US Advisory Body Meets on FOIA Dispute Resolution

7 March 2014

A government advisory body in the United States is considering preliminary suggestions to improve dispute resolution for freedom of information requests.

A committee of the Administrative Conference of the United States met on the topic March 6, and will continue deliberating on the recommendations, derived from a lengthy research paper on FOIA disputes. A main focus is the Office of Government Information Services, which provides some FOIA ombudsman services.

One recommendation is for OGIS to issue nonbinding advisory opinions if mediation assistance does not produce a resolution. After a discussion of the appropriate role of advisory opinions, this is being substantially rewritten. The next committee meeting will be April 7. Final proposals go to the June 5-6 ACUS Plenary Session.

Several recommendations were to pare back on some OGIS services. The report praises the “low cost/high value” OGIS service of promptly answering routine inquiries about FOIA. However, it suggests that OGIs should provide substantial facilitation and mediation help to requesters with meritorious claims only after they have exhausted the agency appeal process. Another recommendation is for OGIS to stop offering assistance to callers concerning the Privacy Act.  Doing so consumes some resources and is not officially part of the OGIS mandate. The committee decided against both these recommendations.

Agencies should be encouraged to use OGIS and to advise requesters about OGIS, other recommendations state, and agencies should work to maximize the effectiveness of their FOIA public liaison officers in fulfilling their dispute resolution functions.

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