Committee Member Biographies
Michael Bekesha is an attorney for Judicial Watch, Inc. He has litigated dozens of FOIA cases since starting at Judicial Watch in August 2009. He has represented Judicial Watch, journalists, researchers, and private citizens. Michael has also worked with Congress in attempts to reform FOIA. In addition, Michael has sent FOIA requests and administrative appeals, mediated FOIA requests through OGIS, spoken at an ASAP conference, worked with law school students working on a FOIA lawsuit, and is published on the topic of FOIA and Alternative Dispute Resolution.
Stephanie Carr is the Chief of the Office of Freedom of Information for the Office of Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff, responsible for FOIA processing for over 20 field offices. She has served as the Policy Team Lead and Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) Liaison for the Defense Freedom of Information and Policy Office, where she provided FOIA policy guidance to the DoD FOIA community and served as the DoD Liaison for matters involving OGIS. With over 25 years of FOIA experience, she has processed FOIA requests, managed FOIA and FOIA/Privacy programs, worked with the Alternative Dispute Resolution community in developing a DoD Conflict Resolution/Customer Service (CRCS) course, managed FOIA/Privacy Act Training Workshops, and taught at the Department of the Navy, DoD, and the American Society of Access Professionals. In 1996, she received a Navy Meritorious Civilian Award for her part in the development of the first FOIA Handbook in the federal government.
Mitra EbadolahiMitra Ebadolahi is the Border Litigation Project Staff Attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of San Diego and Imperial Counties, a position that she has held since May 2013. In this capacity, she routinely files and litigates FOIA requests against various federal government agencies, including in particular Department of Homeland Security components U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Border Patrol. (According to DHS’s Chief FOIA Officer’s 2015 Report to the Attorney General, DHS’s FOIA backlog increased in FY2014 alone by 101 percent.) Ebadolahi is also a Lecturer-in-Law at the University of California, Irvine School of Law, where she has taught Immigration Law and seminars on Constitutional Rights at the Border. Prior to joining the ACLU of San Diego, Ebadolahi was the inaugural Nadine Strossen Fellow with the ACLU’s National Security Project in New York, where she submitted FOIA requests to the CIA, Department of Justice, Department of Defense, and the Department of State, along with various subcomponents thereof. She also clerked for Judge Betty B. Fletcher, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, and Judge Margaret M. Morrow, U.S. District Court, Central District of California (Los Angeles). She holds a B.A. from UCLA, an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, and JD and LL.M. degrees from New York University School of Law, where she started working on FOIA in 2007 as a student practitioner in the International Human Rights Law Clinic. She is admitted to practice in California and New York.
Jill Eggleston is the Freedom of Information Act Officer for USCIS. She also serves as the FOIA Public Liaison for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. She oversees the largest FOIA Department within the Federal Government, averaging over 160,000 FOIA requests annually. Ms. Eggleston is an attorney with over 28 years of federal service, having served nearly 20 years with the Department of Defense in the Office of General Counsel (OGC). Part of her responsibilities with OGC included the review of FOIA requests filed with the Defense Finance and Accounting Service. During her time with USCIS she was named DHS FOIA Officer of the Year for two consecutive years. She was competitively selected to attend a leadership development course at OPM’s Federal Executive Institute. She has successfully overseen multiple backlog reduction efforts, significantly increased outreach to USCIS customer and program office base, expanded the proactive disclosure program, implemented significant process improvements for the Department and has piloted workforce initiatives such as quality workplace, expanded telework, and remote worker programs. She oversees a staff of 175 access professionals.
Helen Goff Foster
Helen Foster recently served as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Privacy Transparency and Records. As the senior FOIA official and subject matter expert, she oversaw FOIA compliance for Treasury HQ, the IRS, FINCEN, and all other Treasury Bureaus. In her first year at Treasury, she led a reorganization of Treasury HQ FOIA operations that resulted in a 40% reduction in pending HQ FOIA inventory and closure of 13 of the oldest twenty cases Department wide. Over the next two years, Treasury achieved a 300% reduction in median processing time and closed 5 additional of the twenty oldest including two cases more than a decade old. At the same time, under her direction, Treasury made more discretionary disclosures and increased the amount of information released overall. To ensure excellent customer service, Treasury made their FOIA request portal interactive, and ensured that every FOIA requester could speak to, or email with, the case manager assigned to their case. As a result, Helen was named to the 2015 Fed 100 as “Transparency Czar” by FCW magazine. She also was nominated for a Service to America Medal.
James Hershberg is a Professor of History and International Affairs at the George Washington University. He has had experience with FOIA as a historian ever since working on his undergraduate history thesis at Harvard more than three decades ago which ultimately turned into his first book, James B. Conant: Harvard to Hiroshima and the Making of the Nuclear Age (Knopf, 1993; Stanford UP, 1995). Since then he has used the FOIA extensively on various Cold War era topics, including for his recent book on the secret diplomacy of the Vietnam War (Marigold: The Lost Chance for Peace in Vietnam (Stanford UP/Wilson Center Press, 2012) and his current book project on Cuba, Brazil, and the Cold War. He has also dealt extensively with declassification issues on an international scale through his work as director of, the Wilson Center's Cold War International History Project, which he ran from 1991-97 and remains intimately involved with (he edits the CWIHP Book Series, co-published by the Stanford University and Wilson Center Presses), and through his long friendly relations with the National Security Archive, beginning with his work on the Iran-Contra affair during the Reagan administration. Dr. Hershberg received his BA in History from Harvard, College in 1982; a Master's in International and Public Affairs from Columbia University in 1985; and his Ph. D. from Tufts University.
Sarah Kotler is the Director of the Food and Drug Administration's Division of Freedom of Information. Since joining the division, Ms. Kotler has overseen a 70 percent reduction in FDA's FOIA backlog, improved processing efficiencies across the agency, increased the number of records posted proactively, and worked with the requester community to improve the FDA's FOIA Program. Prior to joining the Division of Freedom of Information, Ms. Kotler was an attorney with FDA's Office of Chief Counsel and an attorney in private practice. She holds a B.A. from the University of Pennsylvania and J.D. from Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review.
Nate Jones is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Coordinator for the National Security Archive, an independent non-governmental research institute and library located at George Washington University (GWU). Mr. Jones oversees thousands of FOIA and Mandatory Declassification Review (MDR) requests and hundreds of FOIA and MDR appeals that the Archive submits each year. He acts as liaison between Archive analysts and government FOIA officers, serves as the Archive's FOIA counselor to the public, edits the Archive's blog “Unredacted,” and manages its social media. He earned his master’s degree in Cold War History from GWU, where he wrote his thesis on— and submitted FOIA requests about—the 1983 "Able Archer" nuclear war scare. He continues to submit FOIA requests for, publish, and analyze documents on the 1983 incident. Mr. Jones is on the Board of Directors for the American Society of Access Professionals.
Chis Knox is the Advisory Director for Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics LLP. For over 2 decades, Chris Knox has provided complex crisis information management support services including Discovery, FOIA, and Congressional inquiry responses to Federal Government clients. He leads Deloitte’s FOIA offering, he has proven, large-scale national operations expertise including direct client service, corporate-wide operations, and technology. Specifically, he has been instrumental in transforming the response to large-scale crisis-driven requests for information utilizing a unique combination of workflow, content-based analytics, machine learning and predictive redactions. Mr. Knox also provides executive leadership for Federal litigation support transactional operations and is responsible for all Federal litigation support security, development, and hosting operations. He has created an industry-wide Code of Practice in review by ARMA.
Margaret Kwoka is a professor at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law where her research and teaching focus on government transparency and executive branch accountability. She has authored numerous scholarly articles examining the current state of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and possible reforms, including a recent empirical study of the commercial use of FOIA at six federal agencies that was published in the Duke Law Journal and previous works that appear in the Boston College Law Review, U.C. Davis Law Review, Maryland Law Review, and American University Law Review, among others. Her academic work has been cited in various decisions of federal courts in FOIA cases, she presents her work on FOIA frequently around the country, and she is regularly quoted in national media concerning FOIA cases and FOIA reforms. She also makes frequent FOIA requests herself to gather information for her research. Prior to joining the University, Professor Kwoka was an attorney at Public Citizen Litigation Group, a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C., where she focused on FOIA litigation. She also clerked for Chief Justice Phillip Rapoza, Massachusetts Appeals Court, and Judge Michael Murphy, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. She holds an A.B. from Brown University and a J.D. from Northeastern University School of Law.
Raynell Lazier is the FOIA Manager for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
In this role, she facilitates the Bureau’s compliance with FOIA and the Privacy Act. With more than 15 years of government service, Raynell is especially interested in government transparency, and works consistently with her programs to clarify the intersection between the public’s right to access information and the government’s obligation to protect certain information. Prior to joining CFPB, Raynell was the National FOIA/Privacy Officer and National E-Forms Manager for the USDA Forest Service. She has also held similar positions within all three administrations of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, where she served as Chief of Executive Correspondence, FOIA and Privacy Programs; Chief of Staff, and Special Assistant. Raynell also has experience in the private sector serving as an attorney and consultant, and as an officer and attorney in the U.S. Army JAG Corps. She graduated from Denison University with Bachelor degrees in Economics and Communications, and she received a Juris Doctor from the University of Pittsburgh.
Ginger McCall serves as an Attorney Advisor at the Department of Labor. In this role she has commented internally on proposed regulations, worked with components of the Department of Labor to fulfill FOIA requests, defended the Department in FOIA litigation, and commented on proposed FOIA legislation. Previously she was the Associate Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a public interest research center, where she directed the Open Government Program. She managed EPIC's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) litigation and worked on a variety of related issues, including consumer privacy protection, international privacy law, and national security matters.
Ms. McCall also taught a course on the Law of Open Government at Georgetown University Law Center. Ms. McCall co-edited Litigation Under the Federal Government Laws 2010 and has written for the New York Times and has co-authored several friend-of-the-court briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court. Ms. McCall has spoken on privacy and open government issues in a variety of academic and conference venues, including the European Union’s MAPPING Project; the 2009 Computers, Freedom, and Privacy Conference; the Internet Governance Forum USA 2009 Conference; Duke Law School's Center on Law, Ethics, and National Security; and the New England Consortium of State Labor Relations Agencies 11th Annual Conference. Ms. McCall has also provided expert commentary for local, national, and international media, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Fox News, NPR, MSNBC, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and Al Jazeera.
Sean Moulton is the Open Government Program Manager at POGO and oversees the effort to develop a “blueprint” the next president can use to build a more open and accountable administration. Before joining POGO, Mr. Moulton worked for over a decade on transparency and government accountability issues, with special attention to freedom of information issues, spending transparency, and environmental right-to-know policies. He has authored reports, testified before Congress, submitted comments on proposed regulations, and helped launch public disclosure websites. He has spoken on open government issues extensively with the media, having appeared on C-SPAN, NPR, ABC, and NBC and being quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major news publications. Mr. Moulton led the Center for Effective Government’s open government work for 13 years. He has also worked at Friends of the Earth, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Council on Economic Priorities. In 2011 Mr. Moulton was inducted into the National Freedom of Information Act Hall of Fame. He holds a Master of Public Policy degree from the University of Maryland and a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and English from Albright College
Logan Perel serves as Intelligence Counsel for the Office of the General Counsel at the Department of Homeland Security. In this capacity, Mr. Perel provides legal advice and counsel regarding the Department’s Information Safeguarding efforts, including Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act requests related to the Department’s intelligence activities. Mr. Perel also provides dedicated legal support to the Department's Intelligence Enterprise, Security, and Counterintelligence programs. Mr. Perel previously served as Assistant Counsel to the Inspector General at the Department of Homeland Security, where he worked on Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act litigation matters. Mr. Perel earned his J.D.,cum laude, and his National Security Law LL.M., with distinction, at Georgetown University and his B.A., cum laude, in Political Science at the University of Florida. Mr. Perel is a Certified International Privacy Professional/Government and a member of the Florida and District of Columbia Bars.
David Pritzker is the Deputy General Counsel for the Administrative Conference of the United States; ACUS. He brings to the FOIA Advisory Committee, 40 years of experience as a Federal agency attorney, specializing in administrative law, including FOIA. He has extensive experience in regulation, alternative dispute resolution and advisory Committee processes. In 2014, Mr. Pritzker received the Mary C. Lawton Award for Outstanding Government Service from the American Bar Association's Section of Administrative Law and Regulatory Practice. Mr. Pritzker earned a law degree from Cornell University, and a Master’s degree in mathematics from Brandeis and a Bachelor’s degree from Yale.
Melanie Ann Pustay is the Director of the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) which has statutory responsibility for encouraging and overseeing agency compliance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). OIP provides training and counseling services government wide. Since becoming Director in 2007, Ms. Pustay has issued policy guidance for agency personnel on a wide range of issues related to FOIA implementation, including guidance on the President’s FOIA Memorandum and the Attorney General’s FOIA Guidelines. She develops reporting requirements for agency Chief FOIA Officer Reports and regularly assesses agency progress. Ms. Pustay is the editor-in-chief of the Department of Justice Guide to the Freedom of Information Act, a comprehensive legal treatise on FOIA. Ms. Pustay regularly lectures on current FOIA issues. Since 2003, she has worked extensively with government officials in numerous countries, including Argentina, Chile, and China, as well as the Organization of American States, to assist officials in implementing open-government initiatives. Ms. Pustay received the Attorney General’s Distinguished Service Award for her role in providing legal advice and guidance on records disclosure issues.
Alina M. Semo (Chair)
Alina M. Semo is the Director of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), the Federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) ombudsman’s office, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). Prior to joining OGIS, Ms. Semo served as the Director of Litigation in NARA's Office of General Counsel for two and a half years. Before coming to NARA, Ms. Semo led the FOIA Litigation Unit in the Office of the General Counsel at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for over ten years, and also served as an Assistant General Counsel in the Litigation Branch for nearly five years. Ms. Semo began her federal government career as a Department of Justice trial attorney and later senior counsel in the Federal Programs Branch, Civil Division, from 1991 to 1999, and from 1988 to 1991 worked as an associate at Hopkins & Sutter in Washington, D.C. Ms. Semo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Government and Politics from the University of Maryland, College Park, and a Juris Doctor degree from Georgetown University Law School; she is licensed in the District of Columbia and Maryland.
Thomas Susman is the Director of the Governmental Affairs Office of the American Bar Association (ABA), a position he has held since 2008. He joined the ABA after 27 years as a partner in the law firm of Ropes & Gray. Before that, he was Chief Counsel to the Senate Subcommittee on Administrative Practice and Procedure, and held other government positions.
Mr. Susman’s involvement with FOIA began when, as a member of the U.S. Justice Department in 1968, he advised federal agencies regarding the new law. In his Senate position, he was the principal staff lawyer for enactment of the 1974 Freedom of Information Act Amendments. At Ropes & Gray, he handled many FOIA-related litigation and regulatory matters, including the work that resulted in the issuance of President Reagan's Executive Order requiring agencies to give notice to submitters before releasing confidential business information. At the ABA, he has continued his leading role in addressing FOIA matters. He is Founding President and a Board Member of the D.C. Open Government Coalition; on the Board of the National Freedom of Information Coalition; on the Steering Committee of OpenTheGovernment.org, and has served on many other relevant Boards. He has often testified, addressed conferences and taught on FOIA and related subjects.
In 2007 Mr. Susman was inducted into the Freedom of Information Hall of Fame, in 2008 received the first FOIA Legend Award from The American University, and in 2009 received the James Madison Award from the American Library Association as a champion of access to government information.
Since October 2013, Mr. Valvo has been Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor at Cause of Action Institute where he regularly uses FOIA as an oversight and accountability tool to advance the organization’s mission to cabin agency discretion. He monitors proposed FOIA regulations and submits substantive comments to help shape new rules. He also engages with the Office of Government Information Services and is an active member of Open the Government, a coalition of nonprofit organizations that advocate for government transparency. He played an instrumental role in securing the D.C. Circuit’s recent opinion in Cause of Action v. Federal Trade Commission, 799 F.3d 1108 (D.C. Cir. 2015), ensuring agencies abide by the Open Government Act of 2007 amendment to the definition of “a representative of the news media.”
Prior to his time at Cause of Action Institute, Mr. Valvo was the Director of Policy at Americans for Prosperity. He graduated summa cum laude with honors from American University’s School of Public Affairs with a degree in political science and cum laude from American University’s Washington College of Law. Mr. Valvo is a 2008 Harry S. Truman Scholar representing the District of Columbia.
Lynn Walsh has more than ten years of experience as an investigative journalist, working in TV and online mediums. Currently she leads the investigative unit at NBC in San Diego. She also serves on the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) FOIA committee and current President-Elect. Lynn is a member of the Investigative Reporters and Editors and the Radio Television and Digital News Association. She use FOIA on a regular basis in her current and previous roles to obtain information for investigative stories. She is active in the FOIA and open government community. For SPJ she spearheaded many national pushes to educate and encourage journalists and the public on FOIA and public information issues. Some of those initiatives have involved partnering with groups like MuckRock and community groups. As a working journalist, she sees first hand what common issues come up when submitting a FOIA.