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DOJ Kicks Off Sunshine Week with its Annual Celebration Event

The Office of Information Policy (OIP) celebrated its annual kick-off to Sunshine Week virtually on March 14, 2022.  The event featured remarks from Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta and Office of Information Policy Director Bobak Talebian, as well as the presentation of the 2021 Sunshine Week FOIA Awards.

The livestreamed event began with keynote remarks from the Associate Attorney General, who emphasized “the fundamental importance of access to government information and an engaged citizenry to our democracy.”  Associate Attorney General Gupta shared that in her own work outside of government, she has “relied on the FOIA’s disclosure mandates” and “seen firsthand the critical role that the FOIA plays in ensuring the public’s access to government records.”

The Associate Attorney General also expressed her appreciation for Attorney General Merrick Garland’s support of FOIA at the Department and across the government.  Further, she announced that “later this week, the Attorney General will be issuing new Guidelines that underscore our commitment to administering the FOIA with a presumption of openness.”  The Associate Attorney General summarized some of the Department’s many efforts undertaken to encourage agency compliance with the FOIA, such as OIP’s offering of FOIA training and guidance, and continued work on FOIA.gov.  Lastly, she thanked all agency FOIA professionals for their work, which “lies at the heart of keeping our government open and transparent and ensuring that this democracy of ours always works on behalf of the public.” 

In his remarks, Director Talebian discussed some of OIP’s initiatives to assist agencies in their FOIA administration this past year.  Those efforts included continuing to work with agencies to become interoperable with the National FOIA Portal on FOIA.gov and providing advice to agencies in response to 647 calls to the FOIA Counselor Service.  Moreover, OIP issued policy guidance on a range of topics, including guidance on the Supreme Court’s Exemption 5 Ruling in United States Fish & Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, Inc., updated Guidance for Quarterly FOIA Reporting, and Guidance for Further Improvement Based on 2021 Chief FOIA Officer Report Review and Assessment.  Among other initiatives, Director Talebian also previewed forthcoming e-learning training modules designed for Senior Executives, Federal Employees, and FOIA Professionals. 

Following his remarks, Director Talebian recognized this year’s Sunshine Week Award recipients by highlighting the key achievements in FOIA administration of each recipient during a virtual award presentation ceremony. 

The following awards were presented:

Exceptional Service by a FOIA Professional or a Team of FOIA Professionals

This award recognized exemplary performance by an agency FOIA professional or team of FOIA professionals in carrying out the agency’s administration of the FOIA.  Eight Exceptional Service awards were presented to:

  • Erica Fenstermaker – Federal Bureau of Prisons, Department of Homeland Security
  • Alyssa Williams – Department of the Navy, Department of Defense
  • Garth Collins – U.S. Cyber Command, Department of Defense
  • Assistance Secretary, Indian Affairs FOIA Team – Department of Interior
  • Consumer Financial Protection Bureau FOIA Team
  • Office of the Director of National Intelligence FOIA Team
  • Veterans Health Administration FOIA Team – Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Food and Nutrition Service FOIA Team – Department of Agriculture

Outstanding Contributions by a New Employee

This award recognizes exceptional performance and notable contributions in carrying out the agency’s FOIA responsibilities by a new employee with fewer than three years of work in FOIA.  Three Outstanding Contributions by a New Employee was awarded to:

  • Dianna Risko – Region 8, Environmental Protection Agency
  • Emily Kroloff – Office of Air and Radiation, Environmental Protection Agency
  • Stephanie Hanson & Joseph Mullaney – National Labor Relations Board

Exceptional Advancements in IT to Improve the Agency’s FOIA Administration

This award recognized exceptional achievements in greater utilizing technology to make information more accessible.  These efforts could include the implementation of new and advanced technologies to increase efficiencies as well as to improve proactive disclosures and the online availability of information.  Three awards were presented to:

  • Jimmy Wolfrey – Privacy Office, Department of Homeland Security
  • Office of Chief Information Office and FOIA Branch – National Labor Relations Board
  • Michael Sarich – Veterans Health Administration & Eric Stein – Department of State

Exceptional Achievements by an Agency or Team of Professionals at an Agency to Advance the Proactive Disclosure of Information

This award recognized exceptional achievements by an agency or team of professionals at the agency to proactively make more information available online.  These efforts could include both the posting of more information online and steps taken to make that information more useful to the public.  One award was presented to:

  • Health Resources and Services Administration – Department of Health and Human Services

Lifetime Service Award

This award recognized an individual with at least twenty years of service who demonstrated high standards of excellence and dedication.  Three Lifetime Service awards were presented to:

  • Linda Person – Environmental Protection Agency
  • Sabrina Hamilton – Office of Air and Radiation, Environmental Protection Agency
  • Stephanie Kercheval – Region 10, Environmental Protection Agency

OIP congratulates this year’s awards recipients and thanks everyone who attended our event.

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