2015 Chief FOIA Officer Report
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer: Kevin Griffis, Acting Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs.
Message from the Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS or Department) is the United States government’s principal agency for protecting the health of all Americans and providing essential human services, especially for those who are least able to help themselves. The Cabinet-level Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) was created under President Eisenhower, officially coming into existence April 11, 1953. In 1979, the Department of Education Organization Act was signed into law, providing for a separate Department of Education. HEW became the Department of Health and Human Services on May 4, 1980. HHS is responsible for almost a quarter of all federal outlays and administers more grant dollars than all other federal agencies combined.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) programs within HHS are one of many important functions that contribute to the Department meeting and achieving its mission and goals. I am pleased to present the HHS 2015 Chief FOIA Officer Report to the Attorney General of the United States, which summarizes the Department’s initiatives to comply with the FOIA, and places emphasis on improving FOIA performance and ensuring active participation to help improve FOIA operations and facilitate information disclosure.
The past year has been one of transition for the FOIA leadership in the HHS Office of the Secretary (OS). We have welcomed a new Deputy Agency Chief FOIA Officer and a new Director in the OS FOIA office, and have also established a new FOIA Public Liaison in the office. Under their leadership, OS and HHS operating divisions (OpDivs) continue their commitment to ensuring the Department’s compliance with the FOIA, reducing the FOIA backlog and to the President’s ideal of transparency and openness.
Chief FOIA Officer
Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Office of the Secretary
Department of Health and Human Services
 5 U.S.C. §552
FOIA at the Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA administration is decentralized at the Department of Health and Human Services. The Department consists of 11 Operation Divisions (OpDivs) and the Office of the Secretary (OS), all of which receive and respond to FOIA requests. The OpDivs consists of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF); Administration for Community Living (ACL); Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ); Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC); Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS); Food and Drug Administration (FDA); Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA); Indian Health Service (IHS); National Institutes of Health (NIH); Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH); and Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). In addition there are several Staff Divisions (StaffDivs) under the Office of the Secretary. The Program Support Center (PSC) processes initial FOIA requests on behalf of OASH and AHRQ, and also reviews FOIA appeals upon behalf of the PSC and the following Public Health Service (PHS) agencies: AHRQ, OASH, CDC, FDA, HRSA, IHS, NIH and SAMHSA.
Several OpDivs and StaffDivs provided information in response to the overall FOIA compliance and transparency sections of this report. The OpDivs and StaffDivs include the following:
- Administration for Children and Families (ACF)
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
- Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS)
- Food and Drug Administration (FDA)
- Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA)
- Indian Health Service (IHS)
- National Institutes of Health (NIH)
- Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health (OASH)
- Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
- Office of the Assistant Secretary for Financial Resources (ASFR)
- Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE)
- Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR)
- Office of Inspector General (OIG)
- Office of Medicare Hearings and Appeals (OMHA)
HHS received 44,283 FOIA requests during Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. This figure represents a substantial decrease from the FY 2013 total of 66,916, which is primarily attributed to CMS’ implementation of a uniform central tracking system which now includes CMS’ Medicare contractors, and removes duplicate FOIA counts for requests previously tracked on CMS’ contractors’ individual systems. There is a wide variance in the number of FOIA requests submitted to the different HHS OpDivs, ranging from a high of over 26,000 at CMS to less than 20 at ACL. The Department closed 42,295 FOIA requests during FY 2014, which is 95% of the requests received during that year. Within the Department, the OpDivs OS, IHS, OASH (PSC) and SAMHSA closed more requests than they received during FY 2014.
Currently 170 employees in the Department work on FOIA issues on a full-time basis. Additionally, the equivalent of 114 employees have part time FOIA duties, and assist in the process. This is a reduction from the FY 2013 personnel totals of approximately 15 full-time staff members. As the average age of federal workers rises, and increasingly larger numbers of federal employees are eligible for retirement, the HHS FOIA community is experiencing the effects of that demographic trend. The Department OpDivs have been actively seeking to replace those employees who retired or transferred to other positions.
- Section I: Steps Taken to Apply the Presumption of Openness
- Section II: Steps Taken to Ensure that Your Agency Has an Effective System in Place for Responding to Requests
- Section III: Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures
- Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology
- Section V: Steps Taken to Improve Timeliness in Responding to Requests and Reduce Backlogs