III. Steps Taken To Increase Proactive Disclosures
Both the President and Attorney General focused on the need for agencies to work proactively to post information online without waiting for individual requests to be received.
Describe here the steps your agency has taken to increase the amount of material that is available on your agency website, including providing examples of proactive disclosures that have been made since issuance of the new FOIA Guidelines. In doing so, answer the questions listed below and describe any additional steps taken by your agency to make proactive disclosures of information.
a. Has your agency added new material to your agency website since last year?
The HHS has posted a large variety and volume of material since last year.
b. What types of records have been posted?
The HHS has posted a large volume and variety of data sets and other information that had not been previously posted to its website pages. This includes, at this time, a listing of 11 pages of datasets Open Government web pages.
The Office of the Secretary, Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology (ONC) received $2 billion as a result of ARRA (HITECH ) and now has a major grant program. All information related to the grants programs is on the ONC web site. The information includes grant announcements, program information, and business grants management resources to assist recipients of ONC grants. In addition, transcripts of ONC’s Federal Advisory Committees (FACAs) are posted on the Health IT web.
The OIG has over 5,000 documents posted on the web, and continues to monitor and update to ensure maximum disclosure.
The NIH posts various records ranging from research results to program documents.
The FDA’s components continue to create web pages for specific issues of heightened consumer or media interest, to better inform the FDA’s constituency without requiring the submission of a FOIA request. For example, FDA has posted extensive information in the last year on such subjects as food recalls (including the shell egg recall, cereal recall, and infant formula recall), the Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill’s impact on FDA-regulated products, tobacco products, and caffeinated alcoholic beverages. In addition, the Center for Devices and Radiological Health has nearly doubled the number of records available in its Electronic Reading Room this year. Finally, the Division of Dockets Management continues to make records available at www.regulations.gov.
The majority of information pertaining to AHRQ’s programs, products, meetings, research findings, and reports is available on the AHRQ Web site. AHRQ provides copies of final grant reports to the National Technical Information Service, Library of Congress, and the NIH Library of Medicine. Archived information is made available through the National Archives. Frequently requested information is made available in the AHRQ FOIA Reading Room. A list of the documents is available at http://www.ahrq.gov/news/foiaindx.htm.
The CMS, in FY 2010, linked 62 raw datasets and 15 tools to the website, www.data.gov, to increase the public ability to access, download, and use datasets generated by CMS. Additionally, CMS datasets now account for about 80 percent of more than 100 datasets listed on the HHS-wide Open Government website. The CMS web sites provide access to tens of thousands of documents (over six million pages) and are used by tens of millions of persons a year. The Medicare 1-800 number, the Medicare & You publication, and the Medicare Compare web sites at www.medicare.gov provide key information that is received and used by about 50 million Medicare beneficiaries or their representatives every year. Hundreds of thousands of providers, and tens of thousands of researchers, use information resources and systems provided through www.cms.hhs.gov. As just one example, the existing internet web site information on CMS rules and regulations is one of the top CMS sources of information, and generates many tens of thousands of searches every year. In the broader context of providing information to the public, FOIA services that were once the primary method to access government information are now almost a footnote compared to the level of access now available over these web sites.
The CDC is very active in posting information on the web with over 500,000 pages posted and actively providing information through social media venues, e.g. Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. Additionally, CDC analyzed its 2010 FOIA requests and determined that over 75% were for records that typically contain personal identifiers (e.g. medical records and personnel records) or other proprietary information (e.g. contract and grant proposals and other commercial business records) thereby substantially impacting the extent of additional proactive disclosures that may provide FOIA value.
The ARHQ reports that the majority of information pertaining to AHRQ’s programs, products, meetings, research findings, and reports is available on the AHRQ Web site. The AHRQ provides copies of final grant reports to the National Technical Information Service, the Library of Congress, and the NIH Library of Medicine. Frequently requested information is made available in the AHRQ FOIA Reading Room. A list of the materials is available at http://www.ahrq.gov/news/foiaindx.htm.
In the ACF, the Office of Head Start Program Information Reports are publicly available on the PIR Reports web page, http://hses.ohs.acf.hhs.gov/pir, and users may contact the HSES Help Desk to request an access account for the PIR Reports web page. Examples include Child Abuse Prevention grant reports and Children’s Justice Act grant reports.
c. Give examples of the types of records your agency now posts that used to be available only by making a FOIA request for them.
The OIG now posts every report and audit issued by the OIG, as well as Congressional testimony, and the text of the OIG’s speeches. The SAMHSA now posts drug laboratories testing results.
All of the over 1,200 HRSA-funded community health centers (CHCs) are required to submit annual “Universal Data System” (UDS) Reports consisting of eleven tables with data regarding the numbers and types of patients, health outcomes and quality measures, operating costs, etc. The updated aggregated data from the CHCs is posted annually for each state, territory and possession on the HRSA website. The FOIA Officer, working with HRSA and OGC staff, has determined that all but three of the UDS tables from the individual CHCs can now be released. The remaining three tables, which contain detailed financial and staffing information, are currently under review.
The FDA reports among the documents that used to require a FOIA request Weekly Enforcement reports; budget records; import refusals; product approvals; press releases; Warning Letters and responses; agendas, rosters, background packages, and minutes of Advisory Committee Meetings; recalled product lists; inspection records (Form 483s and Establishment Inspection Reports); and FDA Track Updates (which includes tracking of FOIA metrics).
The NIH reports that it now posts reports of the Advisory Committee to the Director’s (ACD) Working Group on human embryonic stem cells regarding applications for approval for use in NIH funded research, including the content of those applications forwarded to the ACD for review. The Director of the National Cancer Institute (NCI) has posted his speeches and his ethics pledge waiver related to his work with a former employer. The NCI Office of Budget and Finance added a tool which allows users to get reports on NCI’s investments in various areas of cancer research. The Fogarty International Center (FIC) has posted a directory of all FIC funded awards with links to other publicly available information. The National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) posted the National Primate Research Center Guidelines. The NCRR also posted information regarding plans to transport research chimpanzees from one facility to another. The National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) posted the NHGRI Director’s calendar. The Office of Biotechnology Activities posted Gene Transfer Safety Reports – Selected Adverse Events. The Office of Technology Transfer posted relevant documents regarding the March-in Determination in The Case of Fabrazyme®. Many NIH components now post meeting agendas, minutes and materials such as slides and reports.
The ACF now proactively releases grant and contract awards, including ARRA-funded awards, annual program fact sheets, reports to Congress, grant notices & Q&A’s, information memoranda, and program instructions. The Office of Family Assistance posts the following:
-American Recovery and Reinvestment TANF EMERGENCY CONTINGENCY FUND
-TANF Application Data
-Qualifying for 12 Weeks of Job Search and Job Readiness Assistance
-TANF Financial Data
-Work Participation Rates
-TANF Carry Over Funds Final Rule
-Program Instruction for the Division of Tribal TANF Management
-Health Profession Opportunity Grants
The ACF’s Children’s Bureau (CB) now releases program instructions and information memoranda; Title IV-E funding information, funding announcements, discretionary grant awards; Federal reports, including statistical information and data from AFCARS, NCANDS, and Child Welfare Outcomes Report to Congress data and analysis; child welfare monitoring documents, including Child and Family Services Review information, States’ final CFSR reports and program improvement plans, legislative information, policy information, and guidance; webinars and transcriptions; and information about CB’s Training and Technical Assistance Network. The ACF’s Child Welfare Information Gateway clearinghouse now releases: publications such as bulletins, factsheets, issue briefs, statistical information, and a selection of factsheets for families in Spanish; information about State laws; information about adoption agencies and support organizations; other organization lists; child welfare learning tools and resources; web content updates with links to resources, videos, and webinars; and extensive postings to the online library collection.
d. What system do you have in place to routinely identify records that are appropriate for posting?
The NIH takes a multifaceted approach to identify records appropriate for posting. The NIH FOIA Officer’s immediate supervisor is the NIH Associate Director for Communications and Public Liaison. In that capacity he meets bi-monthly with the Communication Directors and other communication professionals throughout the NIH. He knows what initiatives are being launched and identifies those that may be appropriate for proactive disclosures. The NIH FOIA Office staff reviews each FOIA request upon completion. When multiple requests for the same records or types of records are noted, the appropriate program offices are contacted. The IC FOIA Coordinators work closely with program officials and recommend records for posting.
The FDA uses two methods for determining which records to post on its website. First, senior FOIA staff review every incoming request for, among things, patterns in the types of records requested. When a pattern is identified, the Agency may decide to proactively post the types of records requested. For example there is an FDA-wide program to post all Warning Letters because these were frequently requested. Second, components may determine, either after or prior to receipt of any FOIA requests, that a particular record will be of significant public interest (i.e. that multiple FOIA requests are likely), and post the record (see, for example, the ORA Electronic Reading room at http://www.fda.gov/AboutFDA/CentersOffices/ORA/ORAElectronicReadingRoom/default.htm). We note that new product approval packages are posted on the internet pursuant to federal statute (i.e. FDAAA). Finally, again, the Division of Dockets Management posts records www.regulations.gov.
The SAMHSA is developing guidelines that would support a more rapid approach to posting certain documents. The ACF reviews and updates information posted to its website and evaluates new information to be proactively disclosed and posted. Electronic communication tools (email, electronic public submission forms) are leveraged to more quickly communicate with FOIA requestors and agency personnel.
The HRSA is not a large agency and most important records regarding HRSA’s operations are widely disseminated to its managers, including the FOIA Officer. In addition, the FOIA office works closely with the HRSA bureaus and offices on a daily basis, minimizing the possibility that records suitable for proactive disclosure would be overlooked.
e. How do you utilize social media in disseminating information?
The ONC, in the Office of the Secretary, established a blog called HIT Buzz: http://www.healthit.gov/buzz-blog/.
The NIH has embraced the use of social media as a new means to engage and distribute information to the public. The NIH uses Facebook to post information and to receive and answer questions posed by the public, and Twitter to communicate news and other information. The NIH has videos (describing research findings among other things) uploaded to its NIH YouTube Channel and posts its NIH Research Radio podcast on iTunes every other week. Many NIH programs have added social media capabilities such as RSS and twitter feeds that notify subscribers when new information is available. The use of social media enables NIH to share research results, news of events and other provide health related information to populations that might not be reached through more traditional media.
The CDC is very active in providing information through social media venues, e.g. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.
The ACF uses HHS’ YouTube to disseminate messages from the Office of Head Start Director. The Office of Child Support launched its first external blog on December 6, 2010 at http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/blogs/voice/.
The Commissioner's Voice is a reprint of a column in the monthly Child Support Report http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cse/pubs/2010/csr/csr1011.pdf). The objective of the blog is to engage and educate a broader range of internal and external stakeholders and effectively market the OCSE program in order to promote OCSE’s mission. The intended outcome is establishing a forum for interaction with our stakeholders so that we may learn directly how concepts and practices are received as well as generate discussion and new ideas.
Both ACF’s Children’s Bureau and the clearinghouse have Facebook pages that are monitored routinely and updated with postings of current information. Guidelines for our web content apply to the Facebook page content in terms of approvals, and postings consist of information that has been approved by CB (see d. above). Pages are monitored and activities are conducted according to HHS communications policies, which are referenced on the Facebook pages.
f. Describe any other steps taken to increase proactive disclosures at your agency.
The measures described in the other parts of this report capture many of the efforts NIH takes to increase proactive disclosures. The entire NIH community, not just FOIA professionals, has always embraced the opportunity to share information with the public.
The FDA, again, has a Transparency Task Force, which was created in response to the Obama and Holder memoranda. The purpose of the Task Force is to develop recommendations for making useful and understandable information about FDA activities and decision making more readily available to the public in a timely manner and in a user-friendly format. Among other functions, the Taskforce is studying various types of records for proactive release.
The Office of Head Start Director’s website page was developed for press releases, statements, news articles, and video messages. It includes contact information to assist users in more readily identifying how to contact the agency.
In keeping with the President’s instruction on transparency, Office of Family Assistance has been posting information including Dear Colleague letters, PowerPoint slides, and weekly updates to TANF Emergency Fund approvals. Recently ACF added Children’s Bureau Discretionary Grant Final reports to the online library in digital form. This has included the past years’ grant information, via direct download from the library. Also available are older releases in the Office on Child Abuse and Neglect’s User Manual series, and a large selection of documents related to Children’s Bureau history.
All of the over 1,200 HRSA-funded community health centers (CHCs) are required to submit annual “Universal Data System” (UDS) Reports consisting of eleven tables with data regarding such information as the numbers and types of patients, health outcomes, quality measures, and operating costs. The updated aggregated data from the CHCs is posted annually for each state, territory and possession. The HRSA FOIA Officer, working with HRSA and Office of General Counsel, has determined that all but three of the UDS tables from the individual CHCs can be released under the FOIA.
There is some discussion regarding posting, to the extent possible, every CHC’s UDS data on the HRSA website along with the aggregated statewide UDS data. However, the annual cost of making some 10,000 updated UDS tables 508-compliant must be considered in making this decision.
The HRSA FOIA office regularly receives requests from the various state and territorial primary care organizations and associations (PCOs and PCAs) for updated lists of all the National Health Service Corps (NHSC) currently serving in their state. Over 4,000 NHSC clinicians – who are serving for three to six years in return for NHSC scholarships that supported their medical education – are posted at various community health centers, Indian Health Service clinics, and Federal detention facilities in each state and territory. It is the responsibility of the PCOs and PCAs to monitor their activities and report any problems under a cooperative agreement with HRSA. Working with the NHSC program staff, a SORN was developed and posted in the Federal Register that made it possible for primary care organizations and associations to obtain this information directly from the NHSC program staff rather than having to make repetitious FOIA requests.
Content last reviewed on October 8, 2015