How did you get started in the FOIA field?
After watching my fellow St. Bonaventure University alumnus and New York City Fire Chaplin Fr. Mychal Judge become World Trade Center casualty number 1 on September 11, 2001, I determined I absolutely had to join what eventually became the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), in some capacity or another, to serve our country. I was fortunate to be hired to serve as a FOIA Assistant at the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), which is a component of DHS. I thought that post meshed well with my education in journalism, and I aimed to become a voice for government transparency on the inside.
What other FOIA positions have you held prior to joining the FDA?
In addition to my first post at TSA, I’ve served in FOIA positions at the DHS Office of Inspector General, as Associate Director for Disclosure Policy and FOIA Program Development in the DHS Privacy Office, and as Senior FOIA Analyst and FOIA Public Liaison at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).
What are your current job duties?
I serve as Director for the Division of Information Disclosure at the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health (CDRH). I manage a group of talented and well-educated professionals who administer FOIA, the Federal Records Act, the Privacy Act of 1974, and other privacy laws, at our Center.
What is the most common FOIA request you receive at the FDA?
The most common FOIA request at my Center is from commercial requesters seeking records pertaining to third parties’ applications to market medical devices.
What is the most unusual FOIA request you have ever seen at FDA or elsewhere?
There are many interesting ones that could be listed here, but one of my favorites was a one-line piece of correspondence during the early days at DHS in which the requester sought something along the lines of, “access to and copies of a list of everything we’re not allowed to know.” It was rather unmanageable from a processing side, perhaps, but clever in its simplicity, and was resolved with a phone call between me and the requester.
Of all the FOIA matters you have worked on, which has received the most prominent media coverage?
A number of the FOIA matters I worked on at DHS received significant media coverage. That level of scrutiny made sense, as our Department was new and directly impacts the lives of our fellow Americans on a daily basis. We processed many requests related to disasters, such as 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina, which were broadly covered.
What do you like and not like about working on FOIA matters?
I have enjoyed pushing my agencies for more transparency, and my primary focus remains on helping people at the core. I enjoy interacting directly with FOIA requesters. I try to be a “good government”-focused person and take a pragmatic approach to problem-solving. Those parts are all fun. However, like many of my customers, I also find needless bureaucratic delays incredibly frustrating.
You were recently selected to serve on the National Archives and Record Administration’s FOIA Advisory Committee. What do you hope to accomplish on the Committee?
Being appointed by the Archivist of the United States to serve on the FOIA Advisory Committee is a huge honor. I’m excited to collaborate with my colleagues in civil society and on the government side to find solutions to some of the problems we routinely encounter. Accordingly, I look forward to our Committee making practical recommendations that can be quickly implemented by the government to help the process work better for FOIA requesters.
Where were you born/grow up? Is there an off-the beaten path that you would recommend that tourists visit?
I am an extremely proud native of Buffalo, N.Y. While our winter snowfall is much-maligned, I miss it, and summers in Western New York are gorgeous. I highly recommend visiting my hometown. There are plenty of spots to visit, such as Niagara Falls, which is close by, excellent local fare, such as our famous wings, and plenty more that you’ll find at the many craft breweries that are new to the city. Downtown Buffalo has undergone a fantastic renaissance in recent years, and I’d recommend checking out the Canal side area, surrounding the remnants of the Erie Canal, where you’ll find food, music, ice cream, and beautiful views of Lake Erie. There’s stunning architecture, including several Frank Lloyd Wright-designed homes, Frederick Law Olmsted’s park systems, and too much art and history to list. If it sounds like I am nuts about the Queen City, I am, and I think everyone should visit it!
Where did you go to school and what did you study?
I attended St. Bonaventure University, where I earned a dual Bachelor of Arts in Journalism/Mass Communications and History. I went to law school in the evening and on weekends at the University of Baltimore School of Law while serving in the government, and am admitted to practice law in Maryland.
What was your first job ever? What did you like or not like about it?
My first job was delivering the Buffalo News to homes, beginning when I was about 11 years old. I loved the newsprint on my hands, and enjoyed being able to sneak a peek at the box scores from the prior night’s baseball games while I walked my route. Walking to deliver the papers through mountains of snow in the winter was brutal, however.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
I am an avid sports fan, particularly of my beloved Buffalo Bills and Buffalo Sabres, love reading history books, and enjoy traveling as much as possible.
If you could meet any historical icon, of the past or present, who would it be and why?
I’m mostly Irish and have always been fascinated with our history. I’d be interested in meeting figures involved with the independence movement, such as Michael Collins or Éamon de Valera, given the opportunity to do so.
What is your favorite television show? Movie?
I don’t watch much television, but House of Cards is an excellent show. The Godfather is by far my favorite flick.
What are you really bad at that you would love to be better at?
Like many of my fellow Irishmen, I’ll sing at the drop of a hat, but when I do so, it tends to be an unfortunate experience for those within earshot.