2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer: Kevin Griffis, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Message from the Agency Chief Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Officer
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS 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. DHHS 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 DHHS are one of many important functions that contribute to the Department’s ability to successfully execute our mission and realize our strategic goals. I am pleased to submit the HHS 2016 Chief FOIA Officer Report to the Attorney General of the United States, which summarizes the Department’s initiatives to comply with the FOIA, enhance departmental FOIA operations, and facilitate information disclosure.
The past year was a productive one for DHHS. First and foremost, we reduced the Department’s FOIA request backlog by 20% and the average processing time for simple FOIA requests to fewer than 20 working days. In addition, we enhanced the HHS.gov FOIA webpage to simplify navigation, enhance search, highlight intra-departmental content, and enable requesters to submit and track requests electronically. We also began the process of updating the DHHS FOIA regulations; draft revisions to the current regulations are presently undergoing internal Department review.
Further, in 2015, formal strategic goals and objectives were established for the Department’s FOIA program. Support for these DHHS initiatives to enhance DHHS FOIA operations and responsiveness is reinforced through monthly briefings to the Office of the Secretary and, at least, quarterly reporting to the leadership of the DHHS operating divisions (OpDivs). One specific area of focus in 2016 will be reducing the pending backlog and turnaround time for responding to appeal determinations. We look forward to continuing to identify and implement additional best practices in our FOIA operations and, thereby, demonstrate the Department’s ongoing commitment to the spirit of FOIA and the President’s transparency and open government goals.
Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Agency Chief FOIA Officer
Office of the Secretary
Department of Health and Human Services
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 Operating Divisions (OpDivs) and the Office of the Secretary (OS), all of which receive and respond to FOIA requests. The OpDivs include 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, the Program Support Center (PSC), a Staff Division (StaffDiv) under the Office of the Secretary (OS), processes initial FOIA requests for records in the custody of the Program Support Center (PSC) and on behalf of OASH and AHRQ, PSC also reviews FOIA appeals on behalf of the PSC and the following Public Health Service (PHS) agencies: AHRQ, OASH, CDC, FDA, HRSA, IHS, NIH and SAMHSA. The Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA), also a OS StaffDiv, handles initial FOIA requests for records maintained by all OS StaffDivs, except PSC; ensures consultation with the DHHS Office of General Counsel (OGC) and provides review and concurrence on all departmental appeal decisions; establishes Departmental Freedom of Information Act policies; and monitors FOIA implementation throughout the Department, keeping the Secretary and the U. S. Attorney General appropriately informed of DHHS’ performance in implementing FOIA.
Several OpDivs and StaffDivs provided information in response to the FOIA compliance and transparency sections of this report. These 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 Inspector General (OIG)
- Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
DHHS received 43,085 FOIA requests during Fiscal Year (FY) 2015. This figure represents a slight decrease (less than 3%) from the 44,283 requests received during FY 2014. There is a wide variance in the number of FOIA requests submitted to the various DHHS OpDivs, ranging from a high of over 26,000 at CMS to 11 at ACL. The Department closed 45,186 FOIA requests during FY 2015, which was an increase of 2,893 from the total requests closed in FY 2014. Across the Department, the OS FOIA Office and ACF, CMS, FDA, HRSA, OIG, PSC and SAMHSA closed more requests than they received during FY 2015.
Currently, 178 DHHS employees work full-time on FOIA issues. The equivalent of 129 additional employees assist in the FOIA process part time. This is an increase of FOIA staff resources from FY 2014, as the Department OpDivs have actively sought to replace employees who retired or transferred to other positions. As the average age of federal workers rises and increasingly larger numbers of federal employees are eligible for retirement, the Department recognizes the likely impact of this demographic trend on the DHHS FOIA community – as is the case with other federal communities - and the importance of continuing our efforts to recruit qualified and talented individuals into our FOIA teams in the future.
- 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