July 21, 2015 Meeting Transcript
National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee Meeting
July 21, 2015
Committee members present in the Archivist’s Reception Room:
- Nikki Gramian, Acting Chair, Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
- Delores Barber, U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
- Brentin V. Evitt, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)
- Larry Gottesman, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
- James "Jim" Hogan, U.S. Department of Defense (DOD)
- Clay Johnson, The Department of Better Technology
- Martin Michalosky, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB)
- Sean Moulton, Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
- Maggie Mulvihill, Boston University
- Ramona Branch Oliver, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
- David Pritzker, Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS)
- Anne Weismann, Campaign for Accountability
- Mark S. Zaid, Law Office of Mark S. Zaid, P.C.
Committee members on the phone:
- Dave Bahr, Bahr Law Offices, P.C.
- Andrew Becker, The Center for Investigative Reporting
- Nate Jones, National Security Archive
- Lee White, National Coalition for History (NCH)
Committee members absent from the meeting:
- Karen Finnegan, U.S. Department of State
- Eric Gillespie, Govini
- Melanie A. Pustay, U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)
Others present at or participating in the meeting:
- Amy Bennett, OGIS, NARA
- Diane Bridge, National Labor Relations Board (NLRB)
- Cindy Cafaro, Department of the Interior (DOI)
- Jill Eggleston, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
- Linda Ferguson
- Katherine Hawkins, OpenTheGovernment.org
- Elizabeth Hempowicz, Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
- Adam Marshall, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
- Christa Lemelin, OGIS, NARA
- Don McIlwain, National Declassification Center, NARA
- Denise Meiners
- Abby Paulson, OpenTheGovernment.org
- Marta Poblete-Washington
- Michael Ravnitzky
- Jasamyn Roberts, General Services Administration
- Alina Semo, Office of General Counsel, NARA
- Bobak Talebian, Department of Justice
- Jean Whyte, Office of General Counsel, NARA
David Ferriero: Good morning.
David Ferriero: Good morning.
Multiple Speakers: Good morning.
David Ferriero: And good morning to those of you who are on the phone. This is David Ferriero, archivist.I want to start by welcoming our newest member, Sean Moulton. I keep calling him Seth Walton, (inaudible). I’m from Massachusetts, (inaudible) joined in Washington. Welcome. You have a great background, coming from POGO [pen?], and also the Center for Effective Government. What I liked is your sales pitch about your background, in terms of your -- especially your technology background. And creation of websites, and your focus on FOIA. So you’re a perfect match for the -- for the group. So welcome aboard.
Sean Moulton: Thank you very much.
David Ferriero: And welcome, to the rest of you, for joining us this morning. Just a few words to thank you for the work that you’re doing. FOIA’s function in increasing government openness and accountability is often described as a cornerstone of democracy. And the administration continues to emphasize FOIA’s importance in the larger open government landscape.
As you know, this committee was created to help the administration meet its goal of modernizing FOIA. As the White House continues drafting the third Open Government National Action Plan, I encourage you all to recognize the critical role that you have in shaping the improvement and strengthening of FOIA. We recently passed the one-year anniversary of this advisory committee. This is a good time to consider what you have accomplished, and think about what the future holds. You began this effort by growing upon your considerable FOIA experience and knowledge to identify three of the most challenging issues facing FOIA. Fees, proactive disclosure, and oversight and accountability.
I, along with the rest of the FOIA community, have watched with interest as the subcommittees you organized around these topics have had substantive discussions about ways to approach each issue. We’re very interested to see the results of these surveys, distributed by two of the subcommittees in June, and then seeing what steps the committees decided to take next. NARA, as the nation’s record keeper, is grateful for the opportunity to support the work of this committee, and we look forward to following your continued work in the year ahead. And as I announce the new director of OGIS, I want to take this opportunity to thank Nikki, (applause) and the rest of the OGIS staff for the work they have performed to provide outstanding service to the agencies into the American public since Miriam left.
Effective 9 August, James Holzer will become the second OGIS director. Many of you know him from his work at DHS, where he has served as senior director of FOIA operations since 2009. Let me quote from the notice which goes out today: “Dr. Holzer served as the senior advisor to the department’s executive-level leaders throughout DHS on compliance with FOIA and the Privacy Act, and DHS policies, programs, and agreements that promote adherence to information disclosure principles.” In addition, he spearheaded the implementation of the Department’s enterprise-wide FOIA tracking processing, and reporting case management system. He supervised a team of FOIA professionals that performs a variety of program activities, that often involve unique and sensitive matters relating to FOIA PA administration within the DHS. Prior to joining the Department of Homeland Security, Dr. Holzer served in the US Air Force for 13 years on active duty, where he worked extensively in matters involving administrative policies, financial management, material management operations, and management of wholesale supply activities. He deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, and in Afghanistan in 2007, participating in ground convoys for intel fact finding to remote villages. He received a doctorate of management at the University of Maryland, University College. His dissertation examines strategy formulation in three US federal agencies, providing preliminary insight into a range of behavioral strategies in the federal sector. And his previous degrees include a master of human relations degree from the University of Oklahoma, and a BS in business from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Dr. Holzer’s experience administrating FOIA and his demonstrated commitment to transparency will benefit OGIS in the National Archives. So I look forward to working with James, and I’m sure that you will also.
So thanks for being here this morning. Thanks for joining us. (comments off mic; inaudible)
Nikki Gramian: (inaudible) Good morning. Thank you all for joining us today for the FOIA Advisory Committee’s fifth meeting. I know you all will join me in thanking the National Archives and Records Administration for being the host agency for the committee, and I want to give a special thanks to the archivist for opening the meeting to us today. I would also like to thank the chief operating officer’s office in assisting us with two surveys that launched for members -- for FOIA -- for chief FOIA officers and FOIA specialists. They assisted our office tremendously.
As I mentioned before, as you know all know, I’m Nikki Gramian, I’m the deputy director, currently acting, but obviously not for long. (laughter) And I’m also the acting chair for this committee.
I do have a brief update on the committee membership, as the archivist introduced, Sean Moulton. Ginger McCall stepped down from the committee to accept a position in the Federal government. As many of you are aware, Ms. McCall served as the non-government and -- non-government member. And she was also the co-chair on the fees subcommittee. Nate Jones volunteered to serve as the non-government co-chair on the fees subcommittee, and the archivist appointed Sean to replace Ms. McCall’s position as the non-government member.
I’m going to give a little bit of a background for Sean. Sean is the open government program manager at the Project on Government Oversight, POGO. And he oversees the efforts to develop the blueprint the next president can use to build a more open and accountable government. Before joining POGO, Sean worked for over a decade on transparency and government accountability issues, with special attention to the freedom of information issues, transparency, environmental right to know policies. He has authored reports, testified before Congress, submitted comments on proposed regulations, and has helped launch public disclosure websites.
Sean led the Center for Effective Government’s open government work for 13 years. He has also worked at Friends of the Earth, US Environmental Protection Agency, and the Council on Economic Priorities. Sean, we’re glad to have you, and welcome to our committee.
Sean Moulton: Thank you very much.
Nikki Gramian: I also would like to spend a few -- next few minutes introducing the members who are also around the table, as well as on the telephone. As a reminder, the committee members’ bios are available on the committee’s webpage, which is available at OGIS.Archives.Gov. We are videotaping this meeting, and will make the video and transcripts, and the meeting materials available on the committee’s webpage.
For the record, it will help if you all can remember to identify yourself by name, and also affiliation when you speak. Committee member Melanie Pustay, the director of the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy is unable to join us today. We look forward to seeing her at our next meeting in October.
And so with that said, let’s start with the members on the phone. Who do we (inaudible) --
Dave Bahr: Hello, yep.
Nikki Gramian: Mr. Bahr?
Dave Bahr: Yeah. Good morning to everybody.
Nikki Gramian: Good morning. If you would please identify your profession.
Dave Bahr: Oh, yes. My name’s Dave Bahr, I’m a lawyer, I represent the requester community on public records matters all around the country.
Nikki Gramian: Wonderful. Thank you so much. Mr. Becker?
Andrew Becker: This is Andrew Becker. I’m a reporter with the Center for Investigative Reporting, representing journalists.
Nikki Gramian: Great. Thank you so much. Also, I don’t know if Nate Jones was able to join us, Nate?
Nate Jones: Yeah, I’m here. Nate Jones from the National Security Archives.
Nikki Gramian: (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Nate Jones: (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) little bit to hear you guys, to make this work and crank you up.
Nikki Gramian: OK. Great. Thank you.
_: Nate’s in Europe right now, of course. He’s very busy. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Nikki Gramian: Very dedicated. Wonderful. Do we have anyone else on the phone?
Lee White: Lee White, director of the National Coalition for History.
Nikki Gramian: Wonderful. Thank you, Lee. OK. So now, let’s hear from the folks who are in this room. If you all would please introduce yourselves and remind the group about your profession. Let’s start with my left. I do see Maggie Mulvihill’s nametag there. Maggie’s on her way. She’s -- she should be joining us around 11:00. So she’ll just join us when she gets in here. Marty?
Good morning. My name’s Marty Michalosky, I’m the FOIA manager at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Jim Hogan: Hi, I’m Jim Hogan, chief of DOD, Department of Defense, FOIA policy, and the director for oversight compliance.
Ramona Branch Oliver: Ramona Branch Oliver:, director of the Office of Information Services at the Department of Labor.
Larry Gottesman: Larry Gottesman with the Environmental Protection Agency.
Mark S. Zaid: Mark Zaid, private practitioner and executive director of the James Madison Project.
Anne Weismann: Anne Weismann, now executive director of the Campaign for Accountability.
Clay Johnson: I’m Clay Johnson, I’m the chairman of the Department of Better Technology, which is not a governmental organization. And I’m also the chairman of the Chattahoochee Hills Charter School, which is new. So that’s fun.
David Pritzker: I’m David Pritzker, deputy general counsel of the Administrative Conference of the United States, which is -- though little known -- a government agency. (laughter)
Brent Evitt: I’m Brent Evitt. I’m deputy general counsel for Mission Services Science and Technology for the Defense Intelligence Agency.
Sean Moulton: Sean Moulton, Project on Government Oversight.
Nikki Gramian: Thank you all. And also, please let me introduce the members of OGIS staff, who support the committee’s operation. We have Christa Lemelin, the Advisory Committee’s designated federal officer. And I have to thank you, Christa, for all that you do. She’s the lifeline.
Christa Lemelin: Right back at you.
Nikki Gramian: Thank you. We also have Amy Bennett, who kindly agreed to be our note-taker today, and has been instrumental in helping us prepare for today’s meeting.
Before we dive into the work we’re about to do, I want to share some details on how today’s meeting will work, and also cover some basic expectations and ground rules for our session. We are going to take about a 15-minute break halfway through this meeting, which should be around 11, 11:15. While no food or drinks are allowed in this room, you may --
Christa Lemelin: Other than this table.
Nikki Gramian: Other than this table. Thank you.
Christa Lemelin: (inaudible)
Nikki Gramian: You may wish to grab something quickly from the Charters Café, located two levels down on the ground floor. Actually, it would be on the basement floor. It would be at B, which is also where the restrooms are located.
Again, all of the information about this committee is maintained on our webpage. We will meet up to four times per year. Both on today’s meeting agenda and also on OGIS’s website, the dates of the committee’s upcoming meetings are listed. We selected Tuesday, the third week of the month, unless the dates would have conflicted with the holiday. And as you all know, during our first meeting, and as also, the archivist explained, we’ve created -- there was creation of the three subcommittees. These committees are FOIA Oversight and Accountability, Proactive Disclosure, and the FOIA fees.
Delores Barber: (Whispers) Thank you. Sorry.
Nikki Gramian: With notification to the designated federal officer, that’s Christa Lemelin, the subcommittees may schedule meetings in addition to the larger committee meetings. At our last meeting, I stated that the subcommittees are subject to the same notice and open meeting requirements. However, I wish to correct the record by stating that the subcommittees do not have the same pre-- notice and open meeting requirements as the full committee, because per the bylaws, the subcommittees report back to the full committees. So I wanted to make that correction.
Today, we will hear updates from each of those subcommittees. The -- this is, again, the Committee on Freedom of Information, according (inaudible) want to work -- we want to work to be as open, transparent, and participatory as possible. We are really glad to see so many folks interested in this room, and thank you all for coming. And we also have set aside a period of time at the end of the meeting for public comments. So we look forward to hearing from any non-committee members who might like to, you know, make a comment at the end of the program.
With that said, let’s move to the approval of our meeting minutes for January 27th, 2015, and also, April 21st, 2015, meetings. As you may all recall during our April 21st meeting, David Pritzker brought to our attention, there were some areas in our draft January 27th, 2015 minute meetings. And the committee members were given a chance to review the corrected copy that they had made revisions to. Are there any other corrections to the minutes?
Great. We will now entertain a motion to approve the minutes. Do we have a motion?
Clay Johnson: So moved.
Nikki Gramian: Do we have a second?
Multiple speakers: Second.
Nikki Gramian: All in favor?
Multiple speakers: Aye.
Nikki Gramian: All opposed? Great, the minutes are approved. Let’s move to the April 21st meeting minutes. The committee members were given a chance to review a copy of the minutes from the April 21st, 2015 meetings. Are there any corrections to the meeting minutes? We will now entertain a motion to approve the minutes. Do we have a motion?
Male: So moved.
Nikki Gramian: Do we have a second?
Nikki Gramian: All in favor?
Multiple speakers: I.
Nikki Gramian: All opposed? The minutes will be approved. Great. Thank you all.
We will now spend the bulk of the meeting hearing from the subcommittees on their work. Each subcommittee will spend about 30 minutes on their activities, which include a report of where their work stands, and any discussions or brainstorming they would like to have with, you know, federal committee members. We want to be sure each subcommittee has a clear path for work for the coming months as they continue working to make recommendations to improve FOIA, as directed upon the creation of this committee in the second open government national action plan.
With that said, let’s hear from the Oversight and Accountability Subcommittee Chairs, Martin and Mark. If you would please update the committee (inaudible).
Marty Michalosky: Thank you, Nikki. The committee did not meet over the last quarter. However, there were some updates and that work that was transpiring over that period of time.
So specifically, I want to call up on three things this committee has taken on, and the efforts, among this created -- we’ve been updating for the last couple weeks. So first, the effort to identify current authorities for oversight and accountability, take actions, or actions what have been kind of written about, are reports or audits and so forth over the last 10 years. As previously reported, Mr. Jones has published on our subcommittee’s website, a variety of reports that have been uncovered over that period of time. And I think you can go back slightly beyond the 10 years. He has already started reviewing those, and doing some preliminary work to identify trends, or themes, or actions to follow up on, and for us to kind of evaluate. Also, we asked for input from all of you and the public, as well as other committee members, on items that may have been picked up, or peer reviewed if you have an opportunity to do that.
Mr. Jones has also subsequently, over the last quarter, identified approximately 30 more Inspector General reports that deal with FOIA in some way. They’re going to be shared on the subcommittee’s website here shortly. I don’t believe they’re up today, but they will be shortly, and we’ll add that to the collection. And again, continue to review those as well. And hopefully, by the next meeting, we have some preliminary data to share with you on blowing a fountain in those reports.
And again, I want to echo the opportunity for you to participate as well. So if you know of a report that we have not posted, please send that in. If you’re looking at the reports and you see some trends that maybe we have already evaluated and identified, and maybe we haven’t, please send those in as well as comments so we can, you know, take your information and things that you have seen, and consider them as well.
The second effort that we’ve taken in is to take on past litigation review efforts, determining maybe opportunities for action going forward. So this goes back to litigation review that has been done in the past regarding FOIA. And our team has taken that on for review. I don’t really have an update on that, just following up on what we talked about previously. TRAC has a very similar activity going on in a project. Similar litigation efforts that have been taken place, evaluating those. We are tracking TRAC. Make sense? But we don’t have any updates specifically on that for passive memo.
And the last thing that I think both your (inaudible) touched upon, and we’ve reported that we were attempting to do it in the past, was doing an assessment for a full FOIA public liaison. So we sent this out on June 22nd. Well, let me back up a minute. So we work closely with OGIS, and even the National Archives, to put together a poll -- or a survey, if you want to call it that. And basically, that was an opportunity to give FOIA professionals and the Federal Government who are FOIA public liaisons or do that role, maybe that’s not their title, if they do that role within their agency. An opportunity to really share their background, their training, other opportunities as they see it. It collected a lot of the data, and that was our attempt to do, is give them an opportunity to tell us what’s going on, as well as us collect some information to evaluate and see if there’s, again, trends or things that we can offer as opportunity to improve that interaction with the public, and ultimately improve the administration of FOIA in the Federal Government.
We sent that out on June 22nd after we worked with the National Archives and OGIS, and finalized that within the subcommittee. It consisted of 15 questions. If you were on the committee’s website, it’s actually posted there. If you want to review some of the questions and information that we sought to collect from FOIA public liaisons.
In general, the questions -- the survey questions focused on, again, training, are resources adequate? Is there proper management, and what’s the connection like with FOIA requesters? If they want to share any of their opinions or suggestions to make FOIA better, which is what we’re trying to do here.
The survey closes tomorrow. As of right now, we almost have 90 respondents that have sent in information, which is pretty good, since we sent it out to the 100 agencies that are responsible for FOIA right now. So having 90 respondents is, I think is pretty good, and should get us a pretty good baseline to evaluate the information and assess kind of what’s going on from their point of view, and also evaluate opportunities, again, to improve.
Once OGIS has collected the data, the subcommittee is going to go ahead and review that, and analyze it. And then ultimately, what we’re going to do is we’ll report back to the committee, and then finally, we will publish it in some way to the public. So rather that means raw data. As an idea, again, this isn’t anything that I’m confirming that we’re going to do, but some things (inaudible) sharing the raw data, or sharing -- or creating a report page, sharing what we found in there. So there’s a lot of opportunities to ease that data, and a very good way to improve FOIA and identify opportunities for improvement.
That concludes the subcommittee report, unless Mark has anything to add.
Mark S. Zaid: I’m good, Marty. You did a brilliant job.
Marty Michalosky: Thank you.
Nikki Gramian: All right. Thank you so much. So let’s turn now to the fees subcommittee. That’s co-chaired by Jim Hogan and Nate Jones. Nate is obviously -- is on the phone, so we’ll just turn to Jim to provide us with --
Jim Hogan: Nate, we hope everything’s going well in Europe.
Nate Jones: Well, I’m doing good.
Jim Hogan: Just to talk about the genesis of the subcommittee. When this committee first met a year ago, we had that brainstorming session to figure out, you know, what do we want to look at in the two years that the committee is going to meet? And one issue that came up was fees. And the perception is, whether it’s fashionable, the perception some of us have is -- this is a major issue between FOIA requesters and FOIA professionals in the Federal Government. The application of the fee categories to request the -- whether requester qualifies for a fee waiver or not. The proper assessment of fees, once determined. And a lot of issues are related to that.
And in my position at the Department of Defense, I think that’s a major training issue we have, you know, with hundreds of people we have out in the field, and keep them trained in fees. And the perception is it’s a very subjective call. It can -- can be a way to improve the way the FOIA handles fees. We’ve looked at what different countries do, primarily United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and I think Mexico, we look at what they did. Very -- everybody does it differently. Some countries require fees, a minimum fee for all requests. And I believe Canada does that.
So we did that a little bit, and -- but we still want to find out, do we -- do we really have an issue here? Is it more of just a training issue? Or what? So that’s where we’ll be going. One of our objectives, possibly, when this committee is wrapped up, is to have a legislative proposal. And that, I believe that’s part of OGIS’s charter, is to propose legislative changes to the Hill. So we might have something that order. Also, you know, in the back of our mind is the OMB is responsible for fee guidelines. Maybe me and the subcommittee, maybe we’ll give some ideas on how to revise that. We’re not sure yet right now, but legislative proposal is one thing. And it depends on what we find out in the next nine months or so.
When we last met on July 9th, at the National Security Archive, we thank Nate for hosting us. Unfortunately, unlike Ginger, he didn’t have any cookies available for us. But Nate’s our new co-chair. We do appreciate hosting all these -- myself and Nate were there, everybody else was on the phone.
Our discussion included three areas. One is a current fees survey that’s right now being conducted among FOIA professionals. And another one, another category is talking about doing research and the ability of agencies to waive fees as a matter of discretion. That was discussed a little bit at the last committee meeting. And also, a new survey, a proposed piece survey for FOIA requesters. We do have a current survey out, just as the oversight accountability committee has one out to put -- or the subcommittee has them out to public liaisons, working through NARA. And we thank Christa for work -- for getting us -- to go through all the wickets and the bureaucracy of getting these surveys out there, knowing what it’s like from doing our agencies ourselves. But this one, going out to the federal FOIA officers. And July 21st, we had over 375, and this morning, we have over 400 respondents now. So we expect quite a bit of data coming in.
The FOIA professionals ask a variety of questions, and also for some written inputs. Again, tomorrow is the last day of the survey, and hopefully we get a few more in today. And then we’re going to meet probably around the second week in August, the subcommittee will meet to discuss the survey results, and figure out what are we going to do with all this data, and try to go through it. I expect that to be a major job, and hopefully accompli-- something, get something, hard facts from the field for the DOD FOIA -- or excuse me, all government FOIA professionals. You know, is it a training issue? Is it -- what is it? Because again, we want to -- it’s difficult to eliminate, but at least reduce this area of, I’d say, adversity is not the right word, but the sort of word between FOIA requesters and FOIA professionals. I think I see it way too often. And so we’ll be meeting late August, and by next committee meeting in October, we’ll have at least a preliminary report on what the data came up, see what we can do with that.
We also discussed -- and this is something, it just came up a few months ago -- building for agencies to actually waive fees as a matter of discretion. And so we’re going to raise that issue with different government agencies. Once (inaudible) is appropriate. I mean, are there requirements? Do we have to charge fees if requester is not qualified for a fee waiver? Or can agencies, as a matter of discretion, not charge fees? I know in some agencies, even if it’s not written, there may be certain cases where they will not charge fees. It may be a next-of-kin, asking them for information on someone [as deceased?]. You know, information like that, so that may be a possibility. One issue that may come up is fairness. I mean, you know, if matter of discretions and agency-waived fees in case A but not case B, could that be an issue? So we’ll look into that and see if it’s appropriate. If we can waive fees, what are the pros and cons? And would we encourage agencies to do this? And those other issues, we’ll be exploring in that area.
And then the third thing we talk about is another survey, yet another one. This one goes out to the public. More wickets to deal with that our Designated Federal Officer Christa will handle those. I appreciate that, because we’re collecting data from the public, and all kinds of rules on that. So we’re going to go, and those requesters here in the room who are listening to this, hopefully we’ll get this in the next few months. And we’ve circulated proposal questions. We’ve gone around among the subcommittee, and then we’ve submitted them to the designated federal officer. And when we think that will be very valuable information, because we have -- those of us who are in the government really do not, I believe, have a good idea of how the public perceives how we address fees, in some ways. Again, is it a training issue rather than a field?
And there’s one way -- here inside the beltway, there’s one way to look at these kind of issues than out in the field. I’ll give you different types of requesters. You may have logged public interest groups here, but they’re not feeling -- and Dave Bahr, our subcommittee, works with different types of requesters. And he has a different -- a very different perspective I think from those of us here inside the beltway. So that’s very valuable. But we’ll get it from them, and see what kind of data we can get. And so this’ll help in our -- obtaining our final objective is, you know, sometimes legislative proposal, possibly to revise these. We can -- we have no idea what kind of answers we’re going to get, but we hopefully can get some good value with that. Because I don’t think there’s ever been a survey accomplished in almost, what, 50 years of the FOIA where I’m going out to see what the issues are in this respect. So looking forward to having to have that come back. So...
Nikki Gramian: Does anybody have any comments here? Anybody wants to? No comments? All right.
Delores Barber: Very quiet today.
Jim Hogan: Wait until the data comes in.
Nikki Gramian: Well, typically, after the two committees are -- have already report -- you know, provide their reports, we usually have a break. But I think this is -- you know, we can either go on and finish with the -- is that something -- OK. All right. So then we’ll skip the --
Marty Michalosky: Nikki, I have one question.
Nikki Gramian: Yes, please.
Marty Michalosky: This is Marty Michalosky for those on the phone. Jim, just going back to the matter of discretion, have you con-- how many agencies have you contacted, and what did you find out? Were there some that did take discretion with fees or not? I’m just curious.
Jim Hogan: We really haven’t -- Nate, can you answer that question? Have you done any research on that? I mean, you were looking into it.
Nate Jones: Yeah. We looked at just a small handful. But what I’ve seen with the informal look is that there are multiple -- at least three that I know of, that had some type of language in their regulations, including yours, Marty, that allows for administrative discretion to waive fees when it’s in the agency’s interest, or some language like that. So we haven’t done a comprehensive regulation, but there is certainly precedent. And I think even the DOJ OIP’s regulation has something along those lines, allowing administrative discretion to waive some point of fees.
Jim Hogan: OK. That’s good. And I look forward to maybe getting some in depth answers from this agency. I’m sorry, Marty, (inaudible).
Marty Michalosky: I was just going to say thanks. Thanks for the update.
Anne Weismann: I j-- this is Anne Weismann. I just want to add that we’ve also reached out to some people in different agencies to get a sense of what -- if they have a general understanding that they’re operating under. So we’re exploring that as well.
Jim Hogan: And one thing, for Department of Defense, we don’t have anything in our regulations about discretionary, you know, fee waiver. I don’t think it’s ever come up. No one’s even brought it up to us, and we never really thought about it. I do know -- as I was sort of alluding to before, I do know that some of our departments will not charge next-of-kin of soldiers who have died in battle or died in some other ways for release of information to them. You know, but again, it’s not written. Anyway.
Larry Gottesman: Hey Jim, this is Larry Gottesman. Have you reached out to OMB? Are they going to issue some new fee guidance?
Jim Hogan: We haven’t directly contacted OMB at this time. Now, that’ll probably be a next step in the next few months, especially once we get the data in from --
Larry Gottesman: Yeah. Because that goes back a few years, the less guidance.
(overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Jim Hogan: Twenty-eight. (inaudible)
Larry Gottesman: Actually, more.
Nikki Gramian: Thank you all. Thank you so much. Any other comments? No? OK. So let’s move to the proactive disclosure subcommittee. And I know Eric is not here, so we’re going to turn to Brent and see what we have.
Brent Evitt: Sure. This is Brent Evitt. Eric Gillespie and I are co-chairing the proactive disclosure subcommittee. We’ve had one meeting together a couple of months back to sort of decide what direction we were going to head on. It’s a very interesting topic, of course, because there isn’t a lot of tension out there about proactive disclosures, at least the concept. You know, I think FOIA officers and requesters alike look at the -- you know, the topic, and say, “Well, we’re all in favor of proactive disclosures. It’s a question of how? How do you make this happen, how do you encourage it, how do you facilitate it?”
And so that’s where Eric and I have started from. I would encourage anybody who wants to join us at the next meeting to come along, and we’ll continue the discussion. Because when you get into the how do you make it happen topic, that’s where it gets kind of difficult. And I think FOIA program managers and FOIA requesters probably have some different ideas in that regard.
So we have sort of started looking at a couple of things. First, looking at the role that the statute, the regulations, the procedures play in encouraging proactive disclosures. You know, we hear a lot in the FOIA community about rules that can help, rules that can hurt. What role do these -- you know, these policies play? And how do they -- how do they guide us? How do they make it better?
And the second topic that we’re looking at is the -- we’re trying to explore how technology affects proactive disclosure, because I believe -- and I think you’re -- that’s also that a lot of this is a technological question. You know, we all have used different systems, we -- we reach a final product. How do you push that product out, and make it publicly available? We’re also looking at how you identify what records are really in demand. You know, if you’re an agency with limited resources, how do you decide, you know, what you get out the door through proactive disclosure first.
And, you know, the technological issues we’ve identified so far are both big and small. You know, in agencies like mine, they can be pretty significant, because, you know, in my case, we use a system that is not public facing, and it’s not connected to the open internet. Then there is -- there are some bureaucratic hurdles to get over, because sometimes the people who handle proactive disclosure are from the office of the chief information officer, and they -- they don’t always understand the FOIA world. So we’re maintaining that as well.
We agreed that we would start by looking at maybe one or two agencies that we had some connection to. I think we’re going to start with my agency first and talk to some people, and just see if we can start validating our own ideas in collecting the ideas of others. And so, you know, we would invite the public, invite the other members of the committee, to submit whatever thoughts you have on proactive disclosures. How do we make it better? How do we make it more efficient? And that’s where we stand at this moment.
Nikki Gramian: One question that comes to my mind, and we often hear, is the FOIA professionals of FOIA shops, often complain that when the proactive disclosure, you know, information is requested, which one should they deal with? Their backlog, or the proactive disclosure?
Brent Evitt: Yeah, that’s the nu-- (inaudible) correct me, but that’s the number one complaint that I’ve always heard, is FOIA program management saying, look, I’m all in favor of proactive disclosure, but we need to find a way to make it so fundamental to the system, so engrained in the system, that at the end of the process, it’s the press of a button, and it’s proactively disclosed. And get -- build a system where information can funnel through and -- and go straight to a proactive disclosure website, or however we get it out there, without eating into the processing pending request. So we can’t hurt ourselves on one front by helping ourselves on another.
Jim Hogan: (inaudible) Jim Hogan here, Department of Defense, and I agree with Brent on that and Nikki. That’s a -- because FOIA officers are most qualified to review. So one thing maybe to explore is having it engrained in the process, when documents, and, say, memos or letters are created that, you know, you have everybody giving their inputs, and reviewing and everything like that. You know, the higher level it is, the more people look at that within a process is, is this publicly reasonable, yes or no? You know, and if everybody checks yes, it’s done, you know? And the creation process. You know, somehow we get that into the process, that’d be good. I don’t know if it’s possible.
Brent Evitt: Yeah. It’s a good point, Jim.
Jim Hogan: Yeah, and if it can be, you know? Especially on a high level correspondence.
Brent Evitt: You know, this -- this is Brent Evitt again -- one thing that Eric pointed out in our first meeting that I don’t think I had ever really thought about, you know, I was saying, “Well, look, we have a lot of information in our agency that is routine. It’s administrative. It’s somewhat mundane.” It wouldn’t be that difficult to give that information out the door. And Eric very wisely pointed out, yes, but does anybody care about that information? Maybe focus on the information that people care about.
Clay Johnson: Well, yeah, that’s -- I appreciate that sentiment, but, you know, no one cared about bird strikes on airplanes until a plane landed in the Hudson, right? And so the idea of, you know, someone caring about it in the past has served no bearing on --
Brent Evitt: Well -- and this is Brent again -- and my point is, we have to do both. So...
Clay Johnson: Sure. Just to -- because I started talking. This is Clay Johnson, and, you know, I like the idea of DIA being one of the sort of, you know, test grounds for proactive disclosure. I would caution that it’s because it’s an agency that’s really not well connected to the open internet, it may not be -- it shouldn’t probably be the only agency past that.
Brent Evitt: This is Brent again. Absolutely. We’re going to have to sample a bunch of different agencies, see how -- see how everyone faces this issue. Where you need a copy of the slate?
Clay Johnson: And as you guys -- my last comment on this, is as you guys move forward, it -- it may be interesting to ask our frontline FOIA professionals, you know, what -- and our various agencies what software they’re actually using to run their FOIA processes, and what their satisfaction is with that software. You know, I hate to get too deep in the weeds on that, but understanding what their -- the resources that they have at their disposal in order to manage these processes may be a question worth asking. And information worth sharing. That’s all.
Anne Weismann: This is Anne Weisman. One of the things I would encourage you to look at, I think one of the issues you identified was prioritizing, which I think is key. I mean, we saw that, which is the open government directive that had all these agencies put out high value data sets. And what they labeled high value, many of us thought was junk, frankly. One thing you might want to take a look at -- and I’m sure Sean Moulton has this -- is that from the access community, we put together years ago, and have been pushing it for years, a sort of list of common data sets that are common to all agencies that we believe are the kinds of information that should routinely be made in a proactively disclosed -- everything from visitor logs to IG reports to contract information.
So that might be, I think, worthwhile, looking at also because, it does represent a consensus among a lot of different open government groups.
Brent Evitt: And this is Brent again. Thank you, that’s very useful.
Delores Barber: Brent, I have a -- this is Delores Barber from DHS. I have -- first, I want to echo Anne’s comments. I was going to say the same thing. I guess we’re communicating through our fillings today. And that there are -- when you mentioned routine documents that all agencies have to deal with, particularly with contracts. And the other comment I wanted to make was we often -- DHS often gets called up on the hill to testify about our FOIA, our massive FOIA operations.
And with the questions for the record comeback, we are often asked, “When you release records proactively, does that cut down on your workload?” And I think there may be a perception that you want to explore out there, that if you release records proactively, your workload will decrease. But I have not seen that in practice in several different agencies that I’ve worked at. And I think it is important to release records proactively, of course, but they have to be the ones that people care about, and you have to stay up on the news to see what might be emerging. But that -- it decreases your workload? I don’t know that that’s necessarily true. But I think there is a perception out there, particularly on the hill, that it should, or it does, in some way. And this committee might be useful in separating those two issues, because the workload is one thing, dealing with your backlog, and then figuring out what the public wants to see proactively is separate.
And my other comment is about the work that is being done now called release to one, release to all. And how the proactive subcommittee might be able to connect with that group, and so that we, you know, could cross pollinate or avoid any duplication of effort.
And my comment, finally, is because I’ve made all of these suggestions, I’m going to join the proactive subcommittee.
Brent Evitt: (laughter) All right. This is Brent. Thank you very much, I appreciate it. Glad to have you.
Mark S. Zaid: Brent, this -- this is Mark Zaid. One thing maybe I would add to check to make sure that, to the extent agencies are proactively pursuing proactive disclosure, that at the same time, to check as to whether or not any of them are then using that, I don’t know if “excuse” would be an appropriate word, but using that as leverage to respond back to requesters and say, you know, “You’ve asked for these records X, we’ve proactively disclosed -- you know, go look on our website first.” And then, well, either come back to us or don’t come back to us.
I remember a number of years ago, NSA routinely did that for a category of records, particularly UFO records were -- they would -- they would always say, “Don’t even bother sending us any request. We have no records, but, you know, we’ve released everything we have up on our website.” And, now, that’s an extreme example, and I don’t mean to say that NSA does have records on UFOs, I don’t know.
Clay Johnson: Even though we all know that they do.
Mark S. Zaid: They do, yes. But I mean, (laughter) I’d hate to think that an agency -- and I don’t know that any are doing this, but then I’m not sure if there’s a way to check. But maybe in a survey, or a poll, or whatever it is we’d call it. I always forget. What are we calling it? But we’re not allowed to call them, surveys or polls?
M: They have to be called polls.
Mark S. Zaid: Polls. They are polls, OK. So then if they are pursuing that type of disclosure, they’re not relying solely on that as the means by which to process a FOIA request, or divert the need to process.
Brent Evitt: OK. Thank you very much. This is Brent again. I appreciate it.
Anne Weismann: This is Anne Weisman. I have another suggestion, which is that if you wanted to look at a discrete agency that I believe -- but may be mistaken -- does -- routinely does some kind of proactive disclosures to assess how effective it is. You might take a look at the FDA, because I would call Fred Sadler telling me, you know, when they knew there was going to be, you know, a product recall, there was a, you know, problem with spinach or whatever, they knew they were going to get deluged with FOIA requests. And so they would routinely put out -- they tried to get ahead of it.
And so if indeed that continues to be their practice, it might be a good way to also touch on Dolores’s question or point about, you know, did it in fact prove to be effective in terms of managing their FOIA? And as I said, it’s a discrete enough agency that it might be a good example to look at.
Nikki Gramian: And I just wanted to also make a comment about one of the things that Anne, you know, explained, that the category of records that are interested for FOIA requests are contracts. And I think, in my former position at DHS, that was something that, you know, DHS really wanted to proactively post on their website, but they ran into a lot of issues because we had to, you know, reach out to the company, go through the notice process. And, you know, so on and so forth. But I understand DOD proactively posts their contracts.
Jim Hogan: Some of our components do, yes.
Nikki Gramian: And so maybe it’s worth finding out how it is that they do it. Or is it, like, at the beginning of the contract, that the contractor is notified that this is going to be on the web?
Jim Hogan: What they’ve with some of our components -- I’m trying to remember -- it’s actually, I believe, written into the solicitation that -- that’s dif-- I don’t remember specifics right now. But either the contractor will give to them when the contract is awarded, the FOIA release, they said it’s already released. Or the component says, we’re going to release, like, this information, this information, this information. And as a condition of working with the government, you have to -- because if you don’t do it upfront, there’s really no way to do it, because you can’t proactively -- let’s say, that’s not done. You have a contract. You can’t proactively release it, because you have to go through the executive order of 1-2 -- or 1-0-6-0 process of doing the submit--
Jim Hogan: Thank you. Of doing the submitter notice. We can’t do that unless there’s a FOIA request. So you -- all you can really release proactively is the bottom line number, you know, so many millions of dollars, whatever, like that. So several components have put it into, again, into the agreement that, as a condition of doing business with government, certain information will be released proactively. And it depends on the kind of contracts. You know, you could have anywhere from, you know, lawn care through missiles. So I think usually, it’s the more simple contracts. It’s a lot easier to do that.
Larry Gottesman: And I can s-- Larry Gottesman, EPA -- I can tell you we don’t have the staff to proactively release contracts, because we get so many. But we do release the contracts when we get a FOIA request for it. And the good news is, when we release them, we don’t get out the reque-- we don’t get out the requests --
Jim Hogan: No, it’s for the same contract. So people can find them through FOIA online, and we have gotten -- rarely do we get a second request for the same contract. If we do, we call them sand say, “Hey, here’s the link to it.” And they usually say thank you very much and go home. But we just don’t have the staff to go through every contract we issue and proactively disclose them. We try on some occasions, but it’s just -- it’s -- you just don’t have the strap to do it.
Clay Johnson: So what’s the -- I mean, that’s an interesting question. Is that how you’re going to be pushed back for the -- any recommendation that we have around proactive disclosure? Like, what -- what is the -- the time sink there for that? Like, what -- what is -- so, like, what would make it so that you did have the staff, other than more people, right? Are there processes that could be put in place? Is it just hard? You know, like, to me, a contract is a document, right? Putting it online means redacting it, and putting it, and -- (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Larry Gottesman: Well, the problem is that executive order. So you need to go back to the submitter for saying, you know, we propose give it out, give us your comments. I mean, what would help if the far was amended to say when you get a contract, you need to provide a redacted version, for lack of a better term, some requirement on the contractor, that goes through the far.
Clay Johnson: That’s interesting.
Larry Gottesman: I mean, that, to me, would make the most simple, easiest way of doing it. But short of something like that, it’s a process of going through, going back to the submitter --
Clay Johnson: Do you think that contractors would just redact their entire contract? (group laughter) That would be what I would --
Jim Hogan: Yeah, I would say it would be, because there’s no -- because with the executive order you have a legal process. And if you don’t have the executive order, if you just say, “Hey, we have a proactive disclosure request,” the submitter could just say, “No, don’t put anything up there,” and your hands are tied.
Marty Michalosky: This is Marty. I have something too that is probably -- within the next two weeks, we’re going to begin posting contracts online. And we’ve been working at this for quite a few -- quite a few years, I think, realistically. Because it is complicated. So what we’ve done is we created a transparency clause in our solicitations. It mirrors the submitter’s notice, and basically, that requirement out of FOIA, which gives the submitter 10 days from the award of that contract to submit a redacted contract.
Now, we’ve found that pretty much nobody submits a redacted contract. Even though the language in there specifically says “failure to submit it condones our discretion to release” whatever. So what we did is we put in a process to, on the eleventh day, to go back to the contractor and give them one more opportunity to submit it. And we strengthened our language to affirm that this failure to submit this does in fact mean that you do not object at all.
Now, what we’ve found up until this point where, you know, now we’re proactively posting them. But what we found up to this point, by having that in there, and still not proactively posting, but it has significantly helped our FOIA process because, other than three years ago -- I think the last submitter’s notice we’ve done was probably three years ago. Only because whenever we get a FOIA request, if we don’t have that contract redacted from the vendor, we go through the contracting officer. And literally, every single vendor submits that within 24 hours, because we have that language in there, and we state very clearly that you pretty much have a day to submit this, because you should have submitted it two years ago.
So we’ve done that, we’ve flushed it out. What we -- the challenge we now face is remediating these contracts for 508 compliance. We created a process, we worked with our 508 program manager, they’ve signed off on our process, tagging, titling, descripting, naming conventions and contracts because you can’t put everything in a contract in a naming convention. So how did -- you know, we worked through all that, and we’ve standardized it. But I will tell you that even though we get contracts that are redacted, we often have to go back and pull the original because they redact the total awarded amount. Which, you know, that has already been released.
So we do do a screen kind of review real quick to address those issues, remediate through 508. But what we’ve found is even the data that you get from contractors, is across the board. Some of them are born digital, some of them are scanned and in poor quality, some of them are scanned in and OCRing fails to read the image because it’s a TIFF and there’s nothing you could do with it.
You know, so even going back to thinking that it’s very easy, the remediation process is significantly hard, even to make the minimum requirements under five-oh. So I know we’ve done that. We’re about, like I said, to post this. So we’ve gone through all that. It’s very complicated, and that’s just for contracts. We’re looking at other documents, but we wanted to start with contracts because they seem to be somewhat easier than even some of the other issues that, you know, looking what Anne had said also, we reviewed the common -- I forget what the title of it is. But the common --
Anne Weismann: Data sets.
Marty Michalosky: But the common data sets, and we actually create our transparency plan based on that. That included contracts as well. So we’re starting with contracts, but we found that even something that’s essentially, you would think would be very simple, is not. And it’s because there’s other factors that you have to consider, and it’s not that straightforward.
Nate Jones: This is Nate Jones. Can you guys hear me all right?
Nate Jones: I just want to highlight one other point that Fred brought up again, and another avenue for process disclosure. That’s the fact that we all know it takes incredible amount of work to, as Marty just said, find the document, redact the document, maybe talk to a contractor, get it ready, get it on the screen. And as Brent said, I just want to highlight that I think it makes a lot of sense that after you said -- press print, put it in an envelope, and send it to the requester or get the PDF and press send and send it as the email, there should be a way for our technology to let us also push a button and put it up on the web. Maybe to -- for our journalist friends, a week or some time limit after.
But I think that that aspect of process disclosure is really worth following as well. I know that re Release to One, Release to All is doing this, and lots of other agencies. I’ve already give them lots of kudos for doing so. But just to have the ability to make it easy to do one more quick, and put a process FOIA document up on the web so that it doesn’t gather cobwebs.
And just the last thing I’ll say is, most documents take hours, maybe longer, maybe days, maybe years to produce. And it just doesn’t make sense to not take the one last step to make sure that those resources are making it so the document’s public facing.
Nikki Gramian: Thank you so much, Nate. This is Nikki. I will say that it isn’t just one click. We are trying to put our own values --
Nate Jones: I mean, that’s what we should aspire to.
Clay Johnson: Yea, what he’s saying is, like, we need to drive towards that point, of making it one click, right? Like, in an ideal world, Microsoft Word would have, like, a button in it, (laughter) right, that says, like, “Publish to web.” And, you know, or maybe not -- you understand what I’m saying? Like...
Nikki Gramian: Yeah. I think one of the things that we all need to consider is the cost of these new softwares or technologies that many of the government --
Clay Johnson: The cost of the new ones are cheap. It’s the old ones you keep buying that’s expensive. Do you know Healthcare.gov?
Nikki Gramian: That’s a perspective. It’s a good one. But this is really a good -- I’m sorry.
David Pritzker: This is David Pritzker. I would be interested in working with a subcommittee. And the message you’re going to hear from me in the subcommittee is how these practices and any potential requirements affect small agencies, maybe very different from the way they affect large agencies. Our little agency has, altogether, 16 employees. And two of us, who were our general counsel and I, which is our FOIA staff, were tied in knots a couple of weeks ago by a single request that required screening a vast number of email messages from personal information. Just a tremendous amount of time. So this is something that I’d be con-- that we’d be concerned about.
But I want to speak also about this idea of published -- disclose the more press a button, disclose to all. And I think Delores kind of hinted at what I’m going to say now, before. But just because you press the button and something -- well, let’s just take my example of the email messages on a certain topic. Well, suppose we posted that to the web. Where? How does anybody who might be interested in that subject find that information here?” Do you put it under FOIA disclosures? Do you put it under particular subject matter? I mean, where does it go? Particularly for a larger agency with a complex set of websites. How does anybody who might be interested in it know it’s there?
Clay Johnson: I know that’s the intent of Data.gov?
David Pritzker: Well, I don’t know how successful that is, but these are concerns that agencies large and small might have. And my guess is, I’m hearing Delores’s comments about perhaps not reducing workload is simply because anybody who might be interested in these things don’t know where to look for them.
Sean Moulton: This is Sean Moulton. I think you raise a good point. But I think it’s a solvable point. There are principles and data standards that you can put information out there. I think the most important thing is to make sure that, when the data gets put out, whether it’s in a FOIA library, or under a subject matter library or website, that it’s being indexed, and found by the major search engines, the commercial search engines. And there have been agencies that have had difficulties with that, because they actually close off the search engines from certain aspects of the websites. And most people, if they go to Google or some other search engine and do a search, and can’t find very quickly the information they’re looking for, they assume it’s not there. And I think that’s going to be a critical element to really allowing people to find the information.
And these are professionals who, they’re working day and night. They have hundreds of people trying to figure out how to find and organize the results of searches. And so I would say the government should try and duplicate that, or spend an enormous amount of time or resources in figuring out where to post it and how to post it. But just again, post it and make it accessible to the searching professionals. I think that’s a big step.
Anne Weismann: This is Anne Weismann again. I mean, I think, Brent, what’s clear is that your committee has a lot of work. But I think a critical aspect -- which you did mention up front -- is the technology piece. Both in terms of, you know, how it can help, but also I guess I want to respond a little bit to Nikki’s comment. I feel that, all too often, generally with FOIA as a requester, we’re told, you know, we just don’t have the resources, we don’t have the technology. And I think it may be sort of a canard, or whatever the word is. It’s not necessarily accurate that, you know, yes, if you make this investment upfront, it really might be cost-saving in the long run. And I don’t know how you tackle that issue, but I feel like in many ways, it’s pretty critical, because I think that’s what stops so many agencies from going forward, and kind of what they tell Congress, then Congress says, “Oh, well, OK.”
So somehow there needs to be a way to break the logjam of we don’t have money for technology, it costs too much, when, as Clay points out, I mean, the new technology is cheaper than what you have. And if it does what it’s supposed to do, you may not see cost savings up front right away. But over time -- again, I’m throwing this out there. I don’t know how you get your arms around that, but I think it’s an important piece of the equation.
Brent Evitt: OK. This is Brent again. I appreciate all these comments. They’re very helpful.
Marty Michalosky: Just three very brief points, kind of to [make some things?] connected to this. First is I think that GSA 18F group is looking at some of the things that Clay and others brought up about how do you find, how do you categorize, how do you successfully search, you know, over 100 agencies that do FOIA, or more than do proactive disclosures? So it may be good to connect with that group, because I know that I talked to him quite a few times, and I know they’re working on some of those challenges, and maybe I wouldn’t have combined efforts there.
Number two, I think communication is important, continuous improvement. So as I’ve pointed out, we’ve faced a lot of challenges with our contracts, or other documents, for that matter. And what we’re doing is we’re going to be putting -- providing guidance to contractors that work with us on submitting documents from the beginning that are OCR, that meet the image quality of international archives, accepts as federal records, as well as other things. And I know that there is some 508 language in the far, I believe. I can’t cite it because I haven’t looked at it recently. But, you know, we’re going to provide guidance, so that whenever we do get those records -- and we’re asking minimum -- you know, this is really the minimum. OCRing through Adobe doesn’t take a lot, or saving at a certain PI your skin anyway. You know, save at a higher resolution so we can work with it easier, and it makes better.
So I think communication with whomever that you’re dealing with, with records, and then be able to straight to the point whenever you get it, it should be of a certain quality and a certain -- certain level so you can work with it.
But, and my third thing is, is you can add me to the list. I’ll work with the (inaudible).
(overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Clay Johnson: -- you now have the entire committee. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Female: Well done, Brent.
Maggie Mulvihill: Hi, can I just jump in? I’m so sorry I’m late. I’m Maggie Mulvihill, Boston University. I teach data journalism, and I was delayed coming in from Boston, so I apologize. Can you hear me?
But two things that I just wanted to jump in on. The notion that information wouldn’t be easily accessible isn’t -- I don’t really see why that is even a factor, because, you know, we train at least our journalists and really good researchers to go as deep and as granular, and as precise as they can. And where I think most requesters aren’t used to not having things easily accessible. That’s what records retention schedules are for. And, you know, minutes of meetings, and some -- and a footnote in a GAO report. I mean, we can always find the information. I don’t see that that’s really a factor. And should we put it up or not?
And then secondly, just with all the innovation that’s going on with technology and data. I don’t know if there’s ever been consideration of any of the agencies, (inaudible) all that off to either work with a tech company or a university, a pilot program. I mean, Clay mentioned with Microsoft, put, like, a Pinterest button on document, how sweet would that be? (laughter)
And it just seems like people are clawing to innovate. You know, every single day, you see a new data analytics company and tech company. But they would -- I shouldn’t say “bend,” but it would be interesting to know if they might be willing to do a cloud project within the agency, or an experimental project about that very idea. So I just wanted to put that on the record.
Nikki Gramian: Thank you. You know, talking about proactive disclosure. I also would like to say that Department of Justice is spearheading a pilot project on proactive disclosure that you touched upon. And we have someone from DOJ, and also our own parent agency that can provide a brief summary of this project. If I may ask Bobby Talebian to please come up to the microphone.
Christa Lemelin: Come on down! Price is Right reference? Anyone?
Clay Johnson: No, I got the joke.
Christa Lemelin: I guess (inaudible). (laughter)
Bobby Talebian: Morning. How is everyone? Glad to be here today to talk about the -- our proactive disclosure pilot program. Many of the agencies -- so we’re having a pilot program to test the Release to One, Release to All policy consideration. We have many of the agencies that are in the pilot, seven agencies all together. I brought a table here.
So as you can see, real leaders in FOIA. But the idea of this comes from, you know, we’ve had -- especially in the Department of Justice, (inaudible) especially have had a real emphasis on practical disclosure since 2009. Attorney General’s FOIA guidelines encourage agencies to systematically and promptly post informa-- or make information available in advance of a FOIA request. We’ve had many workshops, and agencies have been -- have been reporting on their efforts in practical disclosures in their Chief FOIA Officers reports.
So we want to take this to the next level here, and test the idea of posting records that have been released as part of a FOIA request after one request has been made to the public, so that the release is not just something for the individual, but to the public at large. Of course, with the exception of first part requests. And the idea of the pilot is a six-month pilot with participating agencies to see how it goes, and gather metrics, and really look at many of the questions that were raised here with the committee to kind of understand better the challenges.
We’ve heard a lot of challenges, and there are legitimate challenges with being able to post information more and more online, both as far as technology and time resources, and there’s many benefits that have been discussed, and we want to be able to gauge all of that and have an informed decision at the end of the six-month pilot. And we plan to make the results public. And in the meantime, I encourage everyone here -- we encourage everyone in the public and agencies to follow our progress, and to let us know if there’s any feedback. We’ve set up a specific email address, firstname.lastname@example.org. But feel free to contact OIP in any way you like and let us know what you think, feedback, what you’re seeing, your concerns, as we continue with the pilot.
Oh. Thank you. So I should get the email address right: email@example.com.
Nikki Gramian: Thank you, Bobby. Thank you so much.
Bobby Talebian: Thank you.
Nikki Gramian: Thank you so much. So this is the wrap-up for the public comments. We could take a short break if you want, or we could just continue. Everybody wants to continue?
(overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Nikki Gramian: All right. Very good.
Dave Bahr: This is Dave Bahr, and I just wanted to comment about the proactive disclosure that -- regarding the issue of how do people know what’s being proactively disclosed? It occurs to me that any time I’ve gone to an agency reading room, or the few times that I deemed to use the FOIA request portal, I have never seen any indication, any speed bump that says, “Wait, the FOIA file employ request. Have you checked what we’ve already put on the internet, you know, proactively?” And, you know, people have been talking about making sure these things are indexed for search engines and all those things, which is -- which is a great idea, and I don’t disagree at all.
But it would seem like a miniscule expenditure of time and effort, to make sure that anytime anybody clicks into an agency FOIA portal, there’s some indication that there may be what they’re looking for, already posted and waiting for them on the internet, without having the hassle of the FOIA request.
Sean Moulton: So this is -- I -- this is Sean Moulton. I think that’s an excellent point. I can say that I’m not sure which agencies you’ve been looking at, but I can say I have seen that on several agencies’ websites, where they encourage people on the FOIA site. When you come to it, they greatly encourage you to look through the reading room, as well as search the site to make sure that the information’s not already there.
When I was at the Center for Effective Government, we did a review of some of the top agencies for the handle FOIA request. And for -- and one of the aspects we looked at were websites. And that was one of the features we looked at for present -- being present on the website. And a number of them had it. I certainly think it’s the right thing to do, and it’s one of the reasons we graded based on that. So not everyone’s doing it, but I can say that some agencies are doing it. It’s probably becoming more standard as we move on.
Nikki Gramian: All right. Anyone else? Any comments? No? Thank you Dave, and thank you Sean.
All right. So now we’ll turn to everyone else in the room. Thanks to all of the folks who are in this room, and -- for joining us. We’re eager to hear from you all, and we’ll take your comments and questions for the next 20 minutes. Please, if you would come to the microphone.
Linda Ferguson: Thank you for taking my comment today. My name is Linda Ferguson, I’m representing myself. And I just wanted to kind of add on to -- give, add on a comment to Mr. David’s -- I didn’t get your last name, I’m sorry, but you had said about the information, and how would you find it? And the last gentleman was talking about it in the reading room. And that’s great, but I think it needs to be more subject to, like, the metadata. It has to be linked to the metadata. And the bad thing about that is that is subject to whoever is putting the data up there. So we kind of have to all be on the same page as to what we’re putting up there, and how it’s relating the different index and what it’s producing. And that’s all. Thank you.
Nikki Gramian: Thank you. Anyone else?
Christa Lemelin: Can I just respond that (inaudible) committee.
Nikki Gramian: Sure.
Christa Lemelin: So at the Office of Government Information Services, we have our website, www.ogis.archives.gov. We’ve been actively working to promote copies with [PIA?] (inaudible) of our final (inaudible) customer. So we’ve gotten very -- [Iggy?] and I have been very intimately familiar with the 508 process, and remediating them. And I mean, it’s -- I mean, that’s exactly the point. You can put that metadata in there, and that, in some ways, is one of the time consuming things, because you need to tag the document as English. You need to put in a [title pool?]. You know, if you’re being 508 compliant, you need to do all this, which we’re doing. So all these tags in there. And, I mean, it’s great, because sometimes I Google search things. And it’s like, oh my God, this letter that I posted is my first Google hit, because I tagged it, and I put the metadata in there that made me get that hit.
Clay, you were talking about resource issues and tools. I mean, we’re just using Adobe Acrobat, (inaudible), which is awful, because in my experience, it’s like, the documentation for it doesn’t even match the product itself. So that’s a challenge that agencies face if the companies aren’t even (inaudible). But I think a part of the issue is, you know -- you know, one request, one release. I think you’re working on a very small [level?], and when we’re remediating these documents, it’s one at a time. I don’t have these special, fancy software to help me metadata tag it with, like -- in one shot. And, I mean, maybe it’s out there, and if you have it, please let me know. It will make my life easier. But, you know, I wish -- I mean, I wish the agents -- industries, that I wish the companies -- you’re right, I think they, I mean, should be part of the conversation.
Last December, I went to a really great conference on government information, and making it accessible. So I mean, I think it’d be nice if we could bring more people into this conversation. Not just the tech geeks, but, I mean, companies, people who are, you know, part of the community and actively working on these issues. Because, I mean, we’re not -- we’re making this information, we want it to be available to all citizens, not just the, you know, people like us. We want it to be available to everyone. So, and those of you who said you would join Brent in his efforts, please do that. And we had our first meeting in June of 2014, and you as a group decided that proactive disclosures is an important topic, and it’s one that you would like to tackle. The second, too, I discovered a national action plan, actually specifically mentions that we need to work on more at modernization, and proactive disclosure. So please join Brent, please be part of the conversation. And yeah.
Nikki Gramian: (laughter) Thank you. Thank you, Christa. And I think one thing I would add is I had also attended a meeting, and a gentleman got up and said, why -- why would the FOIA units, you know, would have to go through this technology issue when it’s only a handful of other folks that would want the information 508 compliant? And the response was this is the law. And, you know, true majority of folks really can take advantage of the fact that information is on the web, and it’s only a handful that really need to have that information, you know, 508 compliant. And the person who started talking said that it would probably best for the agency, you know, if a person wants something 508 compliant, then to ask for that particular document to be 508 compliant. This way, many other, you know, information is all already on the web. And then the majority of people are able to use it, rather than just, you know, having this issue that, hey, we can’t put anything on the web because of 508 compliant. And that is something that I heard, and I’m just throwing it out there. This is what some folks [believe?].
Well, thank you so much. Anyone else in the -- yes.
Michael Rhodes: Hi. I’m Michael Rhodes?. I’m also speaking for myself. Just a general comment. Admittedly -- this is the first I’ve heard the discussion about proactive disclosure, and that term. Overall, what my -- my response to -- my reaction to it is, are we not redefining what FOIA is, what the original purpose of FOIA was, to get after certain information? Like, for instance, COINTELPRO, there was a lot of interest in those -- in that topic, so it was expected that resources -- limited resources (inaudible) would be focusing on that, because that was a public demand. So as the example is brought up of, like, visitor logs and other routine information, well, that’s fine and well, but couldn’t an excuse be made by agencies, “Well, we can’t get to that request, because you want this routine information.”
So I’d be very interested -- perhaps there’s a survey. Is that what the public wants? Do they want routine information, or do they want certain information? Which I think the original purpose of the Freedom of Information Act was.
Male: Thank you.
Christa Lemelin: I think they want everything. (laughter)
Sean Moulton: Well, I can just say that I think Clay mentioned it earlier. You know, very often, circumstances changed. And suddenly, what was routine information, now you want it, and you want it now. You know, and the calendars of key officials, when questions arise over, you know, either policy decision or contract that was given to someone. Everyone wants to know who met with who and when. Was it before or after the contract?
And the idea would be, if we can proactively disclose this. And hopefully, by building it in, as I think Marty was talking about but with their contracts, when you start to build it in from the creation of the document, the resource issue really becomes smaller, and hopefully doesn’t even impact the FOIA process. You’re building in the disclosure to people who are creating the records. You know, the procurement officers, in terms of contracts, were the people holding calendars in terms of, you know, the schedulers. And so it never gets to the FOIA officers. And the FOIA people, hopefully it doesn’t -- it doesn’t interfere with oh, we’ve got to go do this other thing, so we’re not processing requests. That would be the ideal from my perspective. I’m not sure if I said, but this is Sean Moulton.
Christa Lemelin: This is a recording.
Nikki Gramian: Thank you so much, Sean. OK. I guess this is going to be our closing remarks now.
Christa Lemelin: Wait, can I (inaudible)?
Christa Lemelin: Bobby, I have a question for you. And I don’t know if you have an answer, but what kind of metrics or -- I mean, can you tell us a little bit more about how -- like, kind of ongoing efforts of the project? And, you know, in terms of information or data that they [use these?] (inaudible).
Bobby Talebian: Yeah, absolutely. So we’re working on metrics -- we’re working on metrics right now as we speak. And we’re really trying to answer just a number of different questions, including some of the challenges that people have talked about, 508 being one of them, time divergence from FOIA staff not working on FOIA request, and working on posting. Also some of the successes, you know? How many records get posted? So we’re trying to get all that very down, that the pilot was announced but the actual, effective launch where agency will start working on posting records that (inaudible) will be in August. So in these next couple weeks, we’ve been working with data experts in the government and trying to fine tune, make sure that we have the right metrics, and we present it in the best way to get the best results. And of course, then we will make those results publicly available.
Christa Lemelin: So there’s still plenty of time (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Bobby Talebian: Absolutely. And before the August kickoff and all throughout the -- on the metric [change?] part of it, we welcome any kind of feedback.
Christa Lemelin: I mean, it’s not a metric, but are you capturing information [about software?] and what not people are using? Because as we keep hearing, you know, every agency is a unique snowflake. It’s all different, they all have different resources. So, I mean, are you capturing information on --
Bobby Talebian: So yeah, absolutely. We’re going to be capturing all the uniqueness of each agency. And I think one of the great parts of the pilot is that we have a good handful of diverse agencies, both in the types of records and missions they have, and also their sizes. So we’ll get a good I think, grasp on the different types of methods and things the agencies are doing to post records online, and the impact that has on their programs, and the pilot itself.
Christa Lemelin: Great. Thank you, Bobby.
Bobby Talebian: Excellent.
Mark S. Zaid: This is Mark Zaid. I’ve come to the conclusion that life is going by too fast, and we’ve been here for a year now. And next year is the fiftieth anniversary of the enactment of FOIA. And I wanted to raise, either for some discussion own or perhaps that we discuss it as the committee via email for presentation at the next meeting in October, what are we doing next year? We talked about, when we first got together, that we were going to put out some sort of report. And I presume, probably with most of you, that’s still a thought in your mind.
But since we’ve already gone a year, I suspect another year will go by really quickly, and I’ll be sitting here again saying, my God, life is going by way too fast, and I don’t have enough time to do everything that we’re supposed to be doing. So I think we probably need to start thinking about a schedule for -- schedule for and about what we are going to try and schedule for in this next year. How do we want some final report to look, as well as what we discussed at our last meeting about extending the life of this advisory committee, which doesn’t seem, from what I recall and see in the minutes from NARA’s general counsel. And David, you weighed in on it too, to be much of an issue, or a problem, that we can extend our life.
So if we’re going to do that, when do we want to actually do that? I don’t know what the process actually is as far as who puts in the request, and who approves that. But how will that impact whatever we’re going to do as a -- whether it’s called a final report, an interim report, whatever it’s going to be. But, you know, since we’ve gone so far in already halfway, we probably need to have some thoughts and discussions about how we want this to look, and when we want it to be issued.
Christa Lemelin: And to initially respond to what you’re saying, is the Archivist, and now a senior management, they are aware that you as a committee have expressed a desire in continuing in the terms of our charter. You know, it’s two years that can be renewed. We are, of course, not a committee just for the sake of having a committee. I know it’s cool, but we want to get things done, and we’re serious about getting things done, and we show -- the archivist chose you to be on this committee because he thinks you’re serious about (inaudible) and FOIA, and proving to the administration from the executive branch. And I would expect that he’d want to see results, because, you know, it’s a lot of work for you all to meet, to be here, to work on your subcommittees. And it’s a lot of work for us as an office. So I think we need some results, and I think the report, recommendation, whatever you want to do, that’s great, but I think we need a tangible product of some sort. And by we, I’m speaking for the archivist, maybe. Well, probably not. I’m not paid that much. But... (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Anne Weismann: This is Anne Weisman. I certainly echo Mark’s sentiment. We can’t lose sight of the fact that we’re more than halfway in, and we really do what to produce a product. Christa, I think you’re the appropriate person, since you’ve got all the subcommittee meetings, and know where people are at, to really keep us, you know, on track, and to work with the subcommittees to set dates for completion. I mean, I don’t think it’s anything we could do here collectively today. I certainly think by the next advisory committee meeting, we should be, you know, each committee should be in a position to talk about deliverables and when, and then we should talk about what the committee as a whole, whether we’re, you know, producing separate products or whatever it is. But I think in the interim, Christa, it really does fall to you as the person who’s in contact with all the different subcommittees to make sure that they set internal dates and make sure we keep them.
Christa Lemelin: I’ll try to do that, but that means I need people to be responsive.
Anne Weismann: Of course, but we’re not going to do anything. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible) But my point is --
Christa Lemelin: (inaudible)
Anne Weismann: No, but Christa, my point is simply that I don’t think there’s any one member of this committee who can do it, and I don’t think as a whole. Because you’re the one that’s really coordinating the various activities. That’s all I’m asking, is that you just need to ask for different subcommittees, to make sure [to set any dates we’re meeting?].
Christa Lemelin: I’m happy to do that.
Mark S. Zaid: This is Mark Zaid. You know, as I’m thinking about it, again, we have to decide what we want to issue as a committee, rather -- you know, if it’s the individual subcommittee reports, and it’s just packaged into something, or we actually do something that, as a committee, we all vote on, agree on, however it goes. So maybe we need a -- unfortunately, maybe we need another subcommittee that the purpose is on? whatever the final product’s going to be, because it may be difficult to herd too many cats on this committee to figure out what it’s going to be. And at the same time, Christa’s doing a great job on email corralling us. But, you know, she’s not paid enough to -- we could maybe get you a raise, we can ask. We can put that as a recommendation.
MALE: (inaudible) recommendation.
Mark S. Zaid: But --
Female: [And your work is done?].
Mark S. Zaid: But, you know, if -- especially if we’re going to issue a report as a committee [whole?], someone’s going to have to draft it. Hopefully not me, but someone’s going to have to draft it, and we’re going to have to figure out who that’s -- who those people will be to take the initiative on it. So that’s why I suggest maybe we need to have somebody serve on a committee to decide that. However, I don’t care. We can call it a committee, or a draft, or a drafting committee, or whatever.
Anne Weismann: I just don’t want to get ahead of ourselves. I mean, I don’t know if a report’s the answer. Is it a series of recommendations? I think that, you know, I include proposed legislation. I mean, there’s any --
Mark S. Zaid: The committee could decide that too. I don’t know.
Anne Weismann: But I guess what I’m suggesting is by our next committee meeting as a whole, we should be prepared to make those kinds of decisions based on the work that the subcommittees are doing, and what we expect their products to be. And I think we don’t set these deadlines [too much?].
Larry Gottesman: Just, I mean, we’ve had a great discussion today, but we keep moving the target. We keep expanding. You know, we’re doing more polls and more -- I mean, you’re right, we need to sort of say, here’s where we’re going to go, here’s what we’re going to report, and maybe the next committee can take it beyond. Because if we keep having that moving target, we’re never going to get there. So we need to sort of say, here’s what we’re looking to do, here are the recommendations. And then, you know, come up with either recommendations or a report, or some way of closing up this process.
Nikki Gramian: And I think one thing I will add is now, with the appointments of our new director, who’s going to be the chair of this committee, you know, obviously for our next meeting, you know, that’s something that he will also weigh in when Christa sends these emails. You know, he also will be able to sort of chime in and, you know, request stuff, and so on and so forth.
Delores Barber: New director?
Nikki Gramian: Yes.
Larry Gottesman: You’re losing (inaudible).
Christa Lemelin: Oh, you missed it.
Delores Barber: Who might that be? (laughter)
Male: It’s you, actually.
Larry Gottesman: You. (laughter)
Delores Barber: It’s a boy! (laughter) And we’re very proud of it.
Maggie Mulvihill: Mark, can you -- or anyone -- what is the most effective thing to do? Is there to be recommendations for legislation in the press release? You know, pivoting off the fiftieth anniversary? What has the most power, do you think?
Mark S. Zaid: Yea. So this is Mark. I mean, I think it’s ironic, because it was -- I don’t think it was a plan that our two years would conclude with the fiftieth anniversary. Not that I know of. And I certainly would imagine, especially when Christa is mentioning and reminding us that the archivist expects some tangible product, that, you know, we would have something that would be issued, and I’d love to see NARA issue a press release about it, that, you know, this is -- whatever stage we’re at, even if we have reengaged to continue our lifespan beyond the two years, to whatever period of time.
But I do think, however we’re going to do that, and whatever format we’re going to have to figure out -- we need to figure it out by the next committee meeting. And I don’t think we’re going to figure this out right now as we conclude, so we’re going to have to have some sort of dialogue internally, through emails or however else we’re doing it, or maybe -- I don’t know, we’re probably too much of a difficulty to have a conference call, because then that does open records issues, or whatever the open meetings issues. But at least to have that conversation and start figuring out, you know, what do we want to do and when? Because, you know, like I said, you know, this next year is going to just come right out. And the year is, of course, where we would issue whatever it is. That means everything has to be done before that. So realistically, we’re talking, you know, months that we have to start pulling this together.
Maggie Mulvihill: And it would be a wasted opportunity to miss that news hook of that anniversary. That really would be a wasted opportunity.
Mark S. Zaid: Yeah. I mean, I’ve already started to think. I had -- it even just dawned on me that the fiftieth anniversary was going to be this morning. You know, a year from now is looking it up online in July or September, depending on which websites you look at. So I don’t know exactly the exact date.
Clay Johnson: September.
Mark S. Zaid: Is it September?
Clay Johnson: For the purposes of this committee, it should be.
Mark S. Zaid: OK. And (laughter) you know, I’m sure those of us in the private sector in particular are going to have quite a number of conferences that will hold next year, and hopefully maybe the government will as well, and maybe combined together. So it’s going to be a great opportunity to really have a dialogue about where we are, 50 years later.
Anne Weismann: Yeah, but I want to pick up on your question, Maggie, because I guess my personal view is I would urge this committee to look way beyond a report. And if all we produce is a report, it’s just going to be tossed on the pile, and that’ll be that. And I think if we really want to fulfill our mission, we have to stretch much further than that.
Maggie Mulvihill: Hi, it’s Maggie again. I was just thinking, when there have been such councils or committees like this before, to change [prior legislation to strengthen?], what has worked? What has worked? Does anybody have any -- or can we study that? Or has anything worked?
Anne Weismann: Well, I don’t -- I think that’s a fair question, but keep in mind, we turn over our product to the archivist. It’s really up to him. At the end of the day, we have no power beyond recommendation. So if we give him specific and concrete enough things, and we explain the rationale and we can make the case that, you know, they’re well based and they would work, you know, maybe we’d have a shot. But at the end of the day, what works depends on the agency that chartered the committee in the first place.
Christa Lemelin: And Mark, I want to respond to something that you brought up earlier, the idea of, you know, kind of convening a group of us to talk about this issue. I mean, under the provisions of (inaudible), we can have an administrative meeting that’s not, you know, an open, public meeting, but (inaudible) want to meet and talk about it, that’s certainly OK under the provisions of the FACA. OGIS, we’re happy to host, or whatever. (overlapping dialogue; inaudible)
Anne Weismann: That’s a great idea.
Christa Lemelin: So I think let’s taking about maybe in the next few weeks doing that.
Female: That’s a great idea.
Cindy Cafaro: I might suggest that you speak to your legal counsel of course before you make that particular decision. Administrative meetings are typically under the Federal Advisory Committee Act. Things more like receiving training by the committee. These types of decisions would be -- it would be a very interesting discussion. So I would certainly urge you, if you’re seeking to avoid challenge. And there’s always someone who wants to challenge something, to be very cognizant of the Federal Advisory Committee Meeting and product requirements. My name is Cindy Cafaro, I am -- speak on my own behalf, but from the department of the interior.
Christa Lemelin: To some of our (inaudible), members of our general council, (inaudible) to it, one way (inaudible). Well, [we can do it?]. Thank you, Cindy, and thank you, Jean [Whyte]. We’ll look into it, and follow up with you all.
David Pritzker: This is David Pritzker again. I want to address two of the comments that people have made in the last few minutes. First, on the recommendations (inaudible) reports or recommendations with reports, my agency’s principle product are recommendations backed up by research reports, and some of them get a lot of attention. I’m talking about the recommendations now. Some of them get a lot of attention in certain interested quarters, and are largely or sometimes fully implemented. Some of them get no attention whatsoever. It seems to me from our experience that the main lessons from this are to get the people who are in a position to do something about them interested, and informed in advance of what you’re doing. In the case of FOIA, it seems to me, (inaudible) aimed toward recommendations on legislation. There were obvious people to be in contact with in an informal way to let them know what we’re up to. But ultimately, I think the combination of kind of greasing the skids along those lines together with an influential person -- in this case, obviously the archivist, maybe the attorney general, maybe the Office of Information Policy, maybe the new head of OGIS -- but these are -- these are the people who can help carry our message. And it’s a combination of those roots that will make whatever we have say most likely to gain attention. I’d leave it to Maggie and others to consider how to get the press interested. (laughter)
The other thing I want to talk about is this matter of how we can converse with one another within the bounds of the relevant law in between meetings of the full committee. And as Nikki pointed out at the beginning, the current rules for subcommittees are that they’re not formally required to do everything that the full committee is, by way of public notice and public involvement. Provided, as she properly said, everything that the subcommittees do is simply reported back for decision making by the full committee. But that doesn’t address the question of what the full committee can do in these three-month intervals.
It so happens that one of our recommendations -- the Administrative Conference of the US -- one of our recommendations three or four years ago was on the subject of the Federal Advisory Committee Act. And we proposed at that time a procedure that we referred to as asynchronous online meetings. And our recommendation does -- does spell out ways to do this within the bounds of the Federal Advisory Committee act. And just to give you the flavor of what I’m talking about, it was essentially calling a meeting that was properly noticed in the federal register, but explained to the public, it will be open to the public to -- to observe, maybe to participate. We have some flexibility on that. But basically, do everything online on a publicly reachable website.
So there are ways to do this if we want to do that. We risk complaints about our mode of operation if all we do is exchange group emails with one another and try to reach decisions that way. That would run afoul of the Advisory Committee Act. But what I’ve described as these asynchronous electronic public meetings, if you did it carefully, would not.
Christa Lemelin: Maybe one of our recommendations can be (inaudible) updated.
David Pritzker: Well, that was our recommendation. (laughter) Actually, we didn’t recommend the FACA be updated, but rather to recognize that what I tried to summarize would be permissible within the current FACA.
Larry Gottesman: And -- this is Larry Gottesman. I listened to everyone, you know, and I think legislative enhancements corrections are great. But for those of us that have been around FOIA for a while, they’re hard to make happen. There may be ways to make recommendations that are administratively ways to fix things without having to go through a legislative process. So we may look at both administrative corrections as well as legislative fixes, because -- or enhancements, I guess is a better word than fixes. Because not a whole lot’s passing the Hill right now.
David Pritzker: Larry -- this is David again. Larry, I appreciate that comment. I did not mean to imply what I said before that we should be aiming particularly for legislation. I agree entirely with what you’ve just said, and the perfect example -- at least in my world, is the Administrative Conference’s recommendations on alternative dispute resolution and OGIS, and tore things that I’ve spoken about at prior meetings, was largely addressed to the agencies, and saying, here are the things that you can and should do for improved functioning under FOIA, and in particular, some of the recommendation addressed better use of FOIA public liaisons. So that certainly is an appropriate (inaudible).
Larry Gottesman: And David, I wasn’t focusing, but we -- earlier we were talking about, you know, legislative recommendations, and I’m just saying that they’re great to have, but I think we need to have more than that. Because if all we’re all we’re coming up with a bunch of legislative recommendations, have we really --
David Pritzker: I’m agreeing with you.
Larry Gottesman: OK. I’m sorry.
Anne Weismann: Well, I think it’s fair to say we have a range of opinions, but I also think it’s fair to say we have a lot to talk about on this. So however you do it, I think we do need to facilitate a further discussion that’s focused on this issue, and we should do it in the very short term.
Mark S. Zaid: This is Mark Zaid. But I do want to make a distinction as far as -- I’m not even discussing, at this stage, the substance that we’re going to put in. We’ve got to figure out the timing, and the resources as to who’s going to be involved doing what. And I’m not as concerned about that, with the public being involved with the internal -- I do see that as more internal administrative workings. And then the substance is obviously incredibly important, but the substance is almost irrelevant if we can’t figure out when we’re going to do it and who’s going to do it.
Nikki Gramian: I will say that the archivist is very, very interested in this advisory committee, and he’s wholeheartedly supporting this committee. So it’s -- it’s his priority to know what’s happening, and, you know, he is very much involved and interested.
All right. Is that it? People on the phone?
Male: Thank you very much.
Male: Thank you very much.
Nikki Gramian: All right. Great. OK. So as you all have heard, this committee has already been very active in efforts to improve FOIA, with the efforts of the three subcommittees that are underway. As briefly discussed previously by our subcommittee co-chairs, the FOIA public liaison and fee surveys are open until tomorrow. If you’re a federal FOIA professional and have not done so already, please, we encourage you that you go on the web and please weigh in and do your survey. At our next meeting, we look forward to hearing more about the survey results and the updates of our analysis of the -- that the subcommittees have done. We invite you to visit the website for more information about our activities and how we -- how you can participate.
And one final thing to note, that everyone in this room will go on -- will undergo the National Archive’s exit screening procedures to leave the building. For security purposes, all individuals’ bags are checked to ensure that no Archives holdings are removed from the building.
And thank you all for coming. We will see you at our next meeting in October with our new director. [applause] Please stand adjourned.