Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Bigger government, less transparency - inaugural meeting of FOIA Officer's Council

Posted by CotoBlogzz

Rancho Santa Margarita, CA -  On July 22, 2016, the Chief FOIA Officers (CFO) Council, created by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, held its inaugural meeting at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building. 

The CFO Council is composed of all agency CFOs, plus the Deputy Director for Management from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and is co-chaired by the Directors of OIP and the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).  Chief FOIA Officers and representatives from over 64 agencies attended, along with several members of the public. 

OIP Director Melanie Ann Pustay, opened the meeting by providing an overview of the responsibilities of agency CFOs. Next, Andrew Mayock, the Deputy Director for Management of OMB, emphasized the Administration’s commitment to transparency and open government.  Based on facts covered herein, that commitment seems to be as solid as the Syrian Red Line, however.

Mr. Mayock described the recently-announced Cross-Agency Priority (CAP) Goal for FOIA that will be co-led by OMB, DOJ, and NARA to focus senior leadership attention and drive performance and accountability for improving FOIA administration, and to ensure that Federal departments and agencies are providing sufficient resources toward FOIA responsibilities. 
He explained that the CAP goal will be publicly posted on, and will have a detailed action plan, including specific metrics and milestones that will be used to gauge progress. He did not explain if heads would roll if milestones were not met.
Mr. Mayock explained that the initial focus of the CAP goal will be on implementing the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.  
Acting Director of OGIS Nikki Gramian also gave opening remarks. She discussed the responsibilities of OGIS and summarized the first meeting of the second term of the FOIA Advisory Committee, which is composed of representatives from both agencies and the requester community. 
Ms. Gramian indicated that she anticipates the work of the CFO Council and the FOIA Advisory Committee will be complementary, and that she looks forward to keeping the CFO Council informed about the Advisory Committee’s activities.  Which begs the question: if the work of the newly created council is complementary, why create a new bureaucracy in the first place?
Director Pustay then introduced the Council’s first item for consideration – implementing a “release to one is release to all” presumption for FOIA responses. Director Pustay briefed the Council on OIP’s six-month pilot program conducted with seven volunteer Federal agencies that was designed to assess the viability of a policy that would direct agencies to proactively post online their FOIA responses. 
Director Pustay did not address what happens when government employees use private servers or delete emails such as was the case with  Lois G. Lerner targeting conservative groups, or Secretary Clinton deleted emails.
In the coming months, the CFO Council will examine critical issues, including assessing the impact on investigative journalism efforts, as well as how best to address technological and resource challenges. At its next meeting, the Council will invite journalists and members of the public to provide feedback about the “release to all” policy, specifically addressing the concerns raised by some journalists about its possible impact on their work.  Details about the next meeting will be available here on FOIA Post.

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