Chief Freedom of Information Act Officers Council Meeting Minutes – October 14, 2020
The Chief FOIA Officers (CFO) Council Meeting convened virtually at 10:10 AM on October 14, 2020. A livestream video of the meeting was made available, and in accordance with 5 U.S.C. § 552(k)(6)(B), the meeting was open to the public “permit[ting] interested persons to appear and present oral and written statements to the Council.”
All meeting materials are available on the Office of Information Policy’s (OIP) and Office of Government Information Services’ (OGIS) websites at: https://www.justice.gov/oip/chief- foia-officers-council and https://www.archives.gov/ogis/about-ogis/chief-foia-officers- council.
- David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
- Bobby Talebian, Director, OIP, Department of Justice (DOJ), Council Co-Chair. Mr. Talebian also provided remarks on behalf of Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General of the United States, Claire McCusker Murray
- Alina M. Semo, Director, OGIS, NARA, Council Co-Chair
- Michael Sarich, FOIA Director, Veterans Health Administration, Council Technology Committee Co-Chair
- Eric F. Stein, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary, Office of Global Information Services, Bureau of Administration, Department of State, Council Technology Committee Co-Chair
- The meeting opened at 10:10 AM. Ms. Semo welcomed everyone to the first virtual Council meeting and briefly outlined the agenda for the meeting.
- Mr. Ferriero provided brief opening remarks and recalled the history of the FOIA statute and noted Congress's desire for a balance between disclosure and protection, as set out and evidenced by the FOIA statute's legislative history. He explained that the FOIA Advisory Committee is now in its fourth term. He concluded by noting the effects of the COVID pandemic on current FOIA administration, and that collaboration and innovation will be key to meet the definition of "FOIA success."
- Mr. Talebian passed along the regards of DOJ’s Principal Deputy Associate Attorney General and Chief FOIA Officer, Claire McCusker Murray, who emphasized the Department’s support of agency FOIA programs, encouraged each agency to continue working diligently to improve FOIA processing, and thanked each agency for its efforts and innovation during the current global pandemic.
Updates from the Office of Information Policy (OIP), U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)
- Mr. Talebian summarized government-wide FOIA reporting updates, including the recent issuance of OIP's Summary and Assessment of Agencies' 2020 Chief FOIA Officer (CFO) Reports. He provided upcoming Fiscal Year 2020 Annual Report and 2021 Chief FOIA Office Report reporting deadlines.
- Mr. Talebian shared numerous completed FOIA.gov website enhancements aimed at streamlining user experiences and increasing the functionality of reporting tools. He also reminded agencies of the interoperability requirements with FOIA.gov. He outlined forthcoming functions aimed to gain insight into FOIA.gov user experiences, as well as an initiative to expand searchability of FOIA Libraries from FOIA.gov.
- Mr. Talebian informed attendees of numerous existing online OIP resources for agencies, including the Department of Justice Guide to the FOIA, FOIA Court Decision Summaries, and the FOIA Self-Assessment Toolkit, including two soon-to- be released modules on Appeals and Proactive Disclosure. He also noted the reoccurring Best Practices Workshops, focusing on various FOIA topics and geared towards determining best practices among agencies. He welcomed suggestions for future topics and made a call for submissions.
Updates from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
- Ms. Semo described the role of OGIS in FOIA administration and the range of efforts conducted to improve the FOIA process, including conducting dispute resolution, engaging in outreach, reviewing agency compliance, co-chairing the Council and leading the FOIA Federal Advisory Committee.
- Ms. Semo provided an overview of the more than twenty recommendations outlined in the 2018-2020 FOIA Advisory Committee's July 2020 report to the Archivist of the United States. Committee recommendations were made on a broad range of topics and directed to various entities, including Congress, the CFO Council, the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), NARA/OGIS, and OIP. Ms. Semo noted that OGIS intends to add an electronic dashboard feature to its website to keep track of the status of each individual recommendation.
Solicitation of Chief FOIA Officers (CFO) Council Committee on Cross-Agency Collaboration and Innovation
- In consideration of a recommendation from the FOIA Advisory Committee, Ms. Semo and Mr. Talebian formed a new committee titled "Committee for Cross-Agency Collaboration and Innovation." Ms. Semo and Mr. Talebian made a call for volunteers to serve on the new committee. Its members will research and propose cross-agency grant programs and funding sources, create federal career paths for FOIA professionals, and promote models to align agency resources with agency transparency.
Open Agency Questions/Discussion
- Ms. Semo and Mr. Talebian opened the floor to agency discussion, and the speakers responded to various questions and comments via WebEx chat, telephone, and YouTube livestream.
- Mr. Talebian explained that he and Ms. Semo plan to have meetings more regularly with the CFO Council, and they would like to know what agencies would like to discuss during such meetings. He noted that the work of the CFO Council is important, and the success of FOIA administration across the federal government depends on each other.
Update from Chief FOIA Officers Council Technology Committee Co-Chairs, Michael Sarich and Eric F. Stein
- Mr. Stein provided an overview of the history of the Technology Committee's creation and identified its current governing structure, which includes approximately forty members participating on eight different working groups, each focused on improving FOIA processing through use of technology.
- Mr. Sarich and Mr. Stein took turns outlining the purpose and efforts of each of the eight working groups, including:
- Mr. Sarich shared five early findings from the Video Redactions working group, as shown on the slides, and noted that a full presentation will be provided in the near future. He explained that each individual working group intended to complete its initial written charter by the end of November 2020.
- Ms. Semo and Mr. Talebian opened the floor to agency discussion, and the speakers responded to various questions and comments via WebEx chat, telephone, and YouTube livestream
- Ms. Semo and Mr. Talebian opened the floor to public discussion, and the speakers responded to the various questions and comments received via WebEx chat, telephone, and YouTube livestream.
- Mr. Talebian and Ms. Semo thanked everyone for attending.
- Ms. Semo closed the meeting at 11:56 AM.
2 The Council or Technology Committee does not endorse any products, though recognizes through the creation of these working groups that FOIAXpress and FOIAonline are common platforms that many agencies use.
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