Technology Committee Publishes Paper on FOIA Searches

Photograph of a man with binoculars sitting in an airplan conducting an aerial search for icebergs.
Aerial Search for Icebergs (National Archives ID: 205581609)

There is a wide gap in public understanding of agencies’ abilities to search their electronic archives and databases for records responsive to FOIA requests and the reality of agencies’ capabilities, according to a new paper, “FOIA Searches: Key Challenges and Findings,” published by a working group of the Chief FOIA Officers Council’s Technology Committee. 

Other key findings of the FOIA Searches working group are that the strategies and tools federal agencies use to conduct searches vary greatly, and email searches remain a challenge for agencies. 

The paper also provides tips for requesters including searching FOIA Libraries and the web before submitting a FOIA request which could either negate the need for a request or help develop and scope a new one. 

The FOIA Searches working group, one of seven working groups established by the Technology Committee, reviewed publicly available Chief FOIA Officer reports, surveyed approximately 30 federal agencies, and met with representatives of the FOIA Advisory Committee (including members of the requester community) to discuss questions and concerns about FOIA search capabilities at federal agencies. The working group also reviewed agency search practices at over 10 federal agencies based on survey responses and the experiences of the working group’s members from five different federal agencies.

The Technology Committee began its work in  September 2018 to study the use and deployment of technology in FOIA programs, and to identify best practices and recommendations that can be implemented across agencies. In 2020, the Technology Committee established seven working groups. In addition to FOIA Searches, the working groups are: 508 Compliance and Collaborative Tools, Artificial Intelligence, FOIA and Classified Information, FOIAonline, FOIAXpress, and Video Review and Redactions. 

Earlier this year, the Video Review and Redactions working group published “Best Practices for Video Redaction.”