September 16th, 2009
New federal FOIA ombudsman on the job
By David Cuillier
Have a problem with a federal agency in processing your FOIA request? Now there is help. Miriam Nisbet is the new federal FOIA ombudsman, a position created through the Open Government Act of 2007. It’s taken a few years, but finally the office is up and running.
Nisbet, whose official title is director of the Office of Government Information Services within The National Archives, started work Tuesday last week. She’s been running around getting her phone and e-mail set up, and hiring five staffers. She gets $1 million to run the office for this first year.
Nisbet told me last week that she hopes to have her staffers hired within a couple of months, but journalists and citizens can start calling her now if they need help. She said she can help requesters if they are having problems with agencies. She hopes to eventually have an online tracking system so requesters can see where their cases stand. “I’m here. I’m open for business,” she said.
Nisbet is a good person for this job because she’s experienced in FOIA on both sides of the counter, as an attorney for the Department of Justice (the agencies’ side of the counter), but also as an attorney for the American Library Association (the requester’s side of the counter), and then also for the National Archives and as a long-time member of the American Society of Access Professionals (kind of standing on top of the counter, more or less). This is a positive step foward in helping requesters maneuver their way through FOIA.
Here’s her contact information as of today:
Phone: 301-837-1996 (toll-free number on the way)
Web site: www.nara.gov/ogis (not yet active, but stay tuned)