Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Update for Those Seeking Family History Documents

Back in 2000 I learned of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and used it to obtain my great grandfather's naturalization file. I was so excited at the amount of material I received (including a never before seen photo of Gustav Sporowski) that I told the director of my local Family History Center about it.  She wasn't aware of the FOIA and it's application to genealogical records and was keen to make a copy of the cover letter to share with other patrons.  She handed the letter back to me and with a smile said "that's a real genealogy gem!" and she proceeded to pin it on the center's bulletin board. 
I remember standing there and thinking, 'it really is a genealogy gem, but there's got to be a better way to tell other genealogists about it so they can benefit.' And so the seed was sown for the future Genealogy Gems Podcast - even though podcasts didn't yet exist!
Over the years genealogists FOIA experiences have varied greatly.  I've heard everything from stories of joy and excitement at the receiving of a document package like mine, to the doom and gloom and frustration of interaction with the federal government bureaucracy that ultimately lead nowhere.
On November 28, 2011 the National Archives Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) - the federal Freedom of Information Act 9FOIA) Ombudsman - launched a new online case management system intended to manage the requests for assistance that FOIA requesters and agencies bring to OGIS. The goal is that the tool will both streamline OGIS's work and increase transparency of its operations.  Here's the scoop from the recently released National Archives press release:
Washington, D.C. . . More than 1,200 FOIA requesters from 48 states and 13 foreign countries turned to OGIS for assistance in its first two years as FOIA Ombudsman. The service that OGIS provides ranges from checking the status of delayed FOIA requests to facilitating resolutions of disputes involving complex database requests. While OGIS has successfully resolved hundreds of cases, the Office recognizes the need for greater collaboration with agencies and a more systematic way of collecting information about its work. The OAS – which is supported by and integrated into a re-launched and expanded OGIS website – will help the Office achieve these goals.
“OGIS was created to resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and federal agencies,” said OGIS Director Miriam Nisbet.  “As we began our work, we realized that we needed an increased web presence to both manage our cases and educate requesters about the FOIA process. Our new OGIS Access System will help us achieve these goals.”
OAS is among the first generation of federal government online services operating in “the cloud.” This approach allows OGIS to launch a number of scalable online services, including:
·         A searchable library of FOIA terms and concepts
·         An online submission process for those requesting OGIS’s assistance;
·         The ability to review the status of a case with OGIS and communicate directly with OGIS staff; and
·         The capability to engage with the public on ways to improve FOIA, which also is within the OGIS mission.
OGIS selected Active Network, Inc as the provider of the OAS integrated software endeavor. The Active Network, Inc. is a leading provider of organization-based cloud computing applications.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Lisa is your original cover letter still useful? If so how about sharing it wioth us too.