FOIA’s New Ombudsman

The National Archives and Records Administration has just announced that Miriam Nisbet will be the first director of the Office of Government Information Services.

OGIS was created by congress in 2007 to serve as a monitor and mediator for the Freedom of Information Act. The Bush administration provided no funding for the office and worked to house it insiede the Justice Department, a move decried as an attempt to neuter the nascent office, given that Justice is responsible for defending the government’s FOIA decisions. (For more on the tangled history of the office, read past CJR coverage, or listen to a conversation with Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.)

From 1999 to 2007, Nisbet served as legislative counsel for the American Librarian Association. Before that, she served as Deputy Director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Privacy, which plays a major role in overseeing government wide FOIA policy, and as a special counsel for information policy at the National Archives. Most recently, she was director of UNESCO’s Information For All Program.

“We’ve been waiting a long time to see this thing get off the ground,” says Rick Blum, coordinator of the Sunshine in Government Initiative, a media coalition that worked closely with congress to push for the office’s creation.

“She’s a long-time advocate for open government, and this is a promising start for those who want the FOIA to work better,” adds Blum.

Nisbet, as the office’s first director, will have a great deal of influence in shaping OGIS’s role and public profile, a task that will perhaps be made easier by an expanding budget. This year, the office was provided with a $1 million mostly for salaries. It’s expected that the Obama administration’s next budget will call for a 40% increase of that sum, as well as funding to build online FOIA dispute moderation tools.

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

Clint Hendler is the managing editor of Mother Jones, and a former deputy editor of CJR.