OPEXUS' Commitment to Transparency with FOIA Request Software: Q&A with Ben Tingo, FOIA Advisory Committee Member

October 13, 2022 / #Unstuck Government, #FOIA

Our General Counsel and Vice President of Partnerships, Benjamin Tingo, is a member of the 2022-2024 National Archives and Records Administration’s (NARA) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee.

Q: Please tell us a little bit about your background with OPEXUS and why you chose to join NARA’s FOIA Advisory Committee.

A: I have been OPEXUS’ General Counsel since 2016. I firmly believe that government is good, and that good governance makes our lives better, but I also know first-hand that dealing with our federal government can be a frustrating experience, even when everyone involved has the best of intentions.

I also believe that “sunlight is the best disinfectant,” and that having an open and transparent government is a critical component of any functioning democracy. I believe the key to ensuring we stay on the right path is helping ensure the government has the tools it needs to operate in the age of AI and exponential increases in data creation. My work with OPEXUS, helping deliver FOIA request software to government agencies, means I’m deeply interested in the policies around the the Freedom of Information Act. FOIA is the cornerstone of our government’s commitment to transparency, and I am proud to work for OPEXUS which helps the government fulfill this commitment to all of us, every day, by delivering FOIA request software, FOIAXpress.

I volunteered for the FOIA Advisory Committee to more directly use my knowledge and experience (including my significant experience with discovery processes and eDiscovery) to make FOIA more efficient and effective for requesters, government professionals, and for all of us who benefit from continued transparency.

Prior to joining OPEXUS, I worked as a litigator in a variety of specialties, including non-profit public criminal defense and on behalf of employees and whistleblowers fighting discrimination, harassment, and wrongful terminations. My work frequently involved navigating administrative processes and procedures and significant interaction with government agencies.

Q: What does OPEXUS having a representative on this committee mean for its FOIA solutions users?

A: My participation is just one more way that OPEXUS demonstrates its commitment to the FOIA community. For more than 20 years, we have provided FOIA request software to the federal government, and consistently prioritized learning and engaging with our users. We then return to the table with solutions that combine those lessons with our own technology expertise.

Over the years, we have kept our customers ahead of the curve:

Despite the technology we have provided, FOIA programs are working through significant and thorny problems right now, including massively more complex and voluminous requests, and concerns about processing procedures and implementation of FOIA rules and guidelines.

My participation in the FOIA Advisory Committee will provide the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) and NARA not only with my personal input based on my legal and corporate experiences, but also access to OPEXUS’ institutional knowledge around the ways that FOIA process and technology can speak with each other to uncover new opportunities to help FOIA programs, including our FOIA customers, meet their mandates and fulfill their missions despite the unprecedented challenges they are currently facing.

Q: What are some notable accomplishments or news that have resulted from the committee’s efforts?

A: The 2022-2024 term is the FOIA Advisory Committee’s fifth term. Over the last eight years, the committee has made 51 recommendations for areas of improvement, and 22 of those have been implemented or adopted by FOIA oversight offices, such as NARA, OGIS, and the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy (DOJ OIP).

These improvements include changes to the way that agencies collect fees; updates to reporting requirements to gather better data about FOIA programs for continued improvement; and publication of guidance and resources for FOIA professionals.

The rest of the recommendations are still under consideration (only one has actually been rejected). One of our current term’s subcommittees is being tasked with reviewing past recommendations, evaluating compliance with those that have been adopted, and finding ways to get the pending and deferred recommendations unstuck and adopted.

Q: How do you plan to bridge the gap between OPEXUS’ FOIAXpress users and the lawmakers in charge of FOIA?

A: FOIA administration is always under a microscope. FOIA offices are required to submit annual and quarterly reports on their FOIA statistics, and an annual report from their Chief FOIA Officers with more anecdotal detail about how their office is operating. These are some ways that lawmakers receive information about what is happening with FOIA, and the FOIA Advisory Committee frequently reviews agency reporting requirements to identify categories that would be helpful in making legislative improvements to FOIA.

It is also important to remember that although Congress has overall authority for amending the FOIA statutes, most of the work involved in improving FOIA happens through the publication of DOJ OIP and OGIS and NARA guidance, and through individual decisions made in each FOIA program office.

My work with the Committee will include these stakeholders as a key audience, and I hope I will be able to contribute to these conversations by providing not only insights gleaned from FOIAXpress users, but also from the broader technology sector and based on OPEXUS’ capabilities.

Our goal at OPEXIS is to empower our users to improve their processes and enable their offices to operate more effectively. Since FOIAXpress is highly configurable and adaptive, it is uniquely suited to support process changes and gather key data for our customers as they make changes in response to the current FOIA request software environment.

Q: How will the committee’s work today impact FOIA experts and the requester community in the future?

A: The primary goal of the Committee is to provide recommendations to help OGIS “identify procedures and methods improving compliance” with FOIA. For the requester community, this means shorter response times and broader releases of records. By bringing together requesters and responders in a dialogue about FOIA and the challenges that government responders currently face, we hope to increase understanding between the groups and find creative and durable ways to support the interests of both sides of the request. I’m looking forward to working with this community to improve the FOIA experience for everyone involved.


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