel is not the proper forum to submit extensive public comments. You may submit public comments at any time by emailing us at ogisopenmeeting, all one word, @nara.gov. And we will consider posting them to the OGIS website. The chat function on both platforms should be used to ask clarifying questions. We'll provide brief comments or questions that we will consider reading out loud at the end of today's meeting.
Finally, a reminder that the Council meeting is not the appropriate venue for concerns about individual FOIA requests or issues. If you need OGIS assistance, you may request it by emailing us at email@example.com.
At this time, I would like to introduce Archivist of the United States, David Ferriero. David, over to you.
EVENT PRODUCER: You may proceed. You are unmuted.
DAVID S. FERRIERO: Can you hear me now?
EVENT PRODUCER: Yes. So, we can hear you. Please go ahead.
DAVID S. FERRIERO: Thank very much. Greetings from the National Archives flagship building in Washington, DC which sits on the ancestral lands of the Nacotchtank people.
SPEAKER 1: You know what's weird? [inaudible 00:07:06]
DAVID S. FERRIERO: Are you hearing an echo?
EVENT PRODUCER: No, sir. You may proceed. We can hear you.
DAVID S. FERRIERO: Okay. It's hard to believe that we're twenty months into the COVID-19 pandemic, which has challenged us all in ways which were hard imaginable. When the Chief FOIA Officer's Council was established by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. While the Council was created five years ago, it was the Open Government Act of 2007 that established the role of Chief FOIA Officer, mandating that each agency designate a senior official to oversee and ensure FOIA compliance and efficiency. Here at the National Archives, that person is our general Council, Gary M. Stern.
Like many Chief FOIA Officers across the government, Gary has faced enormous and unique challenges since the pandemic began in March 2020. Here at the National Archives and Records Administration, a large percentage of FOIA requests we receive seek access to records that exist in paper — the vast majority of them archival records created by executive branch agencies and the White House, deemed permanent, and transferred to the legal custody of the National Archives.
The pandemic forced full or partial closure of all of the NARA offices that process FOIA requests. At the National Personnel Records Center [NPRC], although we had to reduce our on-site capacity, we never fully closed, continuing to process emergency requests from veterans. NPRC is starting to ramp up at staffing again, to address the backlog of FOIA requests and recently began operating around the clock to ensure veterans and their families get records they need for medical treatment, burials and other services.
Despite those unprecedented challenges, I am proud of the FOIA work accomplished during the pandemic under Gary’s leadership as Chief FOIA Officer. The National Archives adjusted staff work priorities to best position these offices to continue to facilitate access to NARA’s records. And to that end, some of the staff in these offices were issued laptops and given access to additional software to allow them to conduct searches and complete redactions where possible. The archival FOIA processing offices focused on identifying records, preparing files and creating descriptions for records of great public interest that had previously been available only in paper format for access to the National Archives catalog. Staff in these offices also spent time updating or creating processing guidance.
We at the National Archives acknowledge that closure of Federal Records Centers due to circumstances well beyond our control has affected FOIA programs throughout the government even as FRC staff have responded to emergency requests for records throughout the pandemic. I appreciate your patience during these unprecedented times, and I'm pleased to report that our centers are gradually resuming operations based on local public health conditions and specific safety criteria.
With that, I wish the Chief FOIA Officers Council a Happy Fifth Anniversary. I look forward to hearing reports today from the Technology Committee and the Committee on Cross-Agency Collaboration and Innovation. The important work of both committees ties directly to the statutory mandate that the Chief FOIA Officer of each agency monitor FOIA implementation and ensure efficient compliance.
Before I turn the meeting back over to Bobby, I invite you to join me tomorrow afternoon, Thursday, November 18th at 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time for a conversation between law professor, Margaret Kwoka, former FOIA Advisory Committee member, and current FOIA Advisory Committee member, Tom Susman about Professor Kwoka’s new book, Saving the Freedom of Information Act. I look forward to interesting and rich discussion and hope you'll join us. Details are available on the events calendar at archives.gov. Thank you. And back to you, Bobby,
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Thank you so much, David. Very much appreciate all your support for the Council. At this time, I'd like to welcome. We have had some technical difficulties, so hopefully this works. But we would like to welcome the Associate Attorney General of the United States, Vanita Gupta. I'm very excited to have her provide us welcoming marks.
VANITA GUPTA: Thank you, Bobby. Good morning. And thank you for joining us for today's Chief FOIA Officers Council meeting. On behalf of the Department of Justice, I'd like to welcome all of the Chief FOIA Officers and agency FOIA officials to our fall FOIA Officers Council meeting. I also want to welcome the members of the public that are joining us today.
At the Department of Justice, we take very seriously our responsibility of transparency and accountability through faithful compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. In his first week in office, Attorney General Garland recognized the importance of the mission of FOIA at the Department of Justice's Annual Sunshine Week Event. The Attorney General noted that without accountability, democracy is impossible. And democratic accountability requires the kind of transparency that FOIA makes possible. [inaudible 00:12:43] more than fifty-five years ago, the Freedom of Information Act has been in important tool for keeping the federal government open and accountable.
The Supreme Court explains that the basic purpose of FOIA is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governed accountable to the governed.
As someone who has utilized FOIA in my own [inaudible 00:13:09] outside of government, I know how important the Act is for government accountability. At its core, FOIA is about public trust. Trust that those who are charged with basically executing the laws are in fact doing so with an integrity and in the public's interest. Fulfilling the goals of the FOIA is not an easy task as many of you know, best. And COVID only made that even harder. The U.S. government receives and processes over 700,000 FOIA requests every year. Many involving multifaceted searches, consultations and complex line by line reviews of large number of documents. FOIA work is often very difficult and time intensive. And finding the balance between FOIA's presumption of disclosure, while also upholding legal guardrails for the protection of sensitive interests, such as our natural security, individual personal privacy and law enforcement, is also very challenging.
And that's what the law requires, for us to lift up and protect a person's ability to seek information from the U.S. government while also ensuring that guardrails to protect the public interest are maintained. As many as you who have worked in FOIA over the years know, the department has long held that FOIA is everyone's responsibility. And I want to thank all of the FOIA professionals who work tirelessly day in and day out to meet their agencies’ disclosure obligations. The key to the success of any agency FOIA program is the leadership you provide. The law itself recognizes the importance of leadership support by designating a Chief FOIA Officer at each agency that is at the assistant secretary or equivalent level. And I take great pride in serving as the Department of Justice's Chief FOIA Officer. As Chief FOIA Officers, we must all continually review all aspects of our respective agency's FOIA administration to ensure that records are released lawfully and efficiently.
As I mentioned, the day to day work in administering the FOIA is often not easy and agency FOIA professionals deserve our support to meet these challenges. It's also important that we continue to remind agency program personnel outside the FOIA office of their critical role in making sure the agency's FOIA obligations are fully and timely met. The Department of Justice is committed to serving as a resource and providing counsel to your agency in the advancement of FOIA administration. In just a few minutes, Bobby will be providing updates on several important initiatives that OIP has been working on that will benefit your agency's FOIA administration. He'll be discussing new reporting requirements and tools, guidance that encourages agencies to offer additional substantive FOIA training and established standard operating procedures and the application of the deliberative process exemption. We're also looking forward to releasing new standardized e-learning training this year.
Finally, as you know, we are continuing to build on the functionality of foia.gov. The development of centralized search capability across agencies is going to greatly enhance the public's ability to find the information that they're seeking.
You'll also hear about the work of two Committees established by the Council to address technology resources, administering the FOIA virtually and professional development. I want to especially thank the Committee members for their dedication to FOIA and their hard work on these issues. Thank you again for all you do as Chief FOIA Officers to ensure that we have an accountable democracy and transparent government that works for the public interest. Thank you.
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Thank you so much, Vanita, for the kind words and continuous support for the department’s and agencies’ FOIA administration. All right. I think next, we have some updates. I have some updates from OMB, so we'll go to the next slide. And we can skip this slide and go to the next one. Thank you.
So, a few updates I wanted to provide and some initiative that we're excited about. We'll discuss new reporting requirements and tools. Recently issued guidance since our last Chief FOIA Officers Council meeting and some updates on new resources and updates to foia.gov. Next slide.
First, as you all know, agency and FOIA reports, it's that time of year again, and you've been working on your Annual FOIA Reports. Those were due to OMB by November 15th, just a couple days ago. We appreciate all the effort that you are putting into compiling this data, which is really important and shedding transparency on the FOIA itself, the administration of the FOIA itself.
If your agency has not submitted your data, please do so as soon as you can. And if you're having trouble, please do reach out to OMB's compliance team. All agency Annual FOIA Reports are required to be posted by March 1 of this year. So, we want to make sure that you are on track and your data is appropriately validated to meet that deadline. And as you know, a significant resource in compiling and producing your annual FOIA report is the Department of Justice Annual FOIA Report Handbook, available on the department's website. We did update the handbook due to enhancements to the annual FOIA report tool, which hopefully you'll find helpful in submitting your report, but also in some of the substantive areas. One substantive area specific on pages, 60 to 62, we updated the guidance on how agencies should report their subsection 18 proactive disclosures.
We did this after engagement with GAO [U.S. Government Accountability Office] and specifically we wanted to emphasize that the way that they should be reported are by the number of records that are posted, that are subject to [FOIA subsection] (a)(2) online, as opposed to pages. This is specifically drawn from the statute's language. We recognize that is difficult because records are posted in a variety of different ways. And so, how you can account for a record for purposes of reporting this might be challenging, depending on how it's posted, whether it's a PDF or it's laid on the website on HTML. It's a video, it's a spreadsheet, it's a response, it's a frequently requested record, which maybe in itself has multiple records, but it's one posting. And so, what we've done is we've laid out a number of these examples and how agencies should report them, count them in terms of each of those examples.
So, hopefully that will make it easier for agencies to account for this reporting requirement, but also will help us have more consistency across agencies on how this data is reported.
Next slide. Of course, one of the other three reports that agencies are obligated to complete during the year is the Chief FOIA Officer Report. And we issued the 22 Chief FOIA Officer Report guidelines. Deadlines for those, for agencies that receive more than 50 requests the prior fiscal year, we asked that they provide their draft report to OMB by January 10. Agencies that receive 50 requests or less are not required to report but are encouraged to report if there's additional information that would provide context to what's being reported in their Annual FOIA Report. And we ask that those draft reports we provided to OMB by February 11th. This all leading for all agencies to be required to post their final Chief FOIA Officer Reports on March 14th, 2022.
Next slide. The 2022 Chief FOIA Officer Report guidelines continue to focus on the five keys of FOIA administration we focused on in the past: applying a presumption of openness, administering the FOIA, ensuring that there are effective systems in place for responding to requests, the use of proactive disclosures, increasing the use of technology, and, of course, improving timeliness and reducing backlogs.
Next slide. As we've done in the past every year based off of feedback from the public and from agencies and new initiatives in our engagement, we've modified or added new questions to the Chief FOIA Officer Report, just to highlight some of the new questions for this year, recognizing the importance of records management. We've added a question for regarding records management training for FOIA professionals. Emphasized requests for outreach by modifying that question. And also recognizing as the Associate [Attorney General] mentioned that FOIA's everyone's responsibility. That non-FOIA professionals are receiving briefings and trainings. And in particular, senior leaders are aware of their FOIA obligations.
Standardized operating procedures. We're asking more specific questions about that. Continuing to survey agencies on first party requests and alternative access to technology, and really focused this year on the core responsibilities in the statute for Chief FOIA Officers for reviewing their programs to ensure that they have adequate technology and resources to meet the needs of their FOIA administration. We modified questions to focus on (a)(2) proactive disclosures. And also, we're continuing to monitor how agencies have been impacted by COVID-19 on reducing their backlogs and effectively administering their FOIA administration.
Finally, we've always had a question in the final part of the Chief FOIA Officer Report for reducing backlog and backflow reduction plans. This year, we're asking for a little bit more than we have in the past. For agencies to detail about what their backlog reduction plans are and in particular, how they develop them.
Next slide. Finally, the quarterly FOIA report, as you know, agencies have for a long time now, in addition to the annual FOIA report and the Chief FOIA Report provided a number of key FOIA statistics on a quarterly basis. The number of requests received, processed, in the process at the agency, the number of requests in the backlog and the agency's status of their oldest requests.
Well, we issued new guidance recently, and we're excited to have launched this, that allows you to use a new tool directly on foia.gov and providing this data to us and on the website much more efficiently and effectively. So, as in the past, where you may have had to involve your CIO [Chief Information Officer] team. Now as the agency foia.gov manager at your office, you can directly put this data in foia.gov through your account, and it'll appear on foia.gov in that way. So, we're excited to have that out there to lessen this reporting burden on agencies.
Next slide. But also, the new tool has allowed us to streamline the public and improve the public facing side of this data. Now, requesters, agencies and the public can view this quarterly data, just like they can view the annual FOIA report. And significantly, moving forward now, we are able to retain this data, not just for the current fiscal year, but historically. So, over time, agencies, the public, requesters can look to see historically how agencies have done in a certain quarter, not in just that fiscal year, but compared to other fiscal years.
Next slide. So, since our last meeting, we've had a couple of formal guidance articles that have been issued by OMB and I just want to touch on those and bring everyone's attention to them. As we've done in prior years after reviewing your Chief FOIA Officer Reports, we conduct an assessment and last year we issued guidance for further improvement, based off of the Chief FOIA Officer Reports and our assessments. This guidance highlights the importance of substantive FOIA training. But, as the Associate [Attorney General] mentioned, we recognize that FOIA's everyone's responsibilities. Also training and briefing, all agency program personnel including senior leadership on FOIA and the obligations of FOIA to your agency.
One thing we've now, for the past couple years now, in looking backwards have seen is the impact of COVID-19, of course, was significant for a lot of agencies at the beginning, but it also has pushed a lot of us to improve processes. And we've mitigated some of those challenges with improved processes, workflows and technology. So, taking those lessons learned, we want to encourage agencies to plan ahead and build on those as we work towards reducing backlogs and processing times.
Also emphasizing the importance of standard operating procedures. This was a question that we had in the Chief FOIA Officer Report, and a lot of agencies have, and are various types of standard operating procedures, which is really important for ensuring not just consistency and the quality of FOIA review and production, but also retaining institutional knowledge, particularly for those agencies that have smaller FOIA offices, where turnover could be significant. So, we want to continue to encourage standard operating procedures, both having them and updating them regularly. And we're asking about that in the Chief FOIA Officer Report again. And if any agency would like to discuss their standard operating procedures or how to best put together one and update it, we're happy to work with agencies on this as well.
And of course, agencies were encouraged to review their FOIA regulations and ensure that they are up to date as well.
Next slide. And as you know, last March, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services vs. Sierra Club, which examined exemption five of the FOIA and the deliberative process privilege. I've spoken about the case in prior meetings. So, I won't get into the details of the case, but I just wanted to emphasize the guidance, which emphasizes two key takeaways from the decision.
The court did not modify the standard [inaudible 00:28:10] exemption five, but it did, as I said, highlight two key elements of consideration when determining whether a record is predecisional.
First, the court recognized that a record is not final simply because it's a last version of something and nothing else follows it. The key consideration in determining whether a record is final, is whether it is the final decision that the agency has settled on.
And second, when determining whether a position is the final decision that an agency has settled on, we look to the legal consequences of that record and not any practical impact or effect it had on the agency's decision making. So, key to that is that the agency itself treated that record as a final decision with legal effect. So, those were the two key considerations of whether records predecisional that the Supreme Court emphasized in the Sierra Club case. And two key takeaways from our guidance, which is available on OMB's website.
Next slide. I'm excited to talk about foia.gov. We have a lot of exciting initiatives around foia.gov. Improving the functionality of the site. One of the projects that we've been working on with GSA [General Services Administration] 10X team, which we completed the first two phases, was a proposal to investigate a centralized search capability where requesters can search for records on agency website and FOIA libraries from a central place without having to go to individual websites and FOIA libraries. We hope that this is going to assist requesters in getting information that is already available more easily without having to make a request or assist in making more targeted requests that are easier to process.
We have been approved. And so, we're excited here at OIP and for the government for phase three, where we're going to now work with GSA on the idea that we have and how we can accomplish this and prototype it, probably with a small group of agencies. So, we'll be looking for some volunteers for the prototype as we build towards the final product, which will be the government wide FOIA library on foia.gov.
Next slide. Of course, key to all of this has been the interoperability between agencies FOIA's program systems and foia.gov. As you know, DOJ [Department of Justice] and OMB issued guidance on achieving interoperability in foia.gov when the national FOIA portal was established.
BOBBY TALEBIAN: So, when the National FOIA Portal was established and launched in February of 2019. And essentially, there's two ways of interoperability. Agencies with automated systems were required to become interoperable by the end of fiscal year (FY) 21, which was just this past October. And agencies with using an API. Agencies with non-automated solutions were required to become interoperable through their agency account by receiving structured emails from FOIA.gov, of requests submitted by requesters. We're really excited that vast majority of agencies have achieved interoperability and met the guidance that we issued. And there're just some small group of agencies that we're still working with, that we needed a little bit more time with. And so, we appreciate agency's work on this and your patience as we work with you to make sure your linked up to FOIA.gov. And so, we'll continue to work to make sure agencies are interoperable, fully interoperable, and look forward to building on this interoperability in the future, which I think brings me to my next slide.
Next slide. So, one of the other things that we've done is, and talking about building on the interoperability that now we have, is engaged 18F and we've been working with 18F over the past three months. OIP on discovery and a path analysis for the additional functionality that should be developed or pursued next. And we did extensive interviews with agencies and the public. If you are one of the agencies, or members of the public that met with us, I wanted to, again, thank you. Your feedback was very valuable, and very helpful for us to determine the path for FOIA.gov. Some of the things that we considered are an improvement, or additional functionality that would assist aid requesters on getting to the right record, or right agency, from FOIA.gov. I call it a “FOIA wizard,” or a “TurboTax for FOIA.” And we found that there's a lot of great value there.
Looked into status, also the 10x Project, and we're just wrapping it up, but looking at this as what can we do now, immediately, some low weight design updates, as well as what we can do in the short term, and what we should do more long term. So, we look forward to finishing this, and then building on it, and we'll share our findings and next developments going forward. Before we move on. I don't have a slide on this. Another update for FOIA.gov that we are looking forward to is adding a web presence for the Chief FOIA Officer Council on this site. As you know, FOIA.gov is the central site for government wide FOIA administration. And so, we wanted to increase our web presence and so, we look forward to hopefully, by next meeting, either having launched that, or demo it, and so, stay tuned for that. Next slide.
Finally, some forthcoming resources that we are excited that will launch this year. We just start our initiative of developing new e-learning training forces that will be available to all you, your agencies, to load into your e-learning platforms. And hopefully, we're trying to develop a public version that, the same version, but a public way of also including on our websites. But we're focusing on three different trainings. So, there'll be three separate training modules. One will be a brief training module for senior executives and their unique role in FOIA administration. Another will be a module focused, more like a 30, 45-minute module focused, on all agency personnel. And then finally, a much more in depth, two to three-hour course that goes over all of the procedural and exemption requirements for FOIA, for FOIA professionals.
So, we hope that this will be an easy and a good way of providing consistent FOIA training to all members of your workforce. As I said, FOIA is everyone's responsibility, and we hope that this will help your agencies in raising both awareness, and then having substantive FOIA training for your FOIA professionals. And as we hope to have to issue this sooner, but we're still working on it, and we'll issue this year our FOIA self-assessment toolkit. Next slide.
Finally, as we wrap up, I just wanted to raise awareness to the other resources that were continuing to update that are available to you. The guide to the FOIA was completely, fully updated in 2019. We'll have another full update done this year. We update on a rolling basis, based off a two-year cycle. But we're also continuously on a regular basis, updating our summaries of court decisions, which you should supplement with the guide, for any new decisions that come out before a certain guide chapter has been updated. Of course, we're always as available for training. So, if your agency specific training, we are happy to accommodate that as an addition to the established training, government-wide training that we provide. And we continue to be here to provide individual guidance. So, if your agency has any questions, please do reach out to us on our FOIA Counselor Service Line, 202-514-FOIA. Next slide.
I'll pause if there's any questions, maybe just a minute. But I think since we're a little bit behind, maybe I'll just then pass it over to you, Alina.
ALINA M. SEMO: Okay. Thanks, Bobby. I'll try to get us back on track. Some really great updates, thanks. And it's exciting to hear of the FOIA guidelines getting updated too. That's a great resource. Next slide please. And another next slide.
So here, from our updates, I wanted to brief you on some activities that we've been engaged in, since the last time we met in April of this year. First, I wanted to talk a little bit about our dispute resolution program, in which we do not dictate solutions, or tell agencies, they have to turn over records. We sometimes joke, we are not the FOIA police. We cannot write tickets for non-compliance, or failure to participate in our [inaudible 00:37:50] process. Our mediation services are completely voluntary, and we have had both agencies and requesters participate, or decline to participate. Most often we act as a facilitator to help agencies and requester better understand the issues, and the other party's position. The statutes specifically says our mediation services are nonexclusive alternative to litigation, and we try to prevent litigation by explaining the FOIA process, including how a search was conducted, or an explanation of the records withheld under exemption cited. There's nothing in the statute that prevents the requester from filing a suit after going through our mediation process. Once the case is in litigation, we do not get involved.
A number of requesters have told us that even if they were not successful in our mediation process, they have at least understood more about the information that was being withheld and understood more about the agency's position. So, there is definitely a lot of value to what we do.
I have some stats that I'm displaying here on the slide. I just wanted to share with you that from FY 2020 to FY 2021, we experienced a 4 percent increase in the cases we logged in. We experienced a small increase in the number of cases closed, but we kept up. So, I'm very proud of our Mediation Team for doing that, despite the challenges of the pandemic. We were able to keep our backlog down and fairly steady. We ended fiscally year 2020 with 27 cases in our backlog and 30 cases in our backlog FY 2021. And that's still significantly down from a backlog of 153 cases that we had in fiscal year 2019. Also, we were able to close all of our cases pending from FY 2020, this past year. And we shrunk the age of our oldest complex case with the oldest now pending at 237 days. Next slide, please.
I would like to take this opportunity to revisit an important topic. Estimated dates of completion, EDCs. In 2019, and early 2020, OGIS conducted an assessment of EDCs that we were finishing just as the pandemic moved FOIA operations from government offices to homes. As we noted, when we released the assessment in March 2020, months of research, and review of hundreds of OGIS cases went into our report, and the report did not reflect the pandemic's challenges that physical distancing from computers and record systems that came after March 2020. Despite the timing, OGIS believed that the topic was important enough to release our assessment in March of 2020, particularly since we knew that regardless of the pandemic's effects, requesters were still entitled to EDCs.
We recognized that in the early days of the pandemic, our assessment, our accompanying advisory opinion, and FOIA Ombuds Observer package may have been lost in the shuffle. But the issue of EDCs has only become more relevant with the passage of time. And we have seen that through the requests, which have come to our attention this past fiscal year. And our role as the FOIA Ombudsman, we saw the number of requests for OGIS assistance involving delays jump 73 percent in FY 2021.
That in itself may not be surprising, given the extraordinary times we have been experiencing for the last 20 months. But what was more surprising to us is that for 85 percent of these requests for our assistance involving delays, a requester asked for, and was unable to obtain an EDC. While delays are understandable in the COVID-19 environment, particularly with regard to requests for paper records that are stored, for example, in our federal records centers, or that are classified, agencies must provide EDCs upon request to comply with the FOIA statute. And it's important to note that an estimated date of completion is just that, an estimate. Not a guarantee that the agency will respond or will have responded by that date. And EDCs are subject to change and can be adjusted over time.
In our role as the FOIA Ombudsman, we have observed that the EDC requirement and the law sparks significant frustration among requesters and federal agencies. FOIA requesters who are unable to obtain EDCs, or in some cases, any information whatsoever from agencies about the status of their requests, frequently contact OGIS for assistance. Likewise, frustrated FOIA processors have told us about the challenges of providing requesters with EDCs, particularly when faced with growing backlogs. More than half of FOIA processors, as part of eight OGIS assessments of agency FOIA programs said that they sometimes, or rarely, or never, provide EDCs when requested.
So, we're taking this opportunity today to call your attention to our March 2020 compliance assessment, advisory opinion, FOIA Ombuds Observer package. We noted in our advisory opinion that if a FOIA requester is able to establish that an agency has a pattern or a practice of failing to provide EDCs, the court may find that the agency has violated the FOIA. And we hope that the information's provided in these will assist FOIA programs in complying with the EDC requirement. Our recommendations include that agencies should ensure that online tools that provide EDCs function properly, provide the most up-to-date information possible, and provide contact information for the FOIA program. And the agencies should use average processing times for simple and complex requests to help determine EDCs. Next slide, please.
Our fourth recommendation is where you, Chief FOIA Officers, and FOIA professionals out there watching us today, come in, and where I ask you for your help. We recommended the Chief FOIA Officers should ensure that FOIA professionals have the necessary resources to provide EDCs to FOIA requesters. If necessary, Chief FOIA Officers should use their statutory authority to recommend to the head of the agency, adjustments to agency FOIA practices, policies, personnel, technology, and funding. As we said in our assessment, support from agency leadership is crucial to their success in meeting FOIA statutory requirements, including providing EDCs upon request. Chief FOIA Officers who are required under FOIA to support efficient and appropriate compliance with FOIA and recommend improvements to implementation are in the best position to ensure such support. Please, spend some time in the next several weeks in this space to ensure that your agencies are providing EDCs upon request, and if they are not, reviewing changes to ensure future compliance. Next slide, please.
Since 2014, OGIS has been working closely with the Archivist of the United States to improve the administration of FOIA through the work of the FOIA Advisory Committee, which I chair, and which Bobby also sits on as member. 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, and suggest best practices to, the Archivist. We have had three complete terms of the Committee thus far. Three terms have produced a total of 30 recommendations and over 35 best practices. They cover a broad range of topics all designed to improve the FOIA process and access to government documents. On this slide, they are grouped by general topics. They're currently in the fourth term of the Committee, 2020 through 2022, and the four formed subcommittees: Legislation, Process, Technology and Classification, have been meeting on a regular basis.
Some of the subcommittees have further broken down into working groups, some of which stand more than one subcommittee. And they're considering a broad range of topics, including FOIA fees, the design and authority of OGIS, also known as reenacting OGIS, one of my favorite topics. Agency FOIA program funding, first party requests, I'll touch on that briefly a little bit later on as well. Clarity and consistency of processing. And some members are also taking a look at past Committee recommendations to see whether any of them could be amplified, or refined, including training, section 508 compliance, e-discovery, and online databases for commonly requested records.
I'm excited to report the current Committee has already delivered to the Archivist the 31st recommendation. Unprecedented in the past, all the recommendations were at the end of the term, this was midterm. The recommendation states that Congress should adopt rules or enact legislation to establish procedures for affecting public access to legislative branch records in the possession of congressional support offices and agencies, modeled after those procedures contained in the FOIA. These should include requirements for proactive disclosure of certain information, procedures governing public records, requests for records, time limits for responding to requests, exemptions to be narrowly applied, and in the [inaudible] for many initial decisions to deny access. OGIS delivered the recommendation to the Archivist after the Committee's vote at its June 10th, 2021, meeting. And our next step is one that we're currently working on. We're working out the best way for the Archivist to convey that recommendation to Congress. So please stay tuned for that. Next slide, please.
We have created a [inaudible 00:48:24] recommendations dashboard in order to keep track of the Committee's work to date, which we update periodically. And I am proud to report that thanks to OGIS’s hard work, 10 recommendations have already been completed, 15 recommendations are in progress, and another six are pending action, meaning roll up our sleeves and start working on those as soon as we are able. And I just want to take a minute to thank Bobby and all of his staff at OIP [Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy]. We've had an extremely collaborative relationship in bringing to fruition many of these FOIA Advisory Committee recommendations. And I'm very grateful for the partnership and look forward to continuing to move things along. So, hopefully we can have all 31 recommendations completed one day. Next slide, please.
So, this past six months or so, since we last met from April of 2021, we have published two additional reports I wanted to highlight. One of the issue assessments that we published in August of this year represents a very successful collaboration among the FOIA Advisory Committee, OIP, and OGIS. The Committee recommended that OGIS and OIP ask agencies to identify common categories of records requested frequently under the FOIA, and or Privacy Act, by or on behalf of individuals seeking records about themselves, Recommendation No. 2020-14. To fulfill that recommendation, OIP asked agencies that received more than 50 FOIA requests in FY 2019, to answer the following question in their 2021 Chief FOIA Officer Reports, “Does your agency frequently receive common categories of first party requests? If so, please describe the types of requests. And if your agency is explored, establishing alternative means of access to these records outside of the FOIA process.” OGIS reviewed these responses of 70 agencies that answered the question in their 2021 CFO reports and analyzed individual agency and component efforts regarding categories of information regarding the subject of first party requests, and agency processes for responding to such requests.
And we made four major findings, which you can find in our report. I've linked to it here. The first finding, a majority of agencies that submitted CFO reports frequently receive first party requests, not great chalk, I suppose. The second finding is that first party requesters frequently request general categories of records maintained by most agencies. That was kind of interesting. So, some of them are more routine requests for records that span many different agencies. The third finding is that first party requesters frequently seek access to unique records maintained by specific agencies. And there last finding was that some agencies do provide alternative, non-FOIA means of access to first party records. Recognizing that there's no one size fits all to alternative processes for obtaining first party records, OGIS recommended that agencies examine closely all of the records that they generate, collect and or maintain, and seek creative ways to provide non-FOIA access to first party records whenever possible.
OGIS also recommended that agencies use their websites to explain, in plain language, the steps requesters should take to obtain access to first party records. Finally, a note that a working group of the Process Subcommittee of the current term [FOIA Advisory] Committee, I referenced that earlier, is studying the issue of first party requests to see whether additional recommendations may be warranted. Next slide, please.
For the fourth consecutive year, we partnered with our colleagues in the Chief Records Officer’s [CRO’s] Office to ask several questions in the records' management self-assessment (RMSA). Our partnership with the CRO’s office has allowed us to expand our review of agency FOIA policies and procedures, by asking targeted questions that help us identify potential compliance issues that merit further exploration. Results from several RMSA surveys have provided us with the foundation for additional OGIS assessments. And they're all available on our, our website. The COVID-19 pandemics effects on FOIA processing, and the use of e-discovery are among the topics in our latest report.
The RMSA survey for 2020 administered to Agency Records Officers between January and March of 2021, by NARAs' CRO office, included seven key questions regarding FOIA administration. Key results highlighted in this assessment include the following. Nearly half of all respondents, 49 percent, reported that the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted their agency's ability to respond to FOIA requests. A majority of respondents, 80 percent, whose FOIA programs were disrupted, reported that their agency's paper records were inaccessible due to office closures on nearly half. Forty-six percent reported that agency staff were not available to search for records. A majority of respondents, 72 percent, reported that their agencies worked directly with requesters to tailor their requests for more efficient processing during the pandemic.
A majority of respondents, again 72 percent, reported that their agencies use e-discovery tools to search for records when responding to FOIA, and or legal discovery. Of the agencies that reported using e-discovery tools, a significant majority, 91 percent, reported their agencies use e-discovery tools for FOIA responses involving requests for email records. Of the respondents who reported that their agencies do not use e-discovery tools to search for records, roughly half reported that such tools are not available at their agencies. The majority of respondents, 51 percent, reported that their Agency Records Officer and Chief FOIA Officer worked together on information technology requirements that benefit both programs. And half, 50 percent, reported that their training programs address the importance in relationship between FOIA and records management. That's something that OGIS strives to underline as often as possible, having important relationships. So, I encourage all of you to take a look at our two reports when you have a chance. Next slide, please.
In order to highlight two upcoming events that I hope you can all join us for. The first is actually tomorrow, the Archivist has already spoken about it. I wanted to provide the NARA YouTube link. Please join us as Professor Margaret Kwoka, who is a former FOIA Advisory Committee member, is going to be interviewed by current FOIA Advisory Committee member, Tom Susman, on her new book, called Saving the Freedom of Information Act. I have included that link to the NARA YouTube livestream for the event, and [inaudible 00:55:41] join us. Also, the next full FOIA Advisory Committee meeting will be taking place on Thursday, December 9th, starting at 10 AM. We don't have Eventbrite, or NARA YouTube information yet, but please visit our website, and we will have more information as we get closer to that date. Next slide please.
So, I'm very excited to report that we are growing our Compliance Team. Please check out USA jobs for our GS-13 management and program analyst position. It opened earlier this week on November 15th and closes November 23rd. I've included the link there for it, and please tell all of your friends in the federal family about it and encourage everyone to apply. So, we're very excited about the possibility of some great applicants that I'm sure they're going to get. Next slide please.
So, I also had a slide for questions, but I'm looking at my time, and I think we're actually managing to catch up, Bobby. So, I think we're getting back on track. Believe that next up, we're going to turn it over to our two Committees to start giving reports. And I'm checking in to see if we've got our COCACI [Committee on Cross-Agency Collaboration and Innovation] co-chairs on deck, ready to start presenting. Hi, Mike.
MIKE BELL: Hello.
ALINA M. SEMO: Hey. So, I don't know if your co-chairs available, but I will just pause for a second. I don't see any questions or anyone pinging me that there are any burning questions right now. So, I'm going to go ahead and turn it over to Mike to go ahead and tell us about what's going on in your Committee.
MIKE BELL: Great. Thank you, Alina, so much. Just making sure I'm not on mute since that seems to be the latest craze with all these meetings, the 'can you hear me now?' guy is now more appropriate than ever when he was in the commercials. But my name is Mike Bell, and I'm one of the co-chairs of the Committee on Cross-Agency Collaboration and Innovation. My co-chair is Abioye Mosheim of CPSC [U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission]. She should be addressing you at the end of our Committee's presentation today.
In my day job, I'm the FOIA Officer for the Office of the Secretary of Transportation. Luckily transportation issues haven't been in the news much lately. So, I've had plenty of time to devote to the Committee. But all joking aside, I would like to point out that all the members on this Committee and the Technology Committee all have day jobs that they are spending extra time on for these Committees, really, because they want to give a little extra to improve the FOIA process. As Professor Kwoka's book says, "it may need some fixing," and these Committees have gotten together with people giving up their own time to try to help out a little bit. So, next slide please.
Okay. COCACI was first announced actually last year at the October 2020 Chief FOIA Officers Council meeting. And of over the next few months after that, we received volunteers from all over the government. I think we're up to 13 federal agencies right now, and we're still receiving new members, even up through last week. So, if anyone wants to join, or they know someone in their office who might be interested, please just contact us or OGIS, and we would be glad to take on more members. Our Committee first met back in March of this year, and the first order of business was to come up with a better acronym than COCACI. But actually, what happened was the pseudonym grew on us, and the phrase went from awkward, to actually a little beloved. So, we've stuck with COCACI. But when I took a look at what we've done so far, we could almost call ourselves the build on better Committee.
That might be a little derivative at this point, but we really have been building on the work of a lot of other offices, committees, just to try to improve and spread what's been going on in the FOIA world. The Committee started out first building on the work of the 2018-2020 FOIA Advisory Committee, especially the Recommendation No. [2020-]16, which is sort of our founding precept. Basically, the Committee asked the Chief FOIA Officer Council to create a Committee “for cross agency collaboration and innovation.” And that's where we got the name, COCACI. And basically, the recommendation had three main points. And you'll see, as we get into our subcommittees, we have subcommittees that mesh pretty well with the three main recommendations. The first part of that recommendation 16 was they wanted to research and propose a cross-agency grant program and other revenue resources. We especially wanted to focus on small agency offices because they sometimes don't get the benefits of economies of scale that some of the larger ones do.
One of the other recommendations, or part of that recommendation was to promote initiatives for a clear career project for FOIA professionals. We got the government information specialist [GIS] job series, and we just want to try to recruit and retain the best people in this career field, so we have a subcommittee for that. And then the final part of the recommendation was to try to align agency resources with the commitment to transparency, and that really got our committees started. But however, you've also been building on the Chief FOIA Officer [Council] Technology Committee. You're going to be hearing from them shortly, hopefully, and just hearing all the amazing things that they've been doing. And then finally, we've been also building on all the hard work that the FOIA offices around the government have done over the last 20 months or so during this pandemic.
MIKE BELL: Last 20 months or so during this pandemic. We have a subcommittee for that as well that we're trying to just build on what's been accomplished for what seems like forever, but it's only been 20 months. Next slide please. Yeah, and I said to accomplish this we have three subcommittees. We're going to be hearing from each of them in turn shortly. So, I'm not going to spoil their presentations, but you can see their main themes or goals right now on the slide here. For the GIS Subcommittee, they're going to review and promote initiatives for career trajectories for FOIA professionals. As I said, recruit and retain. We also want to keep the best people because sometimes people will leave their career field and we want to try and find a way to reward them and motivate them to stay in this field. Then we have the Pandemic/Virtual FOIA Office Subcommittee.
And as everyone knows, FOIA offices and everyone has been forced to adjust over these last 20 months. And we're going to have to adjust again now that we're going back to the office soon. And we're going to have to merge the virtual FOIA office with the office. And then finally, we have the FOIA Resources Subcommittee. But we just want to look at and share what resources are out there? What can we take advantage of? And then just how to use it. So, all three of these subcommittees right now are gathering information and thinking of ways to get that information out to federal agencies. And we all know that there's a lot of good information, a lot of good processes out there, but we also know it's also tough to get that information through the bureaucracy to all the employees who really need it.
And the Committee is really looking out for true long-lasting cross-agency collaboration. If this Committee were to simply compile a bunch of solutions, pass them on in some kind of report, and then disband, COCACI would be a failure then. Because we want to create a permanent infrastructure to access and share all the good ideas and information that's out there. So now, I'd like to go ahead and turn it over to our subcommittees and hear some of the good ideas that they've come up with so far. And we'd like to start with the government information services professionalism subcommittee. Thank you.
MADELINE VAN NOSTRAND: Hi, good morning everybody. Next slide please. Next slide please. My name is Madeline Van Nostrand, the co-chair of the GIS Professionalization Subcommittee. Today, I'm going to go over the purpose of our subcommittee and our long-term objectives. Then I'll hand it over to Nicole Rementer who will discuss where our subcommittee is now and our plan deliverable. The GIS professionalization subcommittee was assigned to review and promote initiatives for clear career trajectories for FOIA professionals, building on the government information specialist job series, and in coordination with existing agency efforts.
Before I go into more details in our subcommittee, I'd like to briefly outline the history of the GIS job series. The government information specialist, or GIS for short, was a position created in 2012 by the Office of Personnel Management [OPM] as the 306 job series. OPM largely left it up to agencies how to implement the new job series. The Obama administration recognized that this new job series elevated the importance of the work performed by those in the federal government who are responsible for realizing the president's vision of an open and transparent government. This subcommittee aims to examine how the GIS job series can continue to be elevated. This subcommittee will examine our future cross-agency support necessary for GIS career development and advancement and will inform the development of performance standards with the GIS job series. Next slide please.
Through cross-agency collaboration, the subcommittee will specifically review the following areas: recruitment strategies, hiring and retention strategies, uniform pay scale assignments and key competencies for civil servants, and professional certification testing. Additional areas may be examined if identified by the research and data gathering stages. That's all I have for today, now over to Nicole. Thank you.
NICOLE REMENTER: Thanks so much, Madeline. Good morning. My name is Nicole Rementer, I am an attorney advisor with the National FOIA Office at the Environmental Protection Agency and co-chair of the GIS Professionalization Subcommittee. Recommendation 16 from the FOIA Advisory Committee's 2020 term report gave us some very important goals and highlighted the importance of supporting FOIA professionals in the government information specialist series. To that end, this subcommittee has recognized that our eventually proposed solution should be data-driven. Our initial efforts aimed to investigate the underlying obstacles and their effect on GIS career development and mobility in both the short and long-terms. We are currently developing a survey of FOIA professionals, have interviewed and will continue interviews of FOIA leaders and experts. All of these efforts support our information and data gathering necessary to develop a thoroughly developed white paper that the subcommittee will present to the COCACI Committee and Chief FOIA Officers Council. This white paper will propose recommendations for next steps for the subcommittee that will contribute to the COCACI's implementation of Recommendation 16. That is our report on the progress of the GIS Subcommittee. Thank you all for your time and attention. And next slide please.
CHANTAY STANLEY: Good morning. My name is Chantay Stanley and I am the chair of the Pandemic/Virtual FOIA Offices Subcommittee. Next slide please. The Pandemic/Virtual FOIA Offices Subcommittee was created basically to analyze and review the capability of the FOIA professionals to work in a virtual location during the pandemic. So, we will be working to gather the lessons learned and best practices for teleworking, not only during the pandemic but we also want to build on what OIP has done. And I know that GAO is also working this issue as well. So, we want to go ahead and build upon that to make sure that we can sustain this post-COVID as well. Next slide please.
Long term, what we'll do is we will create the lessons learned from teleworking and we'll make recommendations as to what the best practices are that we have already examined during COVID. The progress that we have made is we're now framing our questions now to create the survey. We want to compile answers as to what the agencies have learned as far as technology-wise, how hard it was to move from an in-office environment to a virtual environment. So, we are planning to publish a list of the best practices, what was learned. And we're going to focus on the tactics, the techniques, and procedures that were effective in making the transition from the in office to a virtual office. But we also want to be able to sustain that post-COVID. And that is all I have. Thank you.
MIKE: Next slide please.
BRANDON GAYLORD: Good morning, I am Brandon Gaylord. I am the chair for the FOIA Resources Subcommittee. I am also the FOIA director and officer for HHS. Next slide, please. The FOIA Resources Subcommittee is really focusing on three to four different areas. The first thing we want to do, we could actually really use your help on this is we're looking for the different types of resources out there, specifically anything that would be outside of the usual FTE [Full Time Equivalent] hiring process. We've already found a lot of agencies are using some really good ideas, things like tiger teams in the department offices, leveraging areas like pathways, internships. And so, we're learning a lot, but I think there's a lot more out there. So, if you have things that you use in your office that you found useful, please reach out to us and we'll definitely try to incorporate those in our plan.
And we are also trying to compile and create reference materials that will be kind of a user guide to getting involved in some of these. So, if you're looking to set up maybe an internship program for a certain part of your office kind of helping you get the tools you need to start that process by following somebody who's already gone down that path before. Looking to also identify opportunities where we can standardize our resources across from agencies. Then again, kind of looking for that agency that's done something, done it well and allowing them to kind of blaze their path for us and build out kind of the points as how they've done that, so the rest of us can just kind of draft on them. And we're working to... We're still not quite sure how we want to post this and disseminate this information, but we do want kind of be a reference source where you as a referral agency can go and see what's out there, what's available, and choose the best path for you to go.
And the last thing we're going to look at is identifying and highlighting resources that are already standardized. And as Mike mentioned a lot of smaller agencies out don't have resources of other big agencies. So, we're hoping that we'll be able to put some things out there that are already in place. And if you're a small two or three-person shop, you can just hop over and see what's really available. And this is something where the FOIA Resources Subcommittee is built mainly facing federal agencies. We think that the ultimate goal of this really is better customer service, backlog reduction, that's still kind of the overarching mission here is to allow us to provide more resources and better use of resources we have and diversify our resources to make sure that we're equipped for where FOIA is going in the next five to 10 years. I will turn it over to Abioye who will wrap up the COCACI presentation. Next slide please.
ABIOYE MOSHEIM: All right, thank you so much. I'm Abioye Mosheim, I'm the co-chair of COCACI with Mike Bell. And I'm also the Consumer Product Safety Commission's Chief FOIA Officer. And I want to thank Mike, Madeline, Chantay, Brandon, all of you are doing wonderful presentations and every member of the Committee for all of the hard work that you're doing. We've come a long way this year, as you can see with all of the work that we're doing and the deliverables that we have in mind. And I just really appreciate each and every one of you. So just to wrap it up, we have three subcommittees: GIS, Pandemic, and Resources. We are working to improve our collaborative efforts across the federal government, examining the current state of the GIS profession with the goal of harmonizing recruitment, retention, pay, and development of the career. And we're also taking lessons learned from the pandemic that we're currently in but moving slowly out of. And to see how they apply to the future of FOIA offices in what will most likely be a mixed environment of virtual and in office work.
And we're also reviewing the common resources that we have in uncovering existing needs in federal FOIA offices with the goal to standardize resources, improve access and efficiency. And with that all said, we could always use new members. So, if anyone is interested in joining COCACI, we would welcome you with open arms. We have a lot of great members with great ideas and we know that people out there have even more great ideas. So put those ideas together and work to solve all of the challenges that are facing FOIA offices, which are really opportunities to improve. So, thank you so, so much.
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Thank you, Abioye and thank you, COCACI. I've really enjoyed your presentation; I just want to echo the gratitude that Abioye expressed for the work of all the Committee members and all of you that presented today. We have three topics that are at the core of any agency's success in for administration. So, I just wanted to reemphasize Abioye's message, please reach out to us for participation or volunteers for the COCACI. Next, I'd like to turn it over to our Technology Committee, introduce our co-chairs Michael Sarich and Eric Stein. Michael and Eric over to you.
MICHAEL SARICH: Well, thank you. Thank you so much, Eric.
ERIC F. STEIN: Well, good morning. My name is Eric Stein I'm one of the co-chairs of the Technology Committee and I'm going to turn it over to Mike for the opening comments. Next slide please.
MICHAEL SARICH: Thank you. Good morning. Thank you all. What a great presentation by Mike, Abi, and their COCACI team. Their group has really taken off and I'd be remiss if I didn't say that I'm really impressed with their work and their contributions to the community. The Chief FOIA Officers Council, Tech Committee was created in response to need identified by the FOIA Advisory Committee. It seeks to bring members from across the FOIA and tech world together to understand the state of technology tools being used in FOIA programs, kind of find the bright stars, the best practices, and take that collective wisdom and share it across the federal FOIA family. The FOIA Advisory Committee recognized, and I think we all agree that together we can drive improvements in FOIA processing through active dialogue, deep dives on important research areas, and embrace the diverse perspectives from agencies both big and small. So, to that end, we have 39 members from at least 23 different departments and agencies. Next slide please.
So, we've focused our work right now around seven groups, and I'm really looking forward to Matt Pollack sharing a bit about just one of the products we've produced so far on video redaction. And Gorka Garcia-Malene from NIH previewing a coming attraction on FOIA case processing. So over to Eric to share some of the FY 21 highlights.
ERIC F. STEIN: Okay, next slide please. All right, good morning again. Our Committee has been in existence for almost three years now, it grows fast. And we started out with the broad mandate and started to work through the seven different working groups that Mike just mentioned, and we'll be talking and showing some of our deliverables in a few minutes. Throughout the past fiscal year, we managed to accomplish several things despite the pandemic and have several other pretty big things coming up for FY 22 and beyond. The first thing here listed on the slide is we completed work on recommendations from a February 2020 report. One of the things we committed to was going through the recommendations and actions that we've developed and figuring out what can we do and what if anything else is needed. So, we completed the work on those recommendations in this fiscal year, and we were moving on now to the next... Well, listed here are charters and the work that we've scoped out through each of the working groups. Second bullet here, notice that we had an AI event, and this is important for a whole host of reasons.
Our Committee strives to raise awareness of technology throughout the federal FOIA community. Next, introducing concept like AI [artificial intelligence], machine learning and e-discovery tools and so on. So, this event was great, it provided an opportunity to provide an overview of artificial intelligence, what it is and isn't, and how it may apply to FOIA or in the future. We'll be doing similar events this year and beyond as well. We'll talk about that a little later in the presentation. The third bullet here notes that we posted our charters publicly, a link is available, it's on the OGIS website. And we've been working to execute the different deliverables in those charters. You'll be seeing one or two of the papers, and we'll talk about one of them today and preview the one in a few minutes like I mentioned. We participated in two different OIP Best Practices Workshops. And these sessions are important for us in the Technology Committee, because it gives us a better understanding of what federal agencies are and are not doing, the challenges they face, and how can we apply technology to those challenges.
We of course briefed at the April 2021 meeting of this group to share our updates at that time. And before we prepared this presentation today, we went back to that presentation to see what did we brief you on So, for those of you who saw that presentation, it's nice to see you again, and nice to have you with us. And for those of you who weren't there, welcome, and thank you for all the support you're providing to your FOIA programs. And with that, I'm going to turn over to Mike and next slide.
MICHAEL SARICH: Great. Thank you, Eric. So, the Committee has published a couple of great papers, one on video redaction and another one on searches to the areas that we wanted to focus on with our seven working groups. And more papers are on the way from the other five working groups. I'd like to focus first on one of the papers we published before we pivot to our coming attraction. So first off, it is my great pleasure to introduce Matthew Pollack. Matt's the Chief of Disclosure Law and Judicial Actions Branch at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection. But moreover, Matt's a leader in the field of FOIA tech and he led our efforts to publish our first ever working paper on video redactions. So, Matt will give us kind of a high-level overview of the paper, talk about delivering resources for the FOIA community. So, Matt over to you sir.
MATTHEW POLLACK: Thanks very much, Michael and good morning to everybody. As Michael indicated, our group was pressed to address an issue of growing concern, which is how agencies should approach requests for video records. And I mentioned that it's an issue of growing concern for two main reasons. First, there is a growth of video records in federal agencies across the board. We see that, and of course over the course of the pandemic, so many more meetings, including this one are being held virtually. There are recordings of those meetings and people can request those. A second is that there has been an increased scrutiny on law enforcement agents in the way that they perform their duties. And so many agencies, including my own at U.S. Customs and Border Protection are integrating body cameras into our law enforcement personnel practices. And so, there's a significant increase in the number of videos that are being recorded in that setting as well.
The second reason why this has become such a pressing issue is that courts have made an about face in the last several years, whereas before they acknowledged that maybe agencies don't have the proper technology that they need to redact videos. Courts have changed that view, they've acknowledged that most people have the ability to redact videos in their pockets via cell phone. And so, it's almost unreasonable to assume that the government no longer can have that technology. One court said that a judge has a teenager who can put cat faces on the videos of his friends, why can't the federal government just make that a blur? And it makes sense. Lots of other courts have kind of followed suit in requiring agencies to possess this technology and they've been looking beyond FOIA offices. They've been looking for the technology capabilities of the agency at large, whether there's an office of public affairs or media affairs that might have those types of capabilities. So, they're really holding the agencies responsible to addressing these records as they're creating them.
So, our group attempted to come up with a way to provide some best practices for agencies to right size their video redaction programs. And we put together a list of best practices. And I just wanted to hit some of the highlights here with you today. The first is making sure that you have the right people who are making these redactions. That could come from inside your own FOIA office, that could mean training your current FOIA professionals, that could mean bringing in new ones and making sure that you highlight video redaction capabilities in your skill sets. That could also mean reaching outside your FOIA program to other agency personnel that might have that expertise and the right tools to be able to make those redactions. And it could mean if you have a limited number of video redactions that you might need to make, that could mean reaching out to contractors to perform that work.
I know we did that when we first started our FOIA redaction program because we were a little bit behind the eight ball and that we had a request and we had no way to deal with those records, and so we had to reach out to contractors. And that kind of highlights one of the other issues that we recommend is getting started with your FOIA video redaction program as soon as your agency considers creating video records. Now, for most agencies, we've already doing that as I mentioned in the Zoom, Webex, and Microsoft Teams world of the pandemic. But we really need to consider how we're going to approach that.
And so that includes figuring out who's doing it. And that includes making sure that we have the tools to be able to do that. There are lots of different technology tools that are available, and that includes those that are fully featured and similar to what they use in the Hollywood movies. And some of those that are much more simple and that are web-based, or cloud-based in CBP [U.S. Customs and Border Protection]. We've transitioned from one of those fully featured systems that we determined we no longer needed anymore to one that was provided by actually some of the hardware manufacturers of our body cameras that can be used for all types of video. And it's a much more simple interface and a much more cost effective one as well. So, you have to make sure you have the right people, you have to have the right tools and you want to make sure that you're getting started.
The rest of our paper touches on other recommendations, including making sure you're aware of record retention schedules, making sure you're prepared to deal with the storage necessary to have a video redaction program. A video file is much larger than a PDF, and so as you're making redactions you need much more space on your servers. Being aware of what the time commitment is to redact videos. Redacting a five-minute video might be 9,000 frames, and it's equivalent to redacting 9,000 pages of records. It doesn't seem a lot when you say, "Oh, it's only five minutes." But that can take much longer if you're going frame by frame to redact that information. So, you have to make stakeholders within the agency and stakeholders in the requester community aware that video redaction might take a different period of time to work on than standard paper redactions. And all of this is plan ahead. That's the biggest recommendation that we can have, make your considerations now, as soon as you can.
We hope that our paper at least provides some sort of blueprint for success for agencies as they're preparing to deal with video records. But I also wanted to make an offer of our Committee for any agency that's adding this. If you have questions, if you would like to gather some additional insight from what we've learned during our research, please feel free to reach out to us, we're happy to help. And for those of you in the requester community, if you've had good or bad experiences with video records, we'd love to hear about them so that we can incorporate those in our next set of recommendations when we put them together. So, we're always here and willing to assist. And with that, I'm going to kick it back to Michael, but thanks very much everyone.
MICHAEL SARICH: Yeah, thank you so much for that. Excellent kind of overview of our video redaction paper. And it's worth highlighting and reemphasizing a couple of points that Matt or [inaudible 01:27:54] pointed out. And that's that the FOIA Tech Committee is here for folks in the FOIA community, folks in the requester community, just folks who are looking for federal records. We're here to work to... If there's a federal record, the expectation is that under the FOIA we provided regardless of whether it's a video or what it may be. And when these new technologies, newish technologies come about and when agencies adopt these, it's part of our gig to make sure that we're able to provide those. So, we couldn't be happier with the work product and really look forward to continued dialogue and continuing to work with the rest of folks in the FOIA community.
So, with that, established attraction, we have a coming attraction that I'm really, really excited about. And so, I'd like to kind of preview that coming attraction. So, to do that it's my great pleasure to introduce Gorka Garcia-Malene. Gorka leads the National Institute of Health [NIH] FOIA program. And as Mike Bell pointed out earlier in his presentation, given the events of the last year and a half, you can imagine how busy Gorka has been at NIH. But again, folks in the FOIA community coming together to give a little of their time, to help others in the FOIA community. And Gorka has been able to lend his considerable talents to help us work on our FOIA case processing paper. And so, it's my pleasure to turn it over him to preview that coming attraction. Gorka.
GORKA GARCIA-MALENE: Okay, good morning, Michael. Good morning, everyone. Thank you for that very warm introduction. I'll tell you it's... Although we're very busy at NIH, the work that's being done in this Committee and in our work groups, it's critical and it's important to just prepare ourselves for the coming waves of FOIA. So, this work really does take precedence. To tell a little bit about myself, I started my career at the [inaudible] during a lot of FOIA litigation. I've since taken the reins here at the National Institute of Health, and I manage the FOIA program here. I couldn't go on before mentioning other folks involved in this work group. And it's you Michael, Michael Sarich, and Barbara Swailes, Virginia Burke, and Peace Burke, and Danielle Adams at the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. And the first charge that this work group had was to come up with the top 10 questions about FOIAXpress. We all have experience with FOIAXpress, and we thought that we could share some of our experience with the FOIA community at large, that would be helpful.
Some of its pros, some of its cons, it has significant advantages and some limitations. And we wanted to share that with folks before they committed to that particular tool. We prepared that paper; I think it was extremely helpful. We got good feedback from the paper. And then we turn to what would be our next assignments. As we looked within, we found that our common experience was that when it was time for us to choose a platform to review records, to do case management and track cases, we found that in our experiences, we felt essentially at level. We didn't know whether to go with a homegrown solution or with something off the shelf, commercial off the shelf [COTS], which is cost.
And we thought we'd spare everybody else that experience. But the reality is that there's a lot of information out there now, it's just difficult to find. There are a lot of platforms that are available that have different strengths and we've. And so, what we set out to do was to prepare a paper that explains what the advantages are of going with the cut solution and what questions you should ask yourself because not all cut solutions are created equal, right? So, the paper that we're preparing, and we're close to completing it, really deals with some of the advantages of cost which for example, some of these commercial off the shelf solutions come baked in with really strong metrics, right? So, this is a kind of information that the system can generate very quickly. You can use it to report up or to report down or to assess the health of the program. And you can do it almost instantaneously.
So, that's definitely one of the strengths that these platforms have. In addition, the cut solutions, especially those that are dedicated to FOIA, update themselves. You're not working with your IT department to try to catch up with the requirements of changing laws and regulations. This is something that the companies themselves are leaving it. So, it takes a lot of responsibility off your shoulders. But really primarily the paper focuses on what you should be asking yourself while determining whether you should go with the cut solution and if so, with which. As I said, some of these cut solutions can be very expensive, can be very complex, and have capabilities that you may or may not need. So, it really focuses on first giving you a sense that this is well tried and right. We've all sort.
GORKA GARCIA-MALENE: [inaudible 01:33:00] this is well trapping territory. We've all sort of gone through this, it explains some of the questions you should be asking yourself in terms of what specifications you may or may not want. And it also just elucidates the fact that again, you are not alone by any stretch of your imagination. We really encourage you to reach out to colleagues, sister agencies, the departments, and us. We look forward to any questions you have in order to determine what solution is best for you. And of course, we're always very excited to see our membership grow, so please reach out to us if you'd like to participate in our work group. But as I said, the work that's being done here is critical. The request volumes are ever increasing, the complexity is always increasing. And so, you don't want to find yourself shopping for a COTS solution on your heels. When you've been confronted with litigation and you realize that the system that you have can't do job. So, I hope you'll be in touch with us and that you'll find our work product useful. Thank you, Michael.
MICHAEL SARICH: Thanks so much, Gorka. And again, the work that these Committees have done and continue to do, being just exposed to them have really assisted us here at the Veterans Health Administration in leveraging and maximizing our own COTS solution. So being able to work with real leaders like Danielle, Virginia, Gorka have really helped Barbara and I leverage the FOIA... The module... Sorry, that we use here at the Veterans Health Administration and has really made a difference as we look to meet leadership goals. And then also compile that business information to kind of really tell the health of the program and where we're at. Talking about tools that we use and technology, and kind of spreading the word and sharing the wealth of information that we have in the tech space. We are really excited about what Eric is going to share next on a FOIA Technology Showcase in February. So, Eric, please.
ERIC F. STEIN: Great. Well, thank you. Thank you, Mike, Gorka and Matt for those overviews there. Before I go to the FOIA Technology Showcase, I just want to share, we also posted a FOIA Search paper on our public website. I encourage... Whether you are a FOIA practitioner, a member of the public to check out that paper. That working group did an excellent job of doing research about FOIA capabilities and agencies. And we found that there were some disconnects between actual capabilities and agencies and what various members of the public thought agencies could do. For example, some people thought that we could just do a search across all the databases and tools at a federal agency in one place. And while some agencies have more advanced technology, they'll allow for those types of capabilities. Most of the time, those are manual searches of multiple databases, multiple places for different types of records and information.
So, there are also some tips, just best practices or recommendations in that paper. So, I encourage you to read the FOIA Search paper, if anyone wants to check that out. And with that the final item on this slide here is we've developed plans over this past year for the FOIA Technology Showcase. This is a two-day event that we're planning in February 2022. Currently, there's information available online. There's a link there to it, I'll come to that in a moment. What the FOIA Tech Showcase strives to do is to connect government officials with capabilities out there in the private sector. And we strive in this Committee to raise awareness of technology in general, best practices, and keeping in mind that we work for the public and we want to find the best possible way to respond to requests and with the growing volume of information, data records out there that challenge continues to grow.
We have to look for new and smarter ways to leverage technology and people to meet these demands. So, the FOIA Tech Showcase is going to be a two-day event. The first day is focused on more practical applications of what technology and tools exist that are out there that would allow for federal agencies to maybe help with discovery of records, doing searches, doing redactions, different COTS products or capabilities, tools, APIs, and different applications that integrate technology and we have a series of different topics that's on the RFI [Request for Information] right now on SAM.gov. On day one, we want to hear what's in the practical realm right now. Day two is thinking bigger. It's, what's the future of FOIA? What are we looking at in the next 5, 10, 15 years with technology and broader topics and themes? It gives an opportunity for the private sector to share its ideas about where it thinks FOIA could go.
Whereas day one is more focused on, what do we need now in the immediate term to address FOIA requests and the growing volume of records and information out there. So, we have the link here for the FOIA blog at OGIS. At the SAM.gov, we're taking RFIs as well, I should say the Department of Justice or NARA [National Archives and Records Administration] is taking all the RFIs through November 23rd. At which point we will be preparing for the February 2022 events where any of the vendors interested or private members of the private sector who want to present can provide a video and be available for some Q&A with government officials who have questions about their capabilities. Next slide, please.
This brings us to our next steps. And we get past our accomplishments, I'm very proud of the work that our Committee's done remotely, primarily throughout the past fiscal year. The first thing we're looking at now is, update our working group charters and we have to update some deadlines, a few things slid over the past year. As we saw, we were able to get several things done. We're going to look at, do we want to devote our time and energy to some of those items from last year? Or do we want to pivot and take on some additional topics? And here are some of the ones that have been shared with us, and we welcome your feedback on different areas, we should be looking at based on your agency needs.
The first one is discussion of potential new working groups on data. Lot of talk about data scientists, AI, machine learning, understanding how data's being used from a perspective of maybe managing FOIA programs and using metrics, but also how to manage data. Is this being pulled in response to requests and redaction requirement? And just data... There's a whole lot there to unpack. Interoperability of IT tools. Over the past few years, we've gained in this Committee, a very good understanding of the technical landscape out there throughout the 100 or so federal agencies working on FOIA. And there are a lot of great applications out there. And sometimes the interoperability of tools is an issue. So, looking at the different capabilities that are out there, so we could help advise any agencies with questions or identify best practices moving forward.
We want to dig deeper into technical issues at agencies, sorry. And what we mean here is we started with... As I mentioned previously, a broader understanding of the federal landscape for FOIA. And now we're really getting into... All right, different agencies have different capabilities, we want to share best practices among them and identify ways, tools, technical issues considering the infrastructured agencies, the IT systems that they run, the sources of data that they have the records. And where can we add value as a Committee at different agencies, because one size won't fit all.
And finally, we're going to complete the pending deliverables that we ultimately keep in the charters that's going to be... And like I said, we have to move those deadlines just a little bit in some cases, including some of the updated papers. Well, I just mentioned the FOIA Technology Showcase event in early 2022. So we're very excited about that and connecting federal FOIA practitioners to the private sector, and I believe we're going to be as open and transparent as possible trying to publish and post online as much information as we can about the events and the different tools being showcased there. With that, Mike, I'm going to turn it back over to you.
MICHAEL SARICH: Thanks so much, Eric. I appreciate that. So, as we talked about today, the Tech Committee is a creation of the FOIA Advisory Committee and is hopefully an example of putting those recommendations into action for the wider FOIA community. So, what we've shared are just some of the things that we're working on. The Tech Committee is always looking for new ideas, new energy, new perspectives and we do that to ensure that we're meeting the mandate from the FOIA Advisory Committee and either creating or identifying implementable ideas to help improve the operations of FOIA programs government-wide.
I think we've had some tremendous success so far, and it is really energizing when you're able to put those innovations into action. And I've seen them benefit my own FOIA program at VHA [Veterans Health Administration], we've had tremendous results. And I do give a line share of the credit for the inspiration, my colleagues and on the FOIA Tech Committee. When I have questions, I always have an open ear and you get a tremendous amount of support from your colleagues in terms of ideas and advice and guidance, because really at the end of the day, we're all kind of doing the same thing.
We're illuminating the operations of the federal government and we do them in different agencies. But the mandate's the same, it's the same 20 days for me at VHA as it is for Eric at State or Gorka at NIH or Matt at Customs and Border Protection. So, there we are. So, with that said, we want to thank and acknowledge the members of that team for all the hard work they've done, for their tireless work and the guidance of both Alina and Bobby, along the way through this entire journey. And so, with that said, Eric and I are open to questions, feedback, and any input folks would like to provide. And we go to the next slide.
ERIC F. STEIN: Yeah, Mike, I would just add, we too are asking for new members all the time. We had some members drop off over the past year. I think one of our colleagues from COCACI mentioned, this is additional responsibility that people take on. And we're so grateful for the time that they commit to this Committee, which we think is very worthwhile, and just want to echo Mike's thanks and appreciation to Bobby and Alina and all the members of our Committee who make this happen. So, with that, thank you.
ALINA M. SEMO: Okay, great. Thank you so much, Eric and Mike and Gorka and Matt, you guys all did an outstanding job. I'm going to ask Martha Murphy, OGIS [Office of Government Information Services] Deputy Director, if there have been any chat questions from our federal family colleagues. I have haven't seen any, but I just want to make sure I didn't miss it.
MARTHA W. MURPHY: So, we did have one question for Bobby about the training. Question is, "Will OIP e-learning courses be available to agencies who don't have e-learning platforms?"
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Yes. And thank you for that question. Yes, we are planning to... So the initial goal is to have these in e-learning platform format, but we're also planning to have a version, it won't have all the functionalities that you have in [inaudible 01:44:52] learning module, but have all the lessons that we'll post on our website that agencies would be able to use so that we can have it available, both for those agencies that do have e-learning platforms and those that don't.
ALINA M. SEMO: Okay. Great, Martha, thanks. Anything else?
BOBBY TALEBIAN: There's a question here about, "How can one apply to be part of the Committees?" And so, if you're interested the Tech Committee, you see Eric and Michael's email address, but you can also reach out to Alina and I and we're happy to connect you with either Committee. Glad to see that question. So hopefully that means the Committee's inspired... This has inspired me, inspired other agencies to participate and volunteer. It's hard to believe that the Tech Committee is now three years old, but a lot's been accomplished and it's due to the great work of the members and so, I appreciate that.
ALINA M. SEMO: It looks like we had another question come in, "When will the new e-learning courses be available?
BOBBY TALEBIAN: So, we are working on developing them now. Our plan is not to wait and release them all at once, because we want to get them in your hands as soon as possible. And so, our current plan is to work on the ones that are smaller first, the executive and roll that out as it's produced, hopefully by March. Then roll out the non-FOIA professional program personnel version. And then a little bit after that, later in the year but before the summer, we're hoping to be able to release the two, three-hour version for FOIA professionals. Michael Bell offered his email in the chat, firstname.lastname@example.org for any potential COCACI volunteers.
ALINA M. SEMO: Great. And I think the other question we had was a similar one, the estimated timeframe for [inaudible 01:47:02] to be available to agencies. And you've already answered that. So, thanks Bobby.
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Thank you Alina. So, if there's no other agency questions, I believe now we've reached the portion of our program where we can open the meeting to the public comments section of our meeting. And we promise to leave time for that. We look forward to hearing from members of the public who have ideas or comments that they would like to share. I also want to remind everyone that you may also submit your in comments. Please email them to... Excuse me, email@example.com. Any oral comments will be captured in the transcript of this meeting, which we will post on our websites as soon as they are available.
ALINA M. SEMO: Okay. So, we'll open up our telephone lines now to begin. So, if I could turn to our event producer, Michelle, please provide instructions for our listeners for how they can ask any questions or make any comments via telephone.
EVENT PRODUCER: Absolutely. So, ladies and gentlemen, as we enter the public comment session, please limit your comments to three minutes. Once your three minutes expires, we will mute your line so that we can move on to the next commenter in queue. We will definitely give you notice of that, but after three minutes you will be muted.
ALINA M. SEMO: Okay. Great.
EVENT PRODUCER: And as a reminder to ask via the Webex Audio, please press the raise hand icon, which is located above the chat box on Webex. If you are on the main line audio, please press pound two on your telephone keypad to enter the question or comment queue.
ALINA M. SEMO: All right. Thanks Michelle. Do we have any callers waiting to be heard?
EVENT PRODUCER: I do not see anybody quite yet.
ALINA M. SEMO: Okay. While we're waiting for that, I'm going to just ask, Martha any other comments that popped up or questions have popped up during our event today? Or have we addressed everything?
MARTHA W. MURPHY: I think we've addressed all of the questions that came up.
ALINA M. SEMO: Okay, great.
EVENT PRODUCER: All right. I do not currently see any questions or comments in the audio queue.
ALINA M. SEMO: Okay. All right. We're just going to give... Bobby, maybe give folks one more second to think. But maybe we could start a wrap up. I would love to be able to give back to folks about 25 minutes of their afternoon back today. I think we could all use that. The hope that Bobby and I have is that we're going to have our next CFO Council meeting sometime in this spring, we haven't worked out a date yet, but please stay tuned. We're very hopeful that we can do these at least twice a year, if not more frequently. So, stay tuned for further announcements on that front as to an exact date and time as well as registration information. I predict it's going to be virtual again, but who knows everything is talk in the air please bear with us. I do know we've gotten feedback generally from some of our other events that folks prefer the virtual platform because it makes it more accessible to a lot more people as opposed to having to come in person.
MARTHA W. MURPHY: Michelle. I'm going to pop in here, Alina. We do have one person who's trying to call in, Mr. [Robert] Hammond, and is having difficulty.
EVENT PRODUCER: Yeah. So, I do see that Mr. Hammond, you are joined via Webex Audio. So, you would need to click the raise hand icon, but I'm going to go ahead and unmute your line for you, so that you can make your public comments, sir. All right, Mr. Hammond, your line is unmuted, sir. You may go ahead.
ROBERT HAMMOND: Yes. Good morning. Can you hear me? Hello?
EVENT PRODUCER: Yes, sir. Please go ahead. We can hear you.
ROBERT HAMMOND: Okay. Well, in three minutes I can't say very much. First, I'd like to say that this Council is co-chaired by two incredibly talented people with equally impressive leadership. Alina Semo, Georgetown University Law Center, Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Maryland, College Park, graduated with high honors, Bobby Talebian, University of Tennessee College of Law, where he served on the law review. Go Vols! The Honorable David S. Ferriero: worked his way up from a Navy Corpsman saving lives (God bless you, thank you for your service). To a presidential appointment by Barack Obama as the 10th Archivist of the United States of America. Associate Attorney General, Vanita Gupta graduated magna cum laude from Yale University and received her law degree from New York University School of Law.
I don't have time to go through... I'd ask for time to make some oral presentations today; I'm going to submit my speaker notes. I've already entered them as best I could into YouTube. And I would ask that those be appended to the meeting minutes as my oral comments, since there's not time to make them. I have to say that this is an unlawful meeting, it wasn't properly advertised in the Federal Register, that's not the first time this has happened. I attribute this and many other shortcomings to grossly inadequate funding for both OGIS and for DOJ OIP. And I'm asking that DOJ and NARA, please properly fund these missions so that this [inaudible 01:53:22] staff can properly do their job.
With just a few minutes, I'd just like to skip to my closing remarks. And those are great meeting today, but unlawfully held great people at OGIS and DOJ OIP but grossly under resourced and not enough of them. NARA and DOJ should take immediate action to properly resource OGIS and OIP respectively based on significant mission failure in not doing so. The situation is dire, we need an “American OGIS and OIP Rescue Plan” and an “OGIS and OIP Build Back Better Plan” from Congress and the executive branch. The Chief FOIA Officer Council must post all of my public comments, or state publicly the statutory basis for not doing so.
The Chief FOIA Officer's Council should reconvene within two months to address “Public Requester FOIA Compliance Concerns,” hear my briefings and decide on my recommendations. I do not believe that it was the intent of Congress or President Obama that Oral Public Comments should be arbitrarily limited to 15 minutes per year in one Open Meeting. Thank you for considering my oral comments and my written public comments, they’re posted on the website. Please review them. There's several items in there that I'm seeking decisions from this Council on. I'd like to close with the words of proud American citizens, Gouverneur Morris-
EVENT PRODUCER: Mr. Hammond. Thank you so much for your comments, sir.
ROBERT HAMMOND: Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King.
We The People, enshrined in our Constitution, will not again be a house divided against ourselves no matter the rhetoric. In 1865, 165 years ago, we fought and won a bloody war to advance equality of opportunity, not guaranteed equity of outcomes as we are all unique in our pursuit of our dreams. Messy as it sometimes is, that is our history. The greatest nation in the history of the world.
Let us all be judged by the content of our character.
God bless United States of America!
EVENT PRODUCER: Thank you. Once again, ladies and gentlemen, if you would like to make good comment, please press the raise hand icon on your Webex screen. If you are logged in on the Webex Audio, otherwise you may press pound two if you are on regular phone audio.
ALINA M. SEMO: Michelle, do we have any other callers?
EVENT PRODUCER: I do not see any other raised hands at this time.
ALINA M. SEMO: Okay. I don't see any other chat comments, but Martha, I'm just going to triple check with you to make sure we addressed all the questions that came in.
EVENT PRODUCER: We do have [crosstalk 01:56:26].
MARTHA W. MURPHY: Go ahead Michelle.
EVENT PRODUCER: Someone was trying to make a comment and then they... It looks like someone is in the queue. Are you able to take the comment? All right, Spencer. So, your line is unmuted, you may go ahead.
SPENCER CHRISTIAN: Are you able to hear me?
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Yes.
ALINA M. SEMO: Yes.
SPENCER CHRISTIAN: Okay. I actually had a question as it relates to FOIA improvements. I was recently doing the Annual Report and some questions arose regarding being able to pull these Annual Reports. And I know that you had mentioned that one of the improvements looks like we'll be able to get the quarterly analysis individually and that helps a lot. When we've been running our reports, we've been running into conflicting issues using the old way of counting the cases with what we have on our share drive. And then with FOIAXpress, are there any ways to help to ensure the accuracy of discrepancies between what agencies are able to come up with as they're trying to learn and utilize FOIAXpress? I know they mentioned some training, so just asking that.
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Yeah, thank you for the question. I think a couple of things there. We do go through a level of validation once the report comes to us to help zero in on potential data validation issues. But before that obviously the best method to catch any kind of data errors or corrections is obviously at the raw level while you're producing a report. So, I will offer... And we have a dedicated Compliance Team at OIP that works individually with agencies to troubleshoot these issues. So, I encourage you, if you don't mind just reaching out to us 202-514-FOIA asking for a member of the Compliance Team, and we can work in the weeds on this with you to figure out what the best solution is.
Another plug though is of obviously the Technology Committee has a working group for FOIAXpress, and this might be something of interest with other members of the group, as far as the reporting functionality of FOIAXpress. And so, I encourage you to maybe reach out and as I said, they are also looking for volunteers on that Committee. But please reach out to us as you're preparing your report. Again, 202-514-FOIA, and we'll be happy to troubleshoot what the issues are that you're having.
SPENCER CHRISTIAN: Thank you. And the second part of my question goes out to the broad community. I've noticed that FOIA and just privacy as a whole programs could benefit from a second-tier analysis of their program capabilities and FOIA and privacy posture. So as there's no conflicts. So, my question is, have you guys considered recommending third party auditing or inter-agency auditing of FOIA programs to either be mandatory or highly encouraged?
BOBBY TALEBIAN: So, one thing I wanted to offer is we have developed a FOIA... And I mentioned that we're going to update it. A FOIA Self-Assessment Toolkit, which provides an objective way for you to evaluate each part of your FOIA program. So, I definitely would encourage you to use that toolkit, to assess the needs of your agency, and then it highlights relevant guidance and resources. And also, our office is happy to work with you individually, as you're assessing and looking for improvements.
EVENT PRODUCER: Thank you, Mr. Spencer Christian, for your comment. If anybody else has a comment, please place yourself in the queue with the raise hand icon or pound two on your phone.
MARTHA W. MURPHY: Just wanted to say someone asked where we could find a transcript of this meeting. And I did respond in the chat, but we will be posting a transcript to our website as soon as possible. Also, please be aware this has been livestreamed on YouTube and will live on the National Archives YouTube channel for folks to watch at a later time. Thank you.
EVENT PRODUCER: All right. And there are no additional questions in queue.
ALINA M. SEMO: All right. So, I think Bobby, we can get ready to wrap up. I think it's been a great meeting today. Again, just very grateful for all the presentations we've had. I hope it gets everyone excited about the possibility of joining your federal colleagues on these Committees and working groups and subcommittees, so please consider singing up. And as I said earlier, we will reconvene in the spring. Please look out for further notifications on that. I want to wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving. Hope everyone stays healthy, safe, and resilient during these continuing difficult times. And Bobby over to you.
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Thank you, Alina. And thank you again, everyone who's joining us for a really great meeting and special thanks to our presenters, particularly the two co-chairs of the Committees for their great presentation, but most importantly, the great work that they're doing that benefits all of us. Just one more plug, please. If you are interested, reach out to us for working with the Committees, we are interested in your participation. And also, very open to what our next meeting in the spring would look like. If there's anything that you would like us to address or happy to include agencies as part of the program, agency CFOs, or agency FOIA officials, if you do have suggestions, please reach out to either myself or Alina. And with that, I just want to thank you everyone again and wish everyone a happy Thanksgiving.
ALINA M. SEMO: Thanks everyone. Take care.
BOBBY TALEBIAN: Thank you.
EVENT PRODUCER: That concludes our conference. Thank you for using Event Services. You may now disconnect.