The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) is an office that began operating within the National Archives and Records Administration in 2009, and is charged with a variety of duties aimed toward improving the FOIA process. OGIS was created by Congress under the 2007 amendments to the federal FOIA. It is statutorily charged with:
1. reviewing agencies’ FOIA policies, procedures, and compliance;
2. “recommend[ing] policy changes to Congress and the President to improve the administration of” FOIA; and
3. offer[ing] mediation services to resolve disputes between persons making requests under [the FOIA] and administrative agencies as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation;” and further, “at the discretion of the Office, [it] may issue advisory opinions if mediation has not resolved the dispute.”1
Among other things, OGIS acts as an “ombudsman” to facilitate better communication between a requester and the agency, and to potentially resolve disputes related to the request. Since OGIS’s services are free to FOIA requesters, seeking its services may be a good alternative to litigation. OGIS generally prefers that requesters go through the administrative appeals process before contacting the office for assistance. However, when you are dealing with long delays, difficulties in reaching an agency contact, or miscommunication over what is being requested, OGIS may be able to help resolve issues before a formal administrative appeal is lodged.
It is important to note that OGIS cannot compel an agency to take a specific action or to even engage in its dispute resolution processes. While many agencies are willing to work with it, OGIS cannot force an agency to do so. You should also note that OGIS is intended to be a neutral party that does not necessarily advocate for a requester or an agency. Rather, it exists in part to help ensure the law and FOIA process is properly followed and to otherwise help resolve FOIA-related disputes.
OGIS may be particularly helpful where you believe the agency is unreasonably delaying processing your FOIA request, or is not timely corresponding with you regarding your request. By contacting the agency, OGIS may be able to provide you with updates on the status of your FOIA request and when you can anticipate a response. Additionally, OGIS may be helpful in resolving disputes related to an agency’s withholding of records, use of records exemptions, fee-related issues (such as excessive fees or the denial of a fee waiver request), or a denial of expedited processing.
Again, OGIS’s services are designed to address FOIA request-related issues generally arising after the submission of a request, and, ideally, after you make an administrative appeal. For more information about OGIS’s services, visit its homepage.
For information or assistance on initially crafting and submitting a FOIA request or appeal, as well as access to FOIA request and appeal letter templates, you should visit the Reporters Committee’s Federal Open Government Guide or contact us at (703) 807-2100.
1 5 U.S.C. § 552(h)(2-3).