See FOI classified ads to get a sense of what agencies value

One great way to get an idea of what agencies value in FOI officers is to look at their job postings. I find them fascinating windows into agency cultures. They don’t tell the whole story, but they give a glimpse. Requesters who understand agency’s perspectives are more effective at getting what they need.

For example, check out the job postings at the American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP) Web site. Here are a few ads I saw that were illuminating:

  • Privacy officer positions are common, such as the opening for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (pay range $104,312-$153,221!). The emphasis is on understanding privacy laws, doing privacy training, and developing privacy policy (I don’t see any mention of understanding disclosure laws, such as FOIA).
  • FOIA analysts for GSS are required to have thorough knowledge of FOIA exemptions and be able to reduce FOIA backlog. The company serves DOD and other federal agencies.
  • A FOIA analyst position for contractor Phacil (serves military agencies) focuses on how to review FOIA requests and use exemptions “to withhold information from release to the public.”

Nowhere in the postings do I see mention of an understanding of the principles or intent of FOIA, or facilitating access of government information to the public. The focus is on bureaucratic processing of paperwork and knowing exemptions (how to keep things secret). This is consistent with some of the published research analyzing the bureaucratic perceptions and culture of FOIA (e.g., see Suzanne Piotrowski’s book, Governmental Transparency in the Path of Administrative Reform).

From the agency’s perspective, officials want to make sure all the exemptions are followed – not necessarily to purposely thwart your quest for information. Also, officials want to efficiently process your request, like a widget on an assembly line. Nobody likes backlogs, including the agencies (envision that scene from “I Love Lucy” where she’s cramming chocolates in her mouth as she gets behind on the candy assembly line). So anything a requester can do to streamline the backlog, the better, such as narrowing a request.

2 Responses

  1. […] technique the pair discuss on their blog is checking the job postings at government agencies to understand the agency’s attitude towards open […]

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