IRE Radio

A conversation with the federal FOIA Ombudsman’s office

Ever wonder what kinds of questions federal agencies ask FOIA liaisons? We did. So we went right to the source. Kirsten Mitchell is a facilitator in The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), a neutral office within the National Archives that anyone — requester or federal agency — can come to for help with the FOIA process.

Mitchell, a former journalist, will be available during the IRE Conference this month to answer questions about the FOIA process and help reporters with their requests. You can learn more and sign up here.

IRE student George Varney talked with Mitchell this week to learn more about her job and the tips she offers journalists and officials.

  • Make it easy for agencies to confirm your media status, a step that’s key when determining FOIA fees. This is especially important for independent journalists, Mitchell said. Don’t make the agency have to dig around online for this information. Provide information about your record or publication contract up front.
  • While it’s understandable for journalists to want to request “any and all documents” on a topic, Mitchell advises journalists try to narrow the scope of their request.
  • FOIA should not be your first step. Before submitting your request, comb through the agency’s website to make sure the information isn’t already available. Check data.gov andgovernmentattic.org, which provide plenty of documents.

You can listen to the full interview in our Soundcloud player embedded in this post. A portion of this interview will also be featured on an episode of the IRE Radio Podcast, which comes out tomorrow.


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