Last week, I wrote that the Department of Justice ("DOJ") had published a new proposed Privacy Act System of Routine Uses that stated that records maintained by the DOJ's Office of Information Policy ("OIP") would be exempt from the Privacy Act because one of the uses of collected documents was their use in OIP's role as a FOIA Ombudsman. This of course was not routine at all because the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) is the agency where Congress gave the ombudsman responsibilities, not the DOJ. NARA has created the Office of Government Information Services ("OGIS") to handle its statutory obligations. (For more on OGIS, see this interview of its director, Miriam Nisbet by Federal News Radio). Yesterday, Senators Leahy and Cornyn, authors of the legislation putting the ombudsman office in NARA wrote the Attorney General about this matter asking him for an explanation.
According to to Federal Computer Week, the Department of Justice is also accused of hindering participation in the FOIA portal, which is a multi-agency effort, including NARA's OGIS to streamline the management of FOIA Operations. DOJ is touting its own website, FOIA.gov while refusing to bless the FOIA portal. The two websites are not one and the same, however. FOIA.gov takes the data entered into all agency annual reports and provides it in graphical form to users, provides OIP's FOIA guidance and policy determinations, and provides a list of FOIA contacts for all agencies. FOIA.gov doesn't do anything to assist in the management of FOIA Operations, nor has OIP stated that it intends it to do this task. The accusation about DOJ came in a letter from a group of public interest groups to Cass Sunstein, the administrator of the White House's Office of Information and Regulatory Policy.
TechPresident.com has more on the issue of the parallel portals -- along with a response from OIP (see the footnote at the end of the story).
It is unclear why the DOJ is running an ombudsman office and downplaying the creation of a FOIA portal. There are many responsibilities the DOJ has concerning the FOIA, many of which have not gone fulfilled -- such as training and monitoring lawyers in FOIA litigation with implementing the President and Attorney General's openness policies. They should put their energies into the responsibilities the FOIA gives them not others. There is plenty of work to go around.