2018 Chief FOIA Officer Report U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
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 Department fulfills that mission and serves the public by providing for effective health and human services and fostering advances in medicine, public health, and social services, through programs and initiatives that cover a wide spectrum of activities, serving Americans at every stage of life. Eleven operating divisions, including eight agencies in the U.S. Public Health Service and three human services agencies, administer HHS programs.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) programs within HHS 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 2018 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.
HHS is proud of our continued FOIA accomplishments during 2017. We continued to maintain a historically low Department FOIA request backlog, and reinforced the Department’s commitment to the fair and responsible implementation of the Act.
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 government’s transparency and open government goals.
Agency Chief FOIA Officer
Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
Department of Health and Human Services
FOIA at the Department of Health and Human Services
HHS FOIA administration is decentralized and 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), an OS Staff Division (StaffDiv), supported a FOIA office that processed initial FOIA requests for records in the custody of the PSC, OASH, and AHRQ and reviewed FOIA appeals on behalf of the PSC and the following Public Health agencies: AHRQ, OASH, CDC, FDA, HRSA, IHS, NIH and SAMHSA. Effective October 1, 2016, the Department transitioned the PSC’s FOIA duties, workforce, resources, and functionality into the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (ASPA) FOIA Division. During FY 2017, the Department successfully implemented an integrated and streamlined service model by combining the two existing FOIA offices and aligning all OS FOIA resources within ASPA, where FOIA is part of ASPA’s core mission.
ASPA, also an OS StaffDiv, responds to initial FOIA requests for records maintained by all OS StaffDivs; ensures consultation with the HHS Office of General Counsel (OGC), and provides review and concurrence on all departmental appeal decisions; establishes Departmental FOIA policies; and monitors FOIA implementation throughout the Department, ensuring the HHS Secretary and the U. S. Attorney General are appropriately informed of the Department’s implementation of and compliance with FOIA.
The following HHS OpDivs and StaffDivs provided information in response to the FOIA compliance and transparency sections of this report:
- Administration for Children and Families (ACF)
- Administration for Community Living (ACL)
- 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
Among Federal agencies which receive and process the most FOIA requests annually, HHS has consistently been one of the top five. During Fiscal Year (FY) 2017, HHS received a total of 34,978 FOIA requests. The number of FOIA requests submitted to each of the HHS OpDivs varied widely; ranging from a low of 28 by ACL to a high of 18,016 by CMS. The Department closed 34,547 FOIA requests in FY 2017 while it maintained a backlog of initial requests consistent with the previous annual reporting period.
Currently, 218 HHS employees work full-time on FOIA issues and the equivalent of 101 additional employees provide part time assistance. This is a very modest increase of approximately 1.5% from the FY 2016 staffing levels. As the average age of federal workers rises and increasingly larger numbers of federal employees are eligible for retirement, the Department is preparing for the impact of this demographic trend on the HHS FOIA community by implementing succession planning to maintain the necessary alignment of critical skills in the agency workforce, so that we may continue to serve the requester community in the best manner possible.
 In this report, “HHS” or “Department” means the entire agency, including all operating divisions and offices.
 5 U.S.C. §552
- 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
- Spotlight on Success