Files moving from File cabinet to Computer

FOIA Conferences Held by Growing Numbers of Agencies

As federal departments and agencies continue to become more sophisticated in their administration of the Freedom of Information Act, they are increasingly realizing the value of holding agencywide conferences that are devoted to their own particular FOIA activities. In just the coming month alone, as an example, three large agencies are planning to hold such conferences, with the support of the Office of Information and Privacy, for their FOIA personnel.

The first of these agencies, the Department of Labor, will hold a two-day FOIA conference at its Washington, D.C. headquarters on March 1-2. As it has done in the past, the Labor Department will gather a wide range of its employees for training and discussion sessions on a variety of FOIA-related topics over the course of the two days. Such conferences, regularly organized by longtime Labor Department FOIA chief Miriam McD. Miller, serve to enhance the coordination of FOIA activities among Labor's many subagencies. This year, a co-director of OIP is leading off the conference as its opening speaker, an OIP senior counsel is providing specialized training on the subject of FOIA fees, and several additional agency-specific sessions are planned. Hundreds of Labor Department employees are expected to attend.

Early March is also the time when the Department of State will be holding a major FOIA conference for its employees this year. On March 2-4, the State Department will hold its largest such conference in many years, this time with three days of extensive FOIA training and related sessions, the most offered by any agency in an annual or biennial FOIA conference. The first two days of its program will be conducted largely by OIP instructors, in a format similar to the one used in OIP's basic governmentwide training programs but with special emphasis on State Department-related issues. Seven members of OIP, including its co-directors and associate director, will take part. Then the third day of State's conference will focus on more "external" matters pertaining to its FOIA work, according to its planned agenda, with panel presentations made on behalf of several "customers" of its FOIA services, such as the National Security Archive and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. In a feature that is perhaps unique to the State Department, participation will include representatives of the government of Canada.

And later in the month, on March 21, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission plans to conduct an agencywide FOIA conference at its headquarters in Rockville, Maryland. Since September 11, 2001, the NRC has been the focus of much controversy regarding the information that it maintains, or no longer maintains, on its Web site -- with much of that activity not fully focusing on the fine distinctions between what an agency is obligated by the FOIA to make available on the World Wide Web and what may be placed there or not as a matter of administrative discretion. This conference, which will include the participation of both OIP co-directors, will enable the NRC to ensure that its operations are up to date on all such issues.

Of these three agencies, the Labor Department most regularly holds such FOIA conferences, but the State Department holds them periodically as well. The NRC last held an agencywide FOIA conference many years ago; its conference this year should lead to a new series of them in the future. Other recent examples of agencies holding FOIA conferences include the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, which conducts such gatherings nearly every year, and the Department of Transportation, which has been known to make good use of its telecommunications facilities in order to include its personnel from around the country in its FOIA conferences. See FOIA Post, "Labor Department and DOT Hold FOIA Conferences" (posted 2/22/02).

Such regular, agencywide FOIA conferences are especially useful for large agencies in which FOIA operations are highly decentralized throughout many agency sub-units or components. The Department of Justice, for example, is organized into forty distinct components (of which OIP is one), each with its own FOIA staff and responsibilities. Two months ago, it held its own agencywide gathering for the principal FOIA officers of all of the Justice Department's components, in OIP's conference room, at which a variety of FOIA matters were reviewed and discussed. Indeed, at agencies both large and small, such gatherings can be vitally important vehicles for ensuring the uniformity of agency actions in all areas of FOIA administration.

OIP continues to strongly encourage all agencies to follow the examples set by the Department of Labor, the Department of State, and others in promoting FOIA awareness and the Act's proper administration through FOIA conferences and similar gatherings. Any agency, subagency, or major agency component that is interested in holding such a conference or developing such a specialized FOIA program should contact OIP's training coordinator, Bertina Adams Cleveland, to discuss the type of FOIA program that might be developed and conducted by it with OIP's support.  (posted 2/22/05)

Go to: Main FOIA Post Page// DOJ FOIA Page // DOJ Home Page