Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology

A key component of the President's FOIA Memorandum was the direction to "use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government." In addition to using the internet to make proactive disclosures, agencies should also be exploring ways to utilize technology in responding to requests. Over the past several years agencies have reported widespread use of technology in receiving and tracking FOIA requests and preparing agency Annual FOIA Reports. For 2014, as we have done over the past years, the questions have been further refined and now also address different, more innovative aspects of technology use.

Online tracking of FOIA requests:

  1. Can a FOIA requester track the status of his/her request electronically?

    Yes. However, this feature is not available to the Office of the Secretary and several OpDivs. 

  2. If yes, how is this tracking function provided to the public? For example, is it being done through regularly updated FOIA logs, online portals, or other mediums?

    Within the CDC, requester can track their status by visiting the website at

    Within the CMS, in response to each FOIA request received, CMS provides an acknowledgement letter to each request that contains a unique tracking number and PIN in order to electronically track the status of the request.  The tracking tool is available at:          

  3. Describe the information that is provided to the requester through the tracking system. For example, some tracking systems might tell the requester whether the request is "open" or "closed," while others will provide further details to the requester throughout the course of the processing, such as "search commenced" or "documents currently in review.” List the specific types of information that are available through your agency's tracking system.

    Within the CDC the requester enters his/her request number and the website generates the status of the request.  Terms such as “Not Perfected,” “Pending Program Search,” “Pending Final Review,” and “Closed” are descriptive terms used.

    Within the CMS, the online CMS FOIA Tracking Tool provides inquiring requesters with basic request information to include the request control number, date received, subject, projected date of response, and date of response, as well as one of the following statuses: 

    • FOIA request referred to program office(s) for responsive records search and fee estimate;
    • FOIA request referred to program office(s) for responsive records search, fee estimate and direct reply to requester;
    • Request processing suspended – pending information from requester;
    • Interim disclosure determination issued – final determination pending;
    • Responsive records returned to the FOIA office for review and disclosure analysis;
    • Disclosure analysis of responsive records in progress;
    • Disclosure decision pending;
    • In appeal processed;
    • Appeal closed;
    • Disclosure decision issued – case closed; and,
    • Case closed
  4. In particular, does your agency tracking system provide the requester with an estimated date of completion for his/her request?

    Within the CDC, this feature is currently unavailable to requesters.

    Within the CMS, The online CMS FOIA Tracking Tool provides an estimated completion date, but due to the large volume and varying complexity of incoming requests, CMS cannot calculate the estimated completion date with accuracy for all requests.  The CMS FOIA office will attempt to provide an estimated date of completion to the requester upon request by phone, mail or email.

  5. If your agency does not provide online tracking of requests, is your agency taking steps to establish this capability? If not, please explain why.

    The Office of the Secretary and OpDivs are committed to enhancing and improving the capability for tracking requests online via Public Access Links (PAL) with the current FOIA tracking systems. Additional funding is required to implement this capability within the Office the Secretary and OpDivs. However, despite of budgetary constraints, the Office of the Secretary and OpDivs provides current, accurate and helpful information by communicating directly with each requester via email or by phone.

Use of technology to facilitate processing of requests:

  1. Beyond using technology to redact documents, is your agency taking steps to utilize more advanced technology to facilitate overall FOIA efficiency, such as improving record search capabilities, utilizing document sharing platforms for consultations and referrals, or employing software that can sort and de-duplicate documents?

    Yes. But these advanced technology features are not being used within the Office of the Secretary and some OpDivs.

  2. If so, describe the technological improvements being made.

    In 2012, the ACF FOIA office purchased a new database which enables us to automate sending and receipt of requests, automatically sends email acknowledgement to the requests and gives email notification of requests returned for reassignment or filled.  With cloud-based storage, the database can receive and store virtually unlimited numbers of documents.  The database automatically reminds the program offices of overdue requests on a biweekly basis and copies supervisors with the same list on a monthly basis.

    The CDC FOIA office anticipates software updates that will assist with de-duplication of documents.  CDC is working toward electronic solution for delivery of documents from program staff in response to requests which will eliminate the need to provide hard copy and will save valuable resources in the FOIA office as well as CDC programs. Software updates to Commercial Off-the Shelf (COTS) product system.  CDC has upgraded servers and is working on a SharePoint solution for electronic submission of documents to the FOIA Office.

    The CMS FOIA office is currently reviewing and evaluating electronic content management systems for future implementation.

    Within the FDA, in June of 2012 the FDA FOIA office has accepted FOIA requests through an online portal. In addition, FDA uses an electronic database to log and track all FOIA requests, and maintains searchable electronic copies of all released records.

    Within the NIH, nearly all requests for emails are conducted centrally by the NIH component responsible for the NIH email system rather than by individual user.  Documents within each center and the NIH FOIA Office are stored on shared drives for easier access and review.

    The OIG FOIA office is currently considering a consolidate document sharing platform.

  3. Are there additional technological tools that would be helpful to achieving further efficiencies in your agency’s FOIA program?

    Yes. The Office of the Secretary and all OpDivs would welcome any technology that can perform sophisticated searches, de-duplicate voluminous, overlapping responsive records, which can make processing request more efficiently.

Back to HHS Chief FOIA Officers Report >>

Content created by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Division