FOIA Advisor

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FOIA Focus: Frank Vance, Manager of Disclosure Services & FOIA Officer, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, U.S. Dep't of the Treasury

FOIA Focus (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

How long have you been working in the FOIA field?   
I have worked in the FOIA field since August 1984.

Where did you get your start and what did you do?  
I was hired as a FOIA Specialist, GS-7.  I was responsible for responding to FOIA requests and to serve as a Press Spokesman for the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.

How long have you been at the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and how did you find your way there?  
I began my career in the federal government in 1978 as a clerk/typist for the OCC.  In 1980, I became the Publications Control Officer and managed our publications sales and subscriptions at the OCC.  In 1983, I moved to the Department of the Army, Army Office Chief of Chaplains as an Ecclesiastical Information Assistant.  I then returned to the OCC in August 1984 to serve as a press spokesman and handle FOIA.  In April 1989, I became the Chief of the FOIA Branch, Information Services Division at the Federal Home Loan Bank Board.  In October 1989, the FHLBB was dissolved and became the Office of Thrift Supervision.  (I have the distinction of being the FHLBB’s final FOIA Officer and the OTS’ first FOIA Officer.)  In February 1990, I returned to the OCC as it FOIA Officer, where I have been ever since.  In this position, I am the third FOIA Officer the agency has ever had.  Currently I am acting as the Manager of the Editorial Services Unit as well as the Manager of Disclosure Services & FOIA Officer.  I’m acting in the other job until a new person is selected.

What are your current job duties?
Due to my dual roles now in separate managerial functions, I supervise a total staff of 14.  The Editorial Staff encompasses 6 professionals; Disclosure encompasses 8 individuals including six specialists and two administrative professionals.  Not only do I manage the work of all those individuals, I also assist my Director in a host of unrelated jobs including job postings, budget, purchase card approvals, and other admin functions.

What is the most common FOIA request you receive?
Requests for supervisory information about banks and federal savings associations.

What is the most unusual FOIA request you have ever seen?
A well-known individual had made a request to a much larger agency.  Oddly enough, that agency referred a small universe of documents that were from the OCC.  At the time, that other agency had a backlog of over 5 years and his request was right at the 5-year mark when it was referred to me.  We processed the request well within the statutory deadline.  A few days later, the famous requester called me personally to complain about the handling of his request.  I calmly explained that I understood his frustration, but that we responded promptly upon receipt of the referral from the other agency.  I then remembered that we had a “PUBLIC FILE” on his case and asked if he was aware of that.  He was shocked.  I asked if he’d like that…and he said yes.  I requested he send me a request for it, but that I would get the documents back from the Federal Records Center.  I photocopied the entire file and sent it to him at no charge.  He was totally thankful to have received that material and was amazed that we had such a file and that he got it so promptly.  I really felt good to be able to help him.

Of all the FOIA requests that you have worked on, which attracted the most media attention?
There have been many:  information about bank failures and the “too big to fail doctrine,” specific “bad actors” at specific banks, documents relating to the “independent foreclosure review,”  documents about former senior OCC officials,  the S&L bailout, the Clintons and Whitewater, are a few.

What do you like and not like about working in the FOIA field?
I really enjoy the interaction with the public.  At the end of the day, I like feeling as though I have helped in some small way.  The thing I really don’t like is that FOIA always seems to be at end of everyone’s food chain.  It only becomes a major issue when something happens negatively.

Which FOIA exemption or privilege do you find the most challenging and why?
The OCC is a pretty transparent organization.  We make a lot of materials publicly available on our Web site proactively.  The few denials we do are generally done under the authority of Exemption (b)(8).    My staff and I work very hard to make sure we don’t abuse our right to use it.  

Where were you born/grow up?  
I’m a native of Huntington, WV.

Where did you go to school and what did you study?  
I went to Marshall University, Huntington, WV.  I studied counseling and rehabilitation. 

What was your first job ever?  
At a big box department store that was locally owned and operated.  What did you like or not like about it?   All I will say about it is that I hated working there and lasted for three months.

What do you like to do in your spare time?  
I serve on the Board of Directors of my Homeowners Association.  I also serve as the Vice Moderator at the Metropolitan Community Church of Northern Virginia, Fairfax VA.   My passion is photography and videography.  I’ve shot weddings and other special events.  

If you could meet any historical icon, of the past or present, who would it be and why?  
Perhaps Abraham Lincoln because he created The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency in 1863.  

What is your favorite book?   Shelby Foote’s Civil War trilogy.  

Favorite movie?  Gone With The Wind.  I think I see a trend…I’m a real Civil War buff.  Anything Civil War gets my attention.

What are you really bad at that you’d love to be great (or better) at?  
To focus better.  I suffer from Attention Deficit Disorder and it can be challenging.