Almost 100 years ago, Justice Louis Brandeis wrote: “Sunlight is said to be the best disinfectant. If the broad light of day could be let in upon men’s actions, it would purify them as the sun disinfects.”
I like to think that we celebrate Sunshine Week every day at the National Archives. We have a unique role, which we describe as “preserving the past to protect the future.” The beautiful sculptures designed by Robert I. Aitken and chiseled by the Piccarelli Brothers of the Bronx at the Pennsylvania Avenue entrance echo this. “The Past” is represented by an ancient bearded man with a scroll and “The Future is a young women with a book. She sits atop a pedestal inscribed with “The Past is Prologue.” That is the spirit which embodies the function we serve.
It also embodies the Freedom of Information Act which we celebrate this week. FOIA was passed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on the Fourth of July in 1966. Since its passage it has been used by scores of people to learn more about how our government works. In 2010 alone, the government received more than 600,000 requests for records under the FOIA. We are proud to have the original text of the FOIA as it was signed into law in 1966. And we are especially proud to have it on display in the East Rotunda of the National Archives building on Pennsylvania Avenue during Sunshine Week. For those who can’t visit us, you can see it here:
FOIA is a valuable tool, but it is not without flaws. In the first 40 years of its history, FOIA requesters and agencies had no choice by to settle disagreements in court. Five years ago, Congress envisioned a new future for FOIA, and put that into law with the creation of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) here at the National Archives. OGIS serves as the Federal FOIA ombudsman, offering mediation services to settle disputes and reviewing agencies’ FOIA policies, procedures, and compliance.
Though OGIS has only been open for two and a half years, this small office has been shedding light on the FOIA process and working hard to offer requesters and agencies an alternative to litigation. Check out the OGIS site at: https://ogis.archives.gov/