After Only Nine Months On The Job, Administration's New FOIA Boss Calls It Quits

from the less-time-than-it-commonly-takes-to-fill-a-FOIA-request dept

Josh Gerstein at Politico brings us that news that James Holzer will step down from his position as the director of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) and return from whence he came: the Department of Homeland Security.

James Holzer took over last August as director of the Office of Government Information Services, which serves as an ombudsman between federal agencies and FOIA requesters. The office also conducts audits of agencies' FOIA operations and proposes ways to streamline those processes.

Two sources said Holzer is returning to a position at the Department of Homeland Security, where he worked before joining OGIS, a part of the National Archives.
Depending on where you sit, Holzer was either the perfect pick for FOIA work or the worst.

For FOIA requesters, Holzer was anything but. His former (and now current) agency has a terrible FOIA track record. That this background would somehow result in his promotion to a position meant to facilitate FOIA requests was inexplicable.

Unless you're the White House, in which case, he was the best man for the job.

This administration doesn't care much for transparency. Elevating someone from an agency with a history of ineptness and recalcitrance only makes sense -- if what you want is for "facilitation" to mean little more than looking busy while status remains quo.

For those seeking improvements in FOIA responses, Holzer was less than ideal. "Fox in the henhouse" was one of the kinder depictions of Holzer and his new position as go-between for federal agencies and FOIA requesters.

Despite the doubts raised about his capability or interest, Holzer actually appeared to be doing what he was supposed to do -- which makes it surprising (or unsurprising -- see above) that he didn't even stick it out for an entire year.
"It’s difficult to imagine that he wasn’t asked for at least a one-year commitment in order to take such a position so it's remarkable his tenure lasted no more than nine months," said Dan Metcalfe, director of the Collaboration on Government Secrecy at American University's law school.

While OGIS's efforts to mediate between requesters and agencies have been challenging, the unit has gotten high marks for its reviews of agency FOIA offices. "OGIS certainly has continued its superior work during the last nine months," Metcalfe said.
The lack of comment from anyone makes it unclear whether Holzer was ousted by the administration for being too efficient or that he found swimming against the secrecy stream to be exhausting. With his return to the DHS, we can probably expect a return to the FOIA mean, which entails such things as declaring FOIA clearinghouse MuckRock to be a "non-journalistic" entity (to maximize FOIA fees collected) and overseeing dubious efforts like clearing FOIA backlogs by dumping requests into file boxes and throwing them on shelves in some darkened warehouse.

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