Section IV: Steps Taken to Greater Utilize Technology

A key component of FOIA administration is using technology to make information more accessible. 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.

1. Is your agency leveraging technology to facilitate efficiency in conducting searches, including searches for emails? If so, please describe the type of technology used. If not, please explain why and please describe the typical search process used instead.

HHS FOIA Offices continue their efforts to acquire and implement technological improvements that will enable their staffs to process FOIA requests more efficiently. Some examples of best practices are listed below.

  • CDC uses ShareFile to transmit records that are too large to be sent via email to requesters electronically. This allows them to access a link created by the CDC FOIA Office to download records released through the FOIA rather than wait for the records to arrive in the mail. Additionally, the CDC FOIA Office acquired NUIX to conduct Enterprise-wide Searches. This tool allows the FOIA staff to search emails as well as files stored on SharePoint, shared drives, etc.
  • CMS is utilizing the Capstone approach to records management to ensure leadership emails are stored in a database for ease of searching custodians and specific subject matters.
  • At FDA, most records are stored electronically, so searches are conducted electronically where possible. FDA routinely releases records, where appropriate, by email or other electronic means. FDA uses Adobe to redact records electronically. FDA uses Sharepoint and shared drives to allow collaborative internal FOIA review. FDA has sampled software to de-duplicate and sort records FDA uses Adobe portfolio to assist in the review of email records. FDA is currently investigating and testing software for enhanced electronic searches of emails and other records.
  • At HRSA, requests for FQHC grant applications, financial reports, and similar grantee-related information are collected from the "Electronic Handbook" (EHB) database and provided to the FOIA Office by the agency's grant management team. Searches for other types of agency records are generally done by the relevant bureau and office program staff and provided to the FOIA Office through the FOIA liaisons. For emails, individuals are asked to search their own email files, including archives. Occasionally, the agency's information technology staff may be asked to conduct the search instead. The same applies to the electronic files of an individual staff member. Generally, they are asked to do their own searches (including searches of their "hard copy" files.) There have only been a few instances when IT staff was asked to conduct this type of search.
  • IHS has developed an Access Database to create greater efficiency in processing and tracking FOIA requests.
  • NIH components use de-duplicating software when appropriate to remove duplicate documents produced in response to FOIA requests. NIH FOIA professionals also use centralized email searches when it is deemed more efficient than relying on time-consuming account-holder searches.

2. OIP issued guidance in 2017 encouraging agencies to regularly review their FOIA websites to ensure that they contain essential resources and are informative and user-friendly. Has your agency reviewed its FOIA website(s) during the reporting period to ensure it addresses the elements noted in the guidance?


3. Did your agency successfully post all four quarterly reports for Fiscal Year 2018?

Not applicable; please see our response to Question 2 above.

4. If your agency did not successfully post all quarterly reports, with information appearing on, please explain why and provide your agency's plan for ensuring that such reporting is successful in Fiscal Year 2019.

Not applicable; please see our response to Question 2 above.

5. The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 requires all agencies to post the raw statistical data used to compile their Annual FOIA Reports. Please provide the link to this posting for your agency's Fiscal Year 2017 Annual FOIA Report and, if available, for your agency's Fiscal Year 2018 Annual FOIA Report.

6. Please describe the best practices used in greater utilizing technology and any challenges your agency faces in this area.

Throughout HHS, FOIA offices are using de-duplication software capable of accurately eliminating duplicate records, particularly duplicate email records, as well as electronic discovery software products to increase the efficiency of searching and processing large volumes of FOIA-requested records. Additionally, FOIA offices are reviewing conversion software products that can automatically convert email data into PDF format.

Budget limitations are the primary factor which limits the ability of HHS FOIA offices to obtain these tools. Additionally, the fragmentation in technologies across the Department proves a challenge, causing the need for duplicative work. However, Department, through its Reimagine initiative is working to bridge these technological gaps by exploring possible enterprise-wide solutions.

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