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Chief Freedom of Information Act Officers Council Meeting Minutes – April 21, 2022

The Chief FOIA Officers (CFO) Council Meeting convened virtually at 10:00 AM on April 21, 2022.  A livestream video of the meeting was made available, and in accordance with 5 U.S.C. § 552(k)(6)(B), the meeting was open to the public “permit[ting] interested persons to appear and present oral and written statements to the Council.”

All meeting materials are available on the Office of Information Policy’s (OIP) and Office of Government Information Services’ (OGIS) websites at: https://www.justice.gov/oip/chief-foia-officers-council and https://www.archives.gov/ogis/about-ogis/chief-foia-officers-council

Speakers:

  • Vanita Gupta, Associate Attorney General of the United States, DOJ
  • David S. Ferriero, Archivist of the United States, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)
  • Bobby Talebian, Director, OIP, Department of Justice (DOJ), Council Co-Chair
  • Alina M. Semo, Director, OGIS, NARA, Council Co-Chair
  • Michael Sarich, Veterans Health Administration, Council Technology Committee Co-Chair
  • Eric F. Stein, Department of State, Council Technology Committee Co-Chair
  • Gorka Garcia-Malene, National Institute of Health, FOIAXpress Working Group Co-Chair
  • Michael C. Bell, U.S. Department of Transportation, Council Committee on Cross-Agency Collaboration and Innovation (COCACI) Co-Chair
  • Abioye Mosheim, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, COCACI Co-Chair
  • Nicole Rementer, Environmental Protection Agency, GIS Subcommittee Co-Chair
  • Chantay Stanley, Pandemic/Virtual FOIA Offices Subcommittee Chair

Introduction

The meeting opened at 10:00 AM.  Ms. Semo and Mr. Talebian welcomed everyone to the meeting, briefly outlined the agenda, and reviewed housekeeping items.

Opening Remarks 

  • Ms. Gupta thanked CFOs for their service and highlighted key elements of the Attorney General's FOIA Guidelines.  She highlighted that the new Guidelines emphasize the FOIA’s requirement to release information that could otherwise be withheld under an exemption if there is no likelihood of foreseeable harm or legal bar to release.  The Guidelines also encourage agencies to remove barriers to access by making information more accessible to the public online and reducing backlogs.  She reiterated how grateful she is to FOIA professionals and their efforts during the pandemic.  She also congratulated Mr. Ferriero on his retirement and thanked him for his commitment to transparency, accessibility, and open government.
     
  • Mr. Ferriero announced that this is his last meeting before his retirement.  He thanked CFOs and members of the public for all their work to improve efficiency of FOIA administration.  He provided an overview of the evolution of government transparency and the digital technology solutions that enable agencies to provide information to the public through the FOIA.

Updates from the Office of Information Policy (OIP), U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ)

  • Mr. Talebian outlined the new Attorney General FOIA Guidelines announced on March 17, 2022 and asked agencies to review them for application to their FOIA administrations.  The Guidelines now require agency response letters to include a statement that the foreseeable harm standard was applied to the request.  Agencies can remove barriers to access records including examining alternative means of access to records outside the FOIA process and ensuring websites enable the public to easily find records on their websites.  The Guidelines and multiple OIP Guidance articles encourage good communication with requesters.  He reiterated that FOIA is everyone's responsibility, in addition to emphasizing the importance of Chief FOIA Officers and regular FOIA training for the entire workforce.  He shared that OIP will be issuing guidance to help agencies implement the Guidelines.  OIP will also be updating reporting guidelines to align with the FOIA Guidelines.  
  • Mr. Talebian thanked agencies for their efforts to compile and submit their FOIA reports.  He announced that the Annual FOIA Report Summary and Summary and Assessment of the Agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports will be posted shortly on OIP's website.  He also shared key data from the reports including that there were over 800,000 FOIA requests received and agencies processed more requests than were received in Fiscal Year 2021.  Agencies also proactively posted millions of records pursuant to subsection (a)(2) of the FOIA. 
  • Mr. Talebian shared that the first two FOIA e-learning training modules are being finalized and released next month, which include the Executive Briefing course and FOIA primer designed for federal employees.  A third comprehensive e-learning training module for FOIA professionals is forthcoming this summer.  All three of these trainings can be uploaded into agency learning management systems (LMS) and available online for those that do not have an LMS.
  • Mr. Talebian provided information about upcoming training and events, including a FOIA Summit for Agency Professionals on May 4, 2022.  Topics will include how agencies have adapted their FOIA processes due to COVID-19, leveraging FOIA data to improve FOIA administration, an overview of Government Accountability Office FOIA reports and recommendations, and trends in FOIA litigation.  OIP will continue to host virtual training sessions over the summer.  Agencies can register for these events via Eventbrite.
  • Mr. Talebian reminded agencies about the importance of maintaining up to date contact information on FOIA.gov for all agency components.  Agencies may contact OIP if they switch case management systems to ensure requests from FOIA.gov continue to be received by the agency.  Agency managers are responsible for maintaining this information on FOIA.gov. 
  • Mr. Talebian also shared FOIA.gov will soon contain a CFO Council page that provides all CFO Council information in a central location.  Upcoming and past meeting information will be provided on this page, as well as Committee and Working Group information.
  • Mr. Talebian recapped three Government Accountability Office reports.  On January 12, 2021, GAO issued a report on Exemption 3 statutes.  OIP provides several resources to help agencies implement Exemption 3, including a list of statutes courts have found to qualify as Exemption 3 statutes and statutes cited in agency Annual FOIA Reports.  On March 20, 2021, GAO issued a report on FOIA proactive disclosures recommending that agencies document procedures for implementing proactive disclosure requirements and accurately track proactive disclosures for the Annual FOIA Report.  OIP updated the DOJ Annual FOIA Report Handbook to include more detailed guidance on how to report the FOIA’s required proactive disclosures.  On January 26, 2022, GAO issued a report on agency FOIA administration during the pandemic.  The report documented how agencies adapted during the pandemic, including implementing OIP’s May 2020 guidance issued in light of the pandemic.  The recommendations in GAO’s report focused on backlog reduction plans, performance plans, and milestones.
  • The floor was opened to questions and comments.  One question was received from WebEx regarding system specifications for the LMS, which OIP plans to provide agencies in advance of the release of the e-learning modules.  No questions or comments were received from the livestream chat or telephone.  

Updates from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA)

  • Ms. Semo reminded agencies that the FOIA requires them to provide requesters an estimated date of completion upon request.  She noted that the requests for assistance from the OGIS Ombudsman for assistance due to delays increased by 73% in 2021.  For 85% of these requests for assistance involving delays, a requester asked for and was unable to obtain an EDC.  OGIS issued an assessment and advisory opinion on Agency Compliance with EDC requirements in March of 2020.  
  • Ms. Semo provided dates for the next two FACA meetings: Thursday May 5, 2022 and Thursday June 9, 2022. 
  • Ms. Semo announced that OGIS will host its Annual Public Meeting on Wednesday May 18, 2022. 
  • There will be a call for 5th Term FACA Committee member nominations. 
  • The floor was opened to questions and comments.  One question was received from WebEx regarding EDCs.  No questions or comments were received from the livestream chat or telephone.  

Updates from the CFO Council Technology Committee

  • Mr. Stein focused on the growth and impact of the Technology Committee, which includes over forty members from at least twenty departments and agencies.
  • Mr. Garcia-Malene updated attendees on NextGen FOIA Technology Showcase, which took place in February 2022.  The event enabled agencies to learn about various FOIA technologies available in the public sector and discuss their application to agency needs.  Eighteen vendors provided five-minute videos featuring their products and provided a forum for agencies to ask questions of the product vendors.  Over 400 government employees attended the event.  OIP hosted a follow up event on March 31, 2022 with a panel of FOIA professionals to discuss their experience with various FOIA technologies.  The level of engagement for both events was extraordinary. 
  • Mr. Sarich gave an overview of the Technology Committee's working groups: 
    • FOIA Searches;
    • FOIAXpress;
    • FOIAonline;
    • Artificial Intelligence (AI);
    • 508 Compliance and Classified Information; and 
    • Video Redactions
  • Mr. Sarich and Mr. Stein outlined the Technology Committee's next steps, which include the creation of new Working Group charters:
    • Search/AI
    • FOIA IT Platforms
    • Data Working Group
    • IT Integration
    • 508 Compliance
    • FOIA and Classified 
    • Technology Best Practices
    • FOIA Reference Model 
  • Ms. Semo opened the floor to questions and received one question via WebEx chat about whether state or local agencies participate in this Committee.

Updates from the CFO Council Committee on Cross-Agency Collaboration and Innovation (COCACI)

  • Ms. Mosheim highlighted COCACI's origins in FOIA Advisory Committee Recommendation 2020-16.  She provided an overview of the three subcommittees: 
    • The Government Information Specialist (GIS) Professionalism Subcommittee promotes career trajectories for FOIA professionals and builds on the GIS job series;
    • The Pandemic/Virtual FOIA Office Subcommittee synthesizes lessons learned from remote work environments during the pandemic; and
    • The FOIA Resources Subcommittee assists smaller agencies in accessing resources. 
  • Ms. Rementer updated the Committee on the activities of the GIS professionalism Subcommittee's work.  The subcommittee was established to look at what FOIA professionals do, what they need for professional development, obstacles to advancing their careers as FOIA professionals, and to advocate for advancement and standardization of the GIS profession.  The subcommittee plans to distribute a survey to gather information about career development from FOIA professionals in summer 2022.
  • Ms. Stanley highlighted the activities of the Pandemic/Virtual FOIA Offices Subcommittee's work which includes the development of survey questions intended to compile lessons learned from teleworking and develop recommendations for the application of best practices for FOIA professionals teleworking post-COVID. 
  • Ms. Mosheim described the activities of the Resources Subcommittee, which was created to standardize procurement and technology resources and make them available to FOIA offices to increase efficiency.  The Subcommittee is planning a Best Practices Workshop by the end of 2022.
  • Mr. Bell concluded by stating that the COCACI will be reaching out to the FOIA community to participate in the surveys. COCACI will reach out to Requester Service Centers and FOIA leadership prior to the next Council meeting.
  • Ms. Semo opened the floor to questions and received one about participation of state and local FOIA professionals.

Public Comments

  • The floor was opened to public comment.  Mr. Stein and Mr. Talebian answered questions about input from the public, data, reporting, and GAO's auditing role.  

Conclusion

  • Mr. Talebian and Ms. Semo thanked everyone for attending and the meeting was closed at 12:06 PM.

Registered Attendees (This list consists of individuals who registered to attend the meeting)

  • Zarinah Akbar
  • Candace Ambrose
  • Camille Aponte-Rossini
  • Fajry Aprinando
  • Soledad Araya
  • Ray Azarm
  • Rosemary Bajorek
  • Shelley Baker
  • Gregory Baker
  • William Barnes
  • Marqui Barnes
  • Davonya Barnes
  • Ann Barnes
  • Lisa Barton
  • Michael Bell
  • Eric Benderson
  • William Bice
  • Stephanie Blaney
  • ACarlita Blocker
  • Brian Bonis
  • Jon Brazill
  • Barbi Broadus
  • Shirley Brown
  • Jacqueline Bryant
  • Virginia Burke
  • Sanya Cade
  • Cindy Cafaro
  • Noelle Chadwick
  • Alexis Chancellor
  • Charles Chavez
  • Drew Clark
  • Rebecca Conner
  • Sarah Cunanan
  • Mahala Dar
  • Anna Davis
  • Travis Dawson
  • Erin Dawson
  • Stacey Demps-Barrett
  • L Dent
  • Justin Doubleday
  • Judith Dupre
  • Stacy Easter
  • Vern Elizee
  • Scott Elliott
  • Johan Englen
  • Timothy Epp
  • Ore Fashola
  • Rachel Fellows
  • Beth Fidler
  • David Fishman
  • Debbie Fitzgerald
  • Carla Fleming
  • Stephanie Fox
  • Lynn Fox
  • Toni Fuentes
  • David Ganz
  • Chad Garland
  • Susan Gerson
  • Jaycie Gibney
  • Nikki Gramian
  • Jessica Graves
  • Alexis Graves
  • Stacey Grimes
  • Tanya Guimont
  • Will Gunn
  • Helen Guyton
  • Justin Guz
  • Amanda Haas
  • Robert Hammond
  • Raymond Harrell
  • Kohl Harrington
  • Jessie Hartman
  • Nora Hernandez
  • Yuly Herrera
  • Marthea Hodge
  • Thomas Hohenthaner
  • Alex Howard
  • Sharon Hudson
  • Crystal Hundley-Evans
  • Amanda Joiner
  • Tara Jordan
  • Karin Kelly
  • Lyn Kirby
  • Jennifer Klocinski
  • Sarah Kotler
  • Diane Lauricella
  • Ryan Law
  • Christa Lemelin
  • Paul Levitan
  • Glenn Lewis
  • Travis Lewis
  • Tony Livingston
  • Carol Maloney
  • Wendy Marshall
  • Brian May
  • Aryan McDonald
  • Erin McIntyre
  • Kevin McNeely
  • Denetra McPherson
  • Ryan McQuighan
  • David Meservey
  • Regina Metz
  • Carol Miaskoff
  • Kristine Minami
  • Hazel Moro
  • Alexander Morris
  • JamesMinh Nguyen
  • Amy Nicholas
  • Marilynn Noble
  • Pete Nuckols
  • Christopher Oehrle
  • Ramona Oliver
  • Tim Osumi
  • Catrina Pavlik-Keenan
  • Hyacinth Perrault
  • Rosanna Piccirilli
  • Nancy Platt
  • Susan Raposa
  • Atticus Reaser
  • Erin Reid
  • Monique Ricker
  • Jaime Riera-Seivane
  • Tina Roberts
  • Kathy Rondon
  • Jody Rose
  • Melanie Ruiz
  • Lawrence Ruzow
  • Teresita Sanabria
  • Christopher Santini
  • Joe Scanlon
  • Wendy Schumacher
  • Loretta Schuster
  • Benish Shah
  • Sanquetta Slater
  • Stephannie Slover
  • Stephanie Soper
  • James Souther
  • Chantay Stanley
  • Eric Stein
  • Gary Stern
  • Sheila Stokes
  • Denise Sturgeon
  • Eric Styles
  • Elizabeth Sweetland
  • Lisa Terry
  • Edison Thompson
  • George Thuronyi
  • Brian Tierney
  • Benjamin Tingo
  • Sabrina Todd
  • Daphnee Uter
  • Madeline Van Nostrand
  • Diana Veilleux
  • Bruno Viana
  • Jane Virga
  • Rachel Wallace
  • Tamiko Watkins
  • Maike Webb
Updated November 4, 2022