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DOJ's Sunshine Week 2021 Kick-off and Annual FOIA Awards

While the way in which attendees participated differed than in years past, the Office of Information Policy (OIP) celebrated its annual kick-off to Sunshine Week virtually on March 15, 2021.  The event featured remarks from the Attorney General, Acting Associate Attorney General, and OIP's Director, as well as the presentation of the 2021 Sunshine Week FOIA Awards.

The first entirely virtual DOJ Sunshine Week event began with a video message from Attorney General Merrick Garland.  On the very first day of his first full week in the Department, Attorney General Garland began his remarks by emphasizing that "[t]he principles of open government and democratic accountability are at the heart of who we are as public servants and as Americans.”  He further stated that "[w]ithout accountability, democracy is impossible.  And democratic accountability requires the kind of transparency that the FOIA makes possible.  That's why faithful administration of the FOIA is essential [to] American democracy." 

Acting Associate Attorney General Matthew Colangelo, the Department's Chief FOIA Officer, also provided keynote remarks during which he recognized "the dedicated FOIA professionals who are at the heart of providing this critical service to the American people.”   In addition to thanking FOIA professionals for their work, the Acting Associate Attorney General highlighted the efforts of the Department of Justice to encourage government-wide compliance with the FOIA.  He emphasized the important role of agency leadership and Chief FOIA Officers in FOIA administration, and noted that while the past year has been challenging, efforts reported by agencies in their Chief FOIA Officer Reports "are admirable and should serve as [a] foundation for us to continue to build upon."

In his remarks, Director Talebian discussed some of the initiatives OIP worked on to assist agencies in their FOIA Administration this past year.  Those efforts included transitioning the Department's FOIA training to fully remote courses and providing FOIA Counselor Services for more than 800 requests from federal agencies.  Moreover, OIP issued policy guidance on a range of topics, including Guidance for Agency FOIA Administration in Light of COVID-19 Impact and OIP Guidance for Further Improvement Based on 2020 Chief FOIA Officer Report Review and Assessment.  Among other initiatives, Director Talebian also highlighted OIP’s Data Tool improvements, including the recent launch of a redesigned Annual FOIA Report Data section which is mobile friendly and searchable for data across years, agencies, and components dating back to 2008.

Following his remarks, Director Talebian recognized this year’s Sunshine Week Award recipients by highlighting the key achievements in FOIA administration of each recipient during a virtual award presentation ceremony. 

The following awards were presented:

Exceptional Service by a FOIA Professional or a Team of FOIA Professionals

This award recognized exemplary performance by an agency FOIA professional or team of FOIA professionals in carrying out the agency’s administration of the FOIA.  Six Exceptional Service awards were presented to:

  • Rochelle Carpenter – Federal Protective Services, Department of Homeland Security
  • Robert Carey – Office for Civil Rights, Department of Education
  • Robert Wehausen – Office of the Secretary, FOIA Service Center, Department of Education
  • The Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation's Disclosure Division FOIA Team
  • The Securities and Exchange Commission Office of FOIA Services
  • The National Marine Fisheries Services FOIA Team

Outstanding Contributions by a New Employee

This award recognizes exceptional performance and notable contributions in carrying out the agency's FOIA responsibilities by a new employee with fewer than three years of work in FOIA.  One Outstanding Contributions by a New Employee was awarded to:

  • Darice Butler – Bureau of Prisons, Department of Justice

Exceptional Advancements in IT to Improve the Agency’s FOIA Administration

This award recognized exceptional achievements in greater utilizing technology to make information more accessible.  These efforts could include the implementation of new and advanced technologies to increase efficiencies as well as to improve proactive disclosures and the online availability of information.  Two awards were presented to:

  • Amy Dodds, Thomas Pojeta, Joel Powell, Sunil Prabha, Hari Sharma, and Patricia Weth – National Labor Relations Board IT, General Counsel, and FOIA Staff
  • Stephen Fanning, Johann Huang, and Gail Solomon – Collaboration and Web Services Personnel, Office of the Chief Information Officer, Department of Justice

Exceptional Achievements by an Agency or Team of Professionals at an Agency to Advance the Proactive Disclosure of Information

This award recognized exceptional achievements by an agency or team of professionals at the agency to proactively make more information available online.  These efforts could include both the posting of more information online and steps taken to make that information more useful to the public.  One award was presented to:

  • Susan Allison, Kristie Breshears, Terry Windsor, Scott Jenkins, Nathan Miner, Ed Weaver – Bureau of Prisons, Department of Justice

Lifetime Service Award

This award recognized an individual with at least twenty years of service who demonstrated high standards of excellence and dedication.  A Lifetime Service award was presented to:

  • Janet Bressant – Environmental Protection Agency
  • Ivry Johnson – U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission
  • Thomas Hester – Office of Inspector General, Legal Services Corporation

OIP congratulates this year’s awards recipients and thanks everyone who attended our event.

Updated March 17, 2021