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Section III: Steps Taken to Increase Proactive Disclosures

Both the President’s and Attorney General’s FOIA memoranda focused on the need for agencies to work proactively to post information online without waiting for individual requests to be received.

Please answer the following questions to describe the steps your agency has taken to increase the amount of material that is available on your agency websites. In addition to the questions below, you should also describe any additional steps taken by your agency to make and improve proactive disclosures of information.

Posting Material:

  1. Describe your agency's process or system for identifying "frequently requested" records required to be posted online under Subsection (a)(2) of the FOIA. For example, does your agency monitor its FOIA logs or is there some other system in place to identify these records for posting.

Yes. The Department employs a number of ways to identify records for proactive disclosure. OpDivs frequently use the established threshold of three requests for the same information to identify records of substantial public interest, either through manually tracking FOIA requests or from identifying requests for the same records from an electronic tracking system. Additionally, information is gathered from program areas and offices about significant policy documents that may be candidates for proactive disclosure. Public affairs and communications staff also provide input and suggestions for department records that may be proactively disclosed.

  1. Does your agency have a distinct process or system in place to identify other records for proactive disclosure? If so, please describe your agency’s process or system.
  • Please note that this question is directed towards proactive disclosure of records that go beyond frequently requested records required to be posted under Subsection (a)(2) of the FOIA.

As communicated in the DHHS Open Government Plan, the department is committed to making health and human service data open and easily accessible, as evidenced by DHHS websites such as www.healthdata.gov and the OpDiv research resources at http://www.hhs.gov/programs/research/research-hhs-operating-divisions.html.  In addition, department program areas or components may have records or data that they are considering making publicly available, and may contact their FOIA Office if they have concerns or questions regarding disclosure. The FOIA Offices within the Department encourage proactive posting of information.

  1. When making proactive disclosures of records, are your agency's FOIA professionals involved in coding the records for Section 508 compliance or otherwise preparing them for posting? If so, provide an estimate of how much time is involved for each of your FOIA professionals and your agency overall.
  • Please note that this question is directed at the efforts of actually posting the records online once all disclosure determinations have been made. For example, efforts to load the records in your web content platform or making the releasable documents accessible in compliance with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act.

The Department’s professional FOIA staff are not routinely involved in the mechanics of coding or converting records into a format that is 508 compliant. CMS indicated that some of their FOIA staff have conducted 508 compliance checks. As indicated by our response to Question 5 below, making certain types of department records 508 compliant presents challenges.

  1. Has your agency encountered challenges that make it difficult to post records you otherwise would like to post?

Yes; please see the Department’s response to Question 5 below.

  1. If so, please briefly explain those challenges.

The Department has found that making documents and records compliant with Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act continues to be a challenge for many OpDivs, as remediation can be both technically challenging, expensive, and lengthy. For example, charts, graphs, handwritten notes, illustrations, tables, scientific formulae, and photographic and scientific images all present significant challenges and, in some cases are virtually impossible, to make Section 508 accessible.

  1. Provide examples of material that your agency has proactively disclosed during the past reporting year, including links to the posted material.

CDC proactively posted the information about the following subjects on the CDC web site at http://www.cdc.gov/od/foia/signfoi.htm :  3M respirators; credit card holders of the CDC; FOIA request logs; 2014 West Virginia Chemical Release; Chinese drywall, and; FOIA Response Performance.

CMS proactive disclosures included the following:

FDA proactively disclosed a number of data sets, such as http://govdashboard.fda.gov/, which relate to inspections, compliance and recalls. This dynamic online tool presents information in an easy-to-read graphical format and provides access to the underlying data, enabling the public to see related data and trends. Users can also view, download and manipulate the data. In addition, FDA components continue to create web pages for specific issues of heightened consumer or media interest, to better inform the Agency’s constituency without requiring the submission of a FOIA request. For example, FDA has posted extensive information in the reporting period on such subjects as:

FDA also posts a number of records on a regular basis, including the following:

Weekly Enforcement reports

Recall information

Advisory Committee packages and transcripts

Budget records

Import Refusals

International Arrangements

Product Approvals

Press Releases

Tobacco Retailer Letters

Clinical Investigator Correspondence

Warning Letters

Agendas, rosters, background packages, and minutes of Advisory Committee Meetings

Inspection records and firm responses

Inspection databases

Field Work Plans

Sample results

FDA Track Updates (which includes tracking of FOIA metrics)

Post-Approval studies

Consumer Advisories and Alerts for blood products and vaccines

HRSA proactive disclosures included the HRSA Data Warehouse, which contains data from multiple source systems within HRSA and from external sources:  http://datawarehouse.hrsa.gov/data/data.aspx

NIH proactively disclosed a wide range of information and data, as illustrated by the following:

OIG proactively posts OIG reports and publications (http://www.oig.hhs.gov/reports-and-publications/index.asp).  In addition, OIG uses a subscriber service to announce updates to its website; by simply providing an email address, a subscriber will be notified whenever the OIG website is updated.

  1. Did your agency use any means to publicize or highlight important proactive disclosures for public awareness? If yes, please describe those efforts.
  • For example, this can be done through social media or with the offering of e-mail subscription services.

The Department uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Pinterest and GooglePlus to communicate and disseminate information to the public.

Other Initiatives:

  1. If there are any other steps your agency has taken to increase proactive disclosures, please describe them here.

CMS posts its FOIA logs on a recurring basis and continues to work with the agency’s contracting office to post frequently requested contracts.

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Content created by Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Division
Content last reviewed on February 5, 2016