Message from the Director
I am pleased to present the second report of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS). Congress created OGIS more than four years ago, calling us the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Ombudsman. We have directly helped more than 1,200 FOIA requesters from 13 countries and all but two states since opening two years ago; we have helped countless others through our public outreach efforts. Despite our broad reach, many are still learning about us and our important statutory mission.
Our statutory directive is to offer a range of mediation services to resolve FOIA disputes and to review agencies’ FOIA policies, procedures, and compliance. We do that by serving as a neutral party within the Federal Government to which anyone can come for assistance with any aspect of the FOIA process.
We have observed through hundreds of cases the importance of good customer service in resolving—and preventing—disputes. Many FOIA professionals, despite facing considerable obstacles, offer excellent customer service, often by simply communicating with requesters and with their own agency colleagues who hold the Federal records sought in FOIA requests. That work embodies what President Obama called “competent, efficient, and responsive service from the Federal Government” in his April 2011 Executive Order on customer service, E.O. 13571, calling on Federal agencies to better serve the public by streamlining and making more efficient their service delivery.
We fully support this goal, particularly as it relates to FOIA, which by its very nature involves frequent interaction with the public seeking access to Federal records. Many of OGIS’s best practices, collected from Chief FOIA Officer Reports submitted annually to the Department of Justice and from OGIS’s own observations in facilitating resolutions to disputes, relate to customer service. Responding quickly to requester telephone calls and e-mails seeking the status of requests, creating electronic calendar reminders for response due dates, and meeting regularly with requesters, particularly those with complex requests pending, are just some of the customer service best practices we have observed.
Customer service is a thread we at OGIS weave into our daily work. Whether it’s working with agencies and requesters to resolve FOIA disputes, training FOIA professionals Government-wide in dispute-resolution skills, reaching out to agencies and requesters in non-case-related matters, or providing our customers—agencies and
requesters—with a user-friendly web site, we aim to serve as a model for good customer service. Let us know how we’re doing.
Miriam Nisbet, Director
Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)