OGIS website helps streamline FOIA process, resolve disputes

Tuesday - 1/31/2012, 9:39am EST

Candace Boston, policy and management analyst, NARA

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Thousands of Freedom of Information Act requests flow through federal agencies every year. Sometimes the government and the FOIA petitioner just can't agree. Disputes often end up with the Office of Government Information Services, part of the National Archives and Records Administration.

NARA recently launched OGIS Access System to streamline and increase transparency of the FOIA process.

"The system allows us to keep track of our cases and inquiries that we received from the public and federal agencies," and Candace Boston, policy and management analyst at NARA. "It also allows for the customers to make requests online."

Candace Boston, policy and management analyst, NARA (NARA photo)

She spoke to The Federal Drive with Tom Temin Tuesday about OGIS' new website.

In the previous two years, OGIS handled approximately 450 cases per year, while receiving a total of about 800 inquiries annually.

Boston said that her office is hoping a questionnaire on the new website will help customers determine whether or not they are coming to the right place without having to deal directly with agency staff.

"The questionnaire goes through whether or not it's the appropriate time to come to OGIS or not, or it provides some information with who or what agency they should be going to first," she said. "We're hoping that that kind of takes away some of the cases that were coming to us where we didn't really need to be involved or really were not disputes."

Once OGIS gathers information about the nature of the dispute, it meets the two parties to help them resolve their differences

"Sometimes there are some bad relationships," Boston said. "If OGIS steps in to just facilitate the conversation, the agency and the requester are able to work out their differences just from that. There's really not a whole lot that OGIS really has to do besides just being that neutral party that's there that both sides feel that we're listening to what's going on."

Since the website was launched on Nov. 28, 2010, 115 visitors have used the questionnaire to determine if OGIS was the right office to handle their request. Of those visitors, only five took the next step and filed a request with OGIS.

Boston and her colleagues have found that if agencies simply talked to their customers, many of the disputes would be avoided.

"A lot of the issues just come about from customers feeling that they have not been heard from the agency," Boston said.

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