Vol. XIX, No. 4
Attorney General Encourages FOIA Officers
In a strong showing of support for the administration of the Freedom of Information Act throughout the Executive Branch, the Attorney General addressed an audience of hundreds of agency FOIA personnel and told them of the great importance of their work.
Last fall, Attorney General Janet Reno spoke to more than 600 FOIA personnel from nearly all federal departments and agencies as she keynoted the Department of Justice's major FOIA training session held at the Main Auditorium of the FBI Headquarters Building in Washington, D.C. She personally thanked FOIA officers for their hard work in implementing her FOIA Memorandum of October 1993 (see FOIA Update, Vol. XIV, No. 3, at 4-5) and let them know that she realizes the difficult nature of what they do.
Attorney General Reno told the audience: "You are the people who are making FOIA work -- and when I look at what you do day in and day out, when I look at some of the requests that you get, when I see what you have to deal with, I just admire you all so very much." She continued: "And I appreciate your commitment more than I can tell you, because FOIA is at the heart of open government and democracy cannot be effective unless its people understand [its] processes. You have done so much in the five and a half years that I have been in Washington."
More recently, on September 3, Attorney General Reno issued a follow-up FOIA memorandum to the heads of all federal departments and agencies that built upon her appearance before that audience. This memorandum was designed to reinforce Attorney General Reno's personal encouragement of FOIA officers in their work and to maximize the cooperation that they must receive from non-FOIA personnel within their agencies in order to function most effectively.
Attorney General Reno's September 1999 FOIA Memorandum emphasizes that "[w]ithout the support and timely assistance of others at their agencies, FOIA officers cannot provide the FOIA-requester community with the best possible service in accordance with this Administration's openness-in-government and customer-service principles." Specifically, it focuses on the importance of agencies considering FOIA-requested records for discretionary disclosure, in accordance with her 1993 FOIA policy, and observes that "this policy requires close cooperation between an agency's FOIA officers and the agency's institutional custodians of the [requested] records." Such non-FOIA personnel, Attorney General Reno stresses, "understandably are primarily concerned with their own agency programs and institutional interests," but "they must be open to the possibility of making a discretionary disclosure" nevertheless.
Further, Attorney General Reno's September 1999 FOIA Memorandum also addresses the growing importance of cooperation between FOIA officers and agency Information Resources Management (IRM) personnel. It observes that in recent years, especially since the enactment of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996, "an agency's FOIA Web site has become an essential means by which its FOIA obligations are satisfied," which now requires an agency's FOIA officers and its IRM personnel to "work together in a new partnership, with strong institutional ties."
Attorney General Reno's memorandum puts this quite pointedly to all agency heads: "It should be a primary mission of each agency's IRM staff that it facilitate the prompt and accurate disclosure of information through the agency's FOIA sites on the World Wide Web." She specifically asked each agency head to distribute her memorandum widely, with particular attention to all agency IRM personnel. (The full text of Attorney General Reno's 1999 FOIA Memorandum is contained on pages 3-5 of this issue of FOIA Update.)
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