Mediation Program - Frequently Asked Questions
Congress created the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) to serve as the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Ombudsman. We assist the public and Federal agencies by helping them resolve their FOIA disputes, and by addressing their questions and concerns about the FOIA process.
An Ombudsman is a designated neutral that facilitates the informal resolution of concerns. As the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Ombudsman, OGIS works with FOIA requesters and Federal agencies to explore and determine the existing options to resolve FOIA issues. Our primary objective is to advocate for a fair and efficient FOIA process for requesters and Federal agencies.
OGIS listens to inquiries and complaints and helps to identify procedures, options, and resources for FOIA requesters and Federal agencies. OGIS is available to clarify FOIA policies, and to serve as an alternate channel of communication between FOIA requesters and Federal agencies.
OGIS is available to help FOIA requesters and Federal agencies in various ways. We:
- advocate for the FOIA process;
- listen to FOIA complaints, concerns, problems and issues;
- help requesters and Federal agencies to explore and evaluate options;
- clarify certain decisions, policies and practices;
- help open channels of communication between FOIA requesters and Federal agencies;
- ensure that established FOIA policies and practices function properly and equitably;
- refer FOIA requesters and Federal agencies to helpful resources;
- assist in surfacing issues so they can be addressed in formal processes;
- and identify new issues and opportunities for systemic change for FOIA administration throughout the Executive Branch.
OGIS does not:
- Enforce FOIA
- Conduct investigations
- Compel agencies to release documents or immediately respond to requests
- Substitute for or replace the FOIA administrative appeals process
- Process or review FOIA requests and appeals
- Provide assistance outside the realm of FOIA
- Make determinations or dictate resolutions to disputes
- Advocate for a particular FOIA requester or a Federal agency
- Provide legal advice
- Address matters already in litigation
- Serve in any role that compromises our impartiality as FOIA Ombudsman
Anyone with a complaint, question, or concern about the Federal FOIA process may contact OGIS. This includes FOIA requesters, Federal agencies, and Federal FOIA professionals.
OGIS responds to all inquiries related to FOIA. If a person contacts OGIS about an issue that is outside the scope of our mission, we will tell the person that we are unable to provide assistance.
OGIS serves as a non-binding, non-exclusive alternative to litigation. Participation in OGIS’s dispute services is voluntary and the office has no binding authority. OGIS cannot compel an agency to release records, reverse administrative decisions, or immediately respond to requests. However, OGIS can provide additional information, context and resources to help requesters and agencies better understand each other’s positions.
FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons (FPLs) play a crucial role in assisting requesters with the FOIA process. FOIA contact information for all Federal agencies is available at www.foia.gov. For information on the roles and responsibilities of FOIA Requester Service Centers and FPLs, refer to Department of Justice Office of Information Policy (OIP) guidance on the topic.
OGIS serves as a neutral third party to FOIA disputes and frequently works with FPLs to resolve disputes. Further, we can help you identify options and help you to use them most effectively. In our experience, it is often most efficient for requesters to contact agencies directly before seeking OGIS assistance.
As the FOIA Ombudsman, OGIS advocates for the FOIA process. OGIS does not advocate for the FOIA requester or the Federal agency involved in a dispute. OGIS does not take sides on any issues. OGIS maintains a neutral position and works to resolve matters by clarifying issues and procedures, facilitating discussions, and identifying options and resources.