Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at the Chief FOIA Officers Council Meeting

Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Delivers Remarks at the Chief FOIA Officers Council Meeting

Remarks as Prepared for Delivery

Good morning and thank you for joining us for today’s Chief FOIA Officers Council meeting. On behalf of the Department of Justice, I would like to welcome all the Chief FOIA Officers and agency FOIA officials to our Fall FOIA Officer Council meeting. I also want to welcome the members of the public joining us today.

At the Department of Justice, we take very seriously our responsibility of transparency and accountability through faithful compliance with the Freedom of Information Act. In his first week in office, Attorney General Garland recognized the importance of the mission of FOIA at the Department of Justice’s Annual Sunshine Week Event. The Attorney General noted that, “without accountability, democracy is impossible. And democratic accountability requires the kind of transparency that the FOIA makes possible.”

Since its enactment more than 55 years ago, the Freedom of Information Act has been an important tool for keeping the federal government open and accountable. The Supreme Court explained that the “basic purpose of FOIA is to ensure an informed citizenry, vital to the functioning of a democratic society, needed to check against corruption and to hold the governed accountable to the governed.”

As someone who has utilized FOIA in my prior roles outside of government, I know how important the Act is for government accountability. At its core, FOIA is about public trust: trust that those who are charged with faithfully executing the laws are in fact doing so with integrity and in the public’s interest. 

Fulfilling the goals of the FOIA is not an easy task, as many of you know best. The U.S. government receives and processes over 700,000 FOIA requests every year, many involving multifaceted searches, consultations, and complex line-by-line reviews of large numbers of documents. FOIA work is often very difficult and time intensive. 

And finding the balance between FOIA’s presumption of disclosure, while also upholding legal guardrails for the protection of sensitive interests such as our national security, individual personal privacy and law enforcement is also very challenging. And that is what the law requires – for us to lift up and protect a person’s ability to seek information from the U.S. government while also ensuring that guardrails to protect the public interest are maintained. 

As many of you who have worked in FOIA over the years know, the department has long held that FOIA is everyone’s responsibility. I want to thank all the FOIA professionals who work tirelessly day-in and day-out to meet their agency’s disclosure obligations.

The key to the success of any agency FOIA program is the leadership you provide. The law itself recognizes the importance of leadership support by designating a Chief FOIA Officer at each agency that is at the Assistance Secretary or equivalent level.

I take great pride in serving as the Department of Justice’s Chief FOIA Officer. As Chief FOIA Officers, we must all continually review all aspects of our respective agency’s FOIA administration to ensure that records are released lawfully and efficiently. As I mentioned, the day-to-day work in administering the FOIA is often not easy. Agency FOIA professionals deserve our support to meet these challenges. It is also important that we continue to remind agency program personnel outside the FOIA office of their critical role in making sure the agency’s FOIA obligations are fully and timely met. 

The Department of Justice is committed to serving as a resource and providing counsel to your agency in the advancement of FOIA administration. In just a few minutes, Bobby will provide updates on several initiatives OIP has been working on that will benefit your agency’s FOIA administration. He will be discussing new reporting requirements and tools, guidance that encourages agencies to offer additional substantive FOIA training and establish standard operating procedures, and the application of the deliberative process exemption. We are also looking forward to releasing new standardized e-learning trainings this year. Finally, as you know, we are continuing to build on the functionality of FOIA.gov. The development of centralized search capability across agencies will greatly enhance the public’s ability to find the information they are seeking. 

You will hear also about the work of two committees established by the council to address technology, resources, administering the FOIA virtually and professional development. I want to especially thank the committee members for their dedication to FOIA and their hard work on these issues. 

Thank you again for all you do as Chief FOIA Officers to ensure we have an accountable democracy and transparent government that works for the public interest.   

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