FOIA Post (2010): OIP Guidance: Notifying Requesters of the Mediation Services Offered by OGIS

July 9, 2010

FOIA Post

OIP Guidance: Notifying Requesters of the Mediation Services
Offered by OGIS

As part of the OPEN Government Act of 2007, the FOIA was amended to create
the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) within the National
Archives and Records Administration.  OGIS opened in September 2009 and
the Department of Justice provided agencies with details about this new
office in FOIA Posthttp://www.justice.gov/oip/foiapost/2009foiapost20.htm.

A significant new feature of FOIA administration is the offering of mediation
services by OGIS to resolve disputes between requesters and agencies, as
a non-exclusive alternative to litigation.  All agencies share the Department
of Justice's goal to prevent disputes in the first instance.  To the extent
that disputes arise, however, mediation holds potential to resolve those
disputes short of litigation.  OGIS offers mediation services for just that
purpose.  

Mediation is a voluntary process where a mediator assists the parties in
resolving their dispute.  The mediator is a third-party neutral with no
authority to make a decision.  The value of mediation is that the parties
themselves, with the help of the mediator, devise an agreement to resolve
their dispute.  In the context of the FOIA, mediation is now offered by
OGIS as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation.  OGIS reports that both
FOIA requesters and agencies have asked for its assistance and that OGIS
has facilitated the resolution of a number of disputes, short of formal
mediation, over the past few months.  The OGIS case log and information
about those cases are available on the OGIS website:  www.archives.gov/ogis.

In order to ensure that all requesters know of this service, agencies should
include in their final agency responses to requesters a standard paragraph
notifying the requester that mediation services are offered by OGIS and
giving contact information for that office.  This notification to requesters
should be provided at the conclusion of the administrative process within
the agency, i.e., as part of the agency's final response on administrative
appeal.  This will allow requesters to first exhaust their administrative
remedies within the agency.  Agencies should also, of course, continue to
provide requesters with notification of their right to seek judicial review. 
OGIS offers language that agencies might wish to use as a model for notifying
requesters of its services:  http://www.archives.gov/ogis/standard-language.pdf.

Resolving FOIA disputes through mediation holds the potential to reduce
litigation, thereby saving time and money for agencies and requesters alike,
as well as enhancing the operation of the FOIA and public collaboration.  (posted
07/09/2010)

Go to: Main FOIA
Post
Page

Topic(s): 
FOIA Post