The Chief FOIA Officers (CFO) Council met virtually on November 9, 2023. Associate Attorney General of the United States Vanita Gupta welcomed attendees, thanked agencies for their work on FOIA reporting, and highlighted the new Search Tool on FOIA.gov that will improve the public’s ability to search for previously released FOIA records and to identify appropriate agencies for new FOIA requests. In previewing the agenda, the Associate Attorney General highlighted the use of technology such as artificial intelligence (AI) to increase automation in record processing as an emerging and promising area, but emphasized the importance of ensuring that there is sufficient human monitoring and that appropriate safeguards are established so that the government is operating consistent with our obligations under FOIA. Deputy Archivist Debra Steidel Wall from the National Archives and Records Administration also welcomed attendees and emphasized the importance of FOIA as a crucial part of ensuring transparency and accountability.
Mr. Eric Stein from the Department of State (DOS) presented the agency’s successes so far in using AI and machine learning on multiple projects related to FOIA and declassification. The results from one pilot program indicated that machine learning declassified documents in the same manner as human reviewers 97% of the time. DOS is running two additional pilot programs which focus on improving the customer service experience and FOIA case processing. The pilot programs will end in February 2024 with results expected to be published shortly after.
The Office of Information Policy (OIP) Director, and CFO Council co-chair, Bobby Talebian, reminded attendees about upcoming FOIA reporting deadlines and summarized new guidance OIP issued since the last CFO Council meeting in April 2023. The new guidance included the importance of maintaining FOIA standard operating procedures; new reporting guidelines for agencies 2024 CFO Reports; and guidance for improvement in light of agencies’ 2023 CFO Reports, including simple track processing times, interoperability with FOIA.gov, and the foreseeable harm standard.
Next, Mr. Talebian shared that the FOIA Business Standards Working Group completed draft baseline standards in line with the Federal Integrated Business Framework. The draft will soon be available on Regulations.gov and announced in the Federal Register for public comment. Mr. Talebian then demonstrated the new search tool on FOIA.gov that features “common topics” that guide users to requesting commonly requested records while also allowing requesters to input their own unique search queries.
Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) Director, Alina Semo, shared some FY 2023 statistics about OGIS’s work, including number of mediation cases logged and closed, number of System of Records Notices reviewed, number of FOIA regulation changes for federal agencies, and more. OGIS also made thirteen external presentations and facilitated five federal agency trainings. Ms. Semo also provided updates related to Electronic Records Management; highlighted NARA Bulletin 2024-04 which addressed issues surrounding records management on collaboration platforms; and noted that new regulations regarding digitization standards for permanent records were published in May 2023. Ms. Semo shared that the next FOIA Advisory Committee meeting is on Thursday, December 7th. She also encouraged CFOs to participate in an ongoing survey about the application of previous Committee recommendations and guidance and encouraged attendees to participate.
The CFO Council’s two Committees then provided updates on their work. The CFO Council Committee on Cross-Agency Collaboration and Innovation (COCACI) announced a new FOIA Toolkit working group, established to draft a guide for FOIA professionals to better recruit and retain FOIA professionals. The Government Information Specialist Subcommittee is working on a white paper with the goal of leading to a Listening Session with FOIA professionals and hiring managers. The Resources Subcommittee summarized the takeaways from a Best Practices Workshop held at the end of October.
The Technology Committee announced a new white paper on FOIA and AI that explores how AI could apply to FOIA moving forward. Planning for NexGen 2.0, which is expected to happen in Spring 2024, is also underway. If you are an agency FOIA professional and are interested in joining any of the Committees or underlying working groups, please contact [email protected].
For more information on this meeting and the work of the Chief FOIA Officers Council, you may visit the Chief FOIA Officers Council page on FOIA.gov. To watch the meeting in full please visit the National Archives’ YouTube page.