Looking for ways to bolster the use of technology within the FOIA process? Check out a report from the Technology Committee (Committee) of the Chief FOIA Officers Council (Council) to the Council Co-Chairs that discusses FOIA Information Technology (IT) best practices and recommendations.
In response to a recommendation by the 2016-2018 term of the FOIA Advisory Committee, the Archivist of the United States directed that the cross-agency Council establish a technology subcommittee in partnership with the Chief Information Officer (CIO) Council, to study the use and deployment of technology in agency FOIA programs and identify best practices and recommendations that can be implemented across agencies. In September 2018, the Council established the Technology Subcommittee (later renamed the Technology Committee). Members hail from five Cabinet-level agencies and six independent agencies and met throughout Fiscal Year 2019.
In its report, the Committee identified the following as FOIA IT Best Practices:
- Senior-level agency support of records management and FOIA programs make a difference.
- Understand your agency’s records management policies and engage with records management staff.
- Identify records and FOIA IT requirements (i.e., needs for a technical IT solution) by engaging stakeholders in program and FOIA offices. Write down the requirements and use them to determine what technical tools are needed for success.
- To the extent feasible, ensure IT solutions and FOIA case management tools are interoperable.
- Consider cost savings through shared services.
- Posting released records online may assist FOIA programs and can provide public access to previously released information and records. Many FOIA professionals report concern over their inability to post information due to Section 508 remediation requirements.
- Build public release of records and disposition of records into new agency recordkeeping systems.
- Have an IT component in FOIA programs and/or a close, formally established relationship with the IT component of an agency.
- Leverage the budget cycle to request resources needed for FOIA programs.
- Network with fellow FOIA professionals to candidly share challenges and methods to overcome those challenges.
In its report, the Committee made the following recommendations to the Council:
- Either maintain the Technology Committee, or establish a standing body to advise and assist those Federal agencies interested in leveraging the experience of Federal agencies in creating or further developing the technical abilities for their FOIA programs.
- Consider partnering with the General Services Administration (GSA) to develop contract schedules for agencies to leverage the acquisition of frequently purchased FOIA management and processing tools at a government-wide rate instead of at individual contract rates per agency, which is likely more expensive.
- Consider having a similar GSA schedule for Federal records management solutions, and the IT support to implement such records management solutions.
- Consider the possibility of establishing an annual venue or opportunity for agencies to see technological developments in both the private and public sector (i.e., an annual or semi-annual event where vendors and government organizations such as 18F can showcase new tools and abilities).
- Consult Federal agencies to seek specific FOIA tasks where technology may be able to assist with this work. Share the results of this review with Chief FOIA Officers and Federal FOIA offices to raise awareness of shared challenges and possible solutions. For example, provide a brief update at CFO Council meetings.