Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology

A continuing goal for Federal agencies is the increased use of modern technology, to better inform the public about the actions of their Government and the information held 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.

Please answer the following questions to describe how your agency is utilizing technology to improve its FOIA administration and the public's access to information. You should also include any additional information that that describes your agency's efforts in this area.

Making Material Posted Online More Useful

  1. Beyond posting new material, is your agency taking steps to make the posted information more useful to the public, especially to the community of individuals who regularly access your agency’s website?

Yes.  HHS continues its efforts to make more information available through mobile applications and increase its presence in social media; thereby expanding access to more useful information and data. In addition, the Department’s FOIA Offices continue to make their online content and navigation tools more user-friendly.

  1. If yes, please provide examples of such improvements.

HHS maintains an online searchable database of all grants made by the agency since the 1990s, entitled the Tracking Accountability in Government Grants System (TAGGS), at  In FY 2016, ACF posted on its FOIA webpage a link to TAGGS at and a YouTube video with a step-by-step guide to getting the most information from TAGGS .

As noted above in Section III, Question 5, regarding proactive disclosures, CMS released several types of data sought by healthcare researchers and the media: Medicare provider enrollment data from the agency’s provider enrollment database; physician referral data; and issuer level enrollment data for the Federally-facilitated Marketplace (FFM). CMS employed considerable resources working directly with media and healthcare researchers to extract the specific data they requested and post the data in a user-friendly format; at the same time, protecting sensitive information such as personally identifiable information (PII).

The FDA has a mobile-friendly website, which facilitates access to agency information at  FDA also makes many of its web pages available through subscriptions, and has a significant presence on social media – all of which enhance public access. 

NIH components are implementing strategies outlined in the newly established Language Access Plan, part of a HHS-wide effort to ensure meaningful access by individuals with limited English proficiency.  Specific examples include the following:

  • The NIH Office of the Director launched a Spanish-language health information website, that offers curated health information from across NIH on topics ranging from child health to aging. This site is also mobile-friendly and includes a monthly column called Ask Carla (Pregunta a Carla) ; a unique feature designed as an opportunity for readers to learn from an “information navigator” about Spanish-language resources available from NIH.
  • The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke continued to update and offer information in Spanish and has begun the process to identify other languages which may be appropriate to reach additional audiences who may have limited English proficiency and be at particular risk for various neurological disorders. Examples of this additional outreach include publishing a stroke fact sheet in Russian ( and the development of materials in French and Tagalog.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) also updated its web section on drug use among military personnel, veterans and families ( The section lists all currently funded studies in this area and links users directly to PubMed where they can easily search for publications of NIDA-funded research.

The National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering added additional search engine optimization features to its news releases and science highlights to make the content more accessible to the public.

  1. Have your agency’s FOIA professionals interacted with other agency staff (such as technology specialists or public affairs or communications professionals) in order to identify if there are any new ways to post agency information online?

Yes.  The HHS FOIA Offices continue to work with other agency staff to explore new and improved ways to post online information. Some examples of these OpDiv actions are described below:

  • The OS FOIA Office, which is a division within the HHS Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA), met several times during the year with ASPA’s Digital Services Division (DCD) to redesign the HHS main FOIA website to improve and simplify navigation and organization (e.g., the use of tiles and a mobile first design) and, generally, make it more user-friendly. In addition, the OS FOIA Officer and Public Liaison met with DCD during December 2016 to discuss ways to post transition materials, always a subject of significant interest during a change in administrations, to the main HHS website,
  • The ACF FOIA Office maintains an ongoing collaboration with the ACF web staff and plans to revise and improve the ACF FOIA web page during FY 2017.
  • CMS FOIA staff members have developed strong working relationships with the CMS Office of Communications and Office of Technology Solutions, in addition to other program offices, and collaborate with them on a proactive approach to posting information. As one recent example, CMS FOIA staff worked with the CMS Office of Communications and the Center for Consumer Information and Insurance Oversight (which oversees the Marketplace) to post highly requested data on Marketplace enrollment by specific health plan.
  • The NIH FOIA Office routinely works with the NIH web team to identify new ways to post NIH-related information online. This collaboration includes regular meetings with the web team to review both the FOIA website and other NIH websites that provide information to the public.

Use of Technology to Facilitate Processing of Requests

  1. Did your agency conduct training for FOIA staff on any new processing tools during the reporting period, such as for a new case management system, or for search, redaction, or other processing tools?

Yes.  FOIA processing at the Department is decentralized.  A number of OpDivs use FOIAXpress as their FOIA management and tracking system, which is a web-based commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) application for electronically processing and managing FOIA and Privacy Act (PA) requests. Other OpDivs have developed or purchased other systems for FOIA processing and case management.

OS, ACF, CMS, HRSA, NIH and SAMHSA provided training during the year for their FOIA processing systems.  As one OpDiv-specific example, SAMHSA conducted training for the new SAMHSA shared drive where records and data are stored, and conducted training about SAMHSA’s tracking system. The NIH FOIA Office distributed a revised FOIA Tracking System Manual, and the NIH model letters and processing guides were updated to comply with new requirements that resulted from the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 and the revised HHS FOIA Regulations. Although FDA did not conduct OpDiv-wide training, FDA’s component FOIA offices provided such training for their staffs.

  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? If yes please describe:
  • The technological improvements being made.
  • The impact of using these technologies on your agency’s request processing.

Yes. The HHS FOIA Offices continue their efforts to acquire and implement technological improvements that will enable their staffs to process FOIA requests more efficiently.  Examples follow.

  • CDC, CMS, FDA and IHS are using the SharePoint document management platform to manage FOIA records.
  • ACF’s FOIA Office purchased document de-duplicating software, which ACF finds has enhanced efficiency by reducing the number of emails that must be produced for FOIA requests and for litigation. ACF also purchased a web portal, which the agency anticipates will facilitate proactive posting and make the transfer of large volumes of records for consultation and response much more efficient.
  • The CDC FOIA Office often receives requests for emails related to specific communications of interest to the public. CDC uses their Microsoft Enterprise Search mechanism to quickly retrieve appropriate emails from the CDC email servers and archives for a given request. This search mechanism also provides the capability to remove duplicate emails which helps reduce the number of redundant copies of electronic communications that must be reviewed. In addition, CDC FOIA staff can process emails and other electronic documents using the Advanced Document Review (ADR) process in FOIA Xpress, which enables CDC to ingest files and further de-duplicate datasets; thereby helping to reduce the analysts’ workload.
  • To further facilitate the movement of responsive documents between program offices and the FOIA Office, CDC created shared network drives that are restricted to each CDC program and the FOIA office and recently leveraged the CDC Enterprise SharePoint system to provide a repository where responsive records are deposited by the program areas and from which CDC FOIA analysts can retrieve the responsive records for review and processing.
  • The CDC FOIA Office also uses a variety of desktop tools to assist the processing of PDF files, including Adobe Acrobat Pro, WonderShare PDFelement, and TIFFteller software. These tools enable CDC FOIA staff to consolidate PDF files into manageable large documents for review and provide the ability to forecast page counts, which helps FOIA requesters to understand the level of effort and cost of their FOIA requests.
  • CMS developed a SharePoint document collaboration site and implemented FOIA-specific shared drives which can be accessed by both the FOIA Office and CMS components to share responsive records; particularly voluminous files. In addition, CMS is using Relativity software to greatly improve the speed and efficiency of sorting and de-duplicating documents on large, complex cases. The SharePoint site and designated FOIA shared drives allow for faster records delivery and enhanced collaboration on records review for larger complex cases, which cuts down on the total processing time.  The Relativity software significantly reduces the time needed to review and analyze complex and voluminous records.
  • FDA also uses SharePoint to assist with the internal sharing of records and Adobe to assist in reviewing email records. FDA FOIA staff also are collaborating with records management staff to explore more efficient ways to search for records, particularly email. 
  • IHS has begun to use SharePoint, which allows real time document retrieval from the providing offices or program areas.
  • Several NIH components are using technology to de-duplicate documents, particularly emails. However, as of the time of this report, success with the technology has been mixed and has not resulted in a significant reduction in processing times.
  • SAMHSA is implementing a new FOIA tracking system that is expected to significantly improve efficiency and centralize FOIA data; as previously referenced in the response to Question 4 of this Section, SAMHSA also has a new shared drive to store records and data
  1. Are there additional tools that could be utilized by your agency to create further efficiencies?

Yes.  De-duplication software capable of accurately eliminating duplicate records, particularly duplicate email records, would be valuable, as would electronic discovery software products which could potentially increase the efficiency of processing large volumes of FOIA records, and conversion software that would automatically convert email data into a PDF format.  Budget limitations are the primary factor which limits the ability of HHS FOIA offices to obtain these tools.

However, the CDC FOIA Office currently is working with major software vendors in an effort to assess tools and techniques to help CDC pre-filter documents that are responsive to FOIA requests.  The goal of this effort is to identify software tools that use natural language processing (based on a set of user defined rules) to exclude documents that do not fall within the specific scope of the FOIA request.  CDC also is working on a web-based platform to help automate the dissemination of releasable information to the requester.  If both of these processing improvements can achieved, they will substantially improve CDC FOIA’s operational efficiency.

Other Initiatives

  1. Did your agency successfully post all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2016?

Yes.  HHS posted all four quarterly reports for FY 2016; those reports may be accessed at

  1. If your agency did not successfully post all quarterly reports, with information appearing on, please explain why.

            Not applicable; please see our response to Question 7 above.

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