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 or exploring any new technology to facilitate efficiency in its FOIA administration that you have not previously reported? If so, please describe the type of technology.
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.
- Over the past two years, ACL has experienced an exponential increase in FOIA requests, 317 percent in FY 2018 and 66 percent in FY 2019. In response to this ACL assessed and reviewed technological options to facilitate intake, tracking, and closing of requests. As a result, ACL has acquired FOIAXpress through a Departmental contract for the software.
- CDC has begun using the Secure Access Management System in order to more efficiently and securely share information with other agencies. This should increase the speed and efficiency of conducting FOIA referrals and consultations.
- CMS is exploring the purchase of software to organize e-mail and the attachments which will include a function for de-duplication of e-mails and attachments.
- 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. FDA rolled out an extensive update to its internal FOIA tracking system in November 2019,
- HRSA is working with our contractor to develop additional reports to assist in the management of FOIAs and providing useful information to our coordinators for internal tracking of requests.
- NIH acquired and rolled out a cross-agency workflow management and document review platform to streamline FOIA request processing by: facilitating internal consultations, providing a means of deduplication of records, enabling requesters to enter their requests directly through the platforms public-facing portal. NIH FOIA professionals also use centralized email searches when it is deemed more efficient than relying on time-consuming custodian 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 2019?
4. If your agency did not successfully post all quarterly reports, with information appearing on FOIA.gov, please explain why and provide your agency's plan for ensuring that such reporting is successful in Fiscal Year 2020.
Answer: Agency resources and personnel turnover. Due to a loss in staff, FY 2019 saw an increase in the complex requests received, a significant surge in litigations, and a loss of staff. At this time, staffing levels have increased. Therefore, HHS anticipates posting the quarterly reports by June 2020.
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 2018 Annual FOIA Report and, if available, for your agency's Fiscal Year 2019 Annual FOIA Report.
6. Optional -- Please describe:
- Best practices used in greater utilizing technology
- Any challenges your agency faces in this area
Answer: 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.
Example: NIH acquired and rolled out a cross-agency workflow management and document review platform to streamline FOIA request processing by: facilitating internal consultations, providing a means of deduplication of records, enabling requesters to enter their requests directly through the platforms public-facing portal. In addition, the NIH FOIA program continues to develop standard operating procedures on how to leverage the cross-agency platform, setting out clear guidelines for complex processing steps to ensure consistent, efficient and correct processing across the agency. NIH FOIA professionals also use centralized email searches when it is deemed more efficient than relying on time-consuming custodian searches.
- Introduction: Agency Chief Freedom of Information Act Officer
- 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 Reducing Backlogs
- Success Stories