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FOIA’s Early Years Captured in Oral History Project by W&L Law Professor

As the Freedom of Information Act nears its 50th anniversary, Washington and Lee law professor Mark H. Grunewald has announced the completion of the first phase of interviews for an oral history project commemorating FOIA, which was signed by President Johnson on July 4, 1966.

The first phase of the project, which consists of 30 interviews, focused primarily on legislative and agency staff who played critical leadership roles in the early years of the 1966 Act and the 1974 amendments. The second phase of the project will focus primarily on individuals from the FOIA requester and policy communities whose work in those early years significantly shaped the Act’s implementation.

According to Grunewald, the project seeks to build on the FOIA historical record—largely a body of legislative and judicial materials—to include the recollections of individuals, inside and outside government, whose professional commitment gave life to the Act.

“Fitting of a day approaching the 50th anniversary of the Act, President Obama yesterday afternoon signed the recently passed FOIA Improvement Act of 2016,” said Grunewald. “This legislation reminds us that FOIA is not only a critical part of our history and democratic values, but also a vital part of our future.”

The Columbia University Center for Oral History Archive—one of the world’s leading oral history centers—will become the long term home for the project. Access to the project materials is expected to become available during the anniversary year.

Grunewald, who holds the James P. Morefield chair at W&L Law, is an expert in administrative and labor and employment law. In 2014, he authored a study of FOIA dispute resolution for the Administrative Conference of the United States, which adopted recommendations from the report to help requesters and agencies resolve FOIA disputes through the use of mediation and other alternatives to litigation.