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AINS Blog - FOIA and Case Management

Wednesday
Oct182017

Are You Ready for FOInado? Take these 4 Steps to Manage a Whirlwind of FOIA Requests.

Crises are defining moments for public agencies. How officials respond, react or retreat
leaves a trail of paper.
Every crisis, investigation or presumed activity–real or imagined–is subject to request
through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). We call the increase of FOIA requests after a crisis or major event a “FOInado.”
When disaster strikes or a UFO is spotted, is your organization ready for the FOInado
that follows?

Here are 4 steps your organization can take now to manage the whirlwind. 
  1. Automated case tracking can keep you out of court

What if it takes an agency a year or more to respond to the request? Don’t expect sympathy, expect a lawsuit.

During a FOInado it is easy to get overwhelmed. Want to stay out of court over your backlog? A clear, documented and automated process for case tracking is your best defense. eFOIA software, like FOIAXpress®, automates the full lifecycle of FOIA from inquiry to archive. It speeds up the process and requires less resources—freeing up your staff and budget.

Automated case tracking creates an electronic trail and follows cases digitally from review to correspondence to submission, archiving and appeals. With allinformation in one place, there is no more confusion over who has the manila file folder or where responsive records are located.

Need to get ready for court? Avoid the probe by quickly generating litigation ready reports such as a Vaughn Index for Federal Agencies

  1. eDiscovery pays for itself

So, what happens when a FOInado results in combing through an entire inbox? Technology provides a simple, cost effective solution to solving this challenge.

eDiscovery apps that integrate with eFOIA software can drive the cost down to pennies and reduce processing time by up to 80%.

Apps, like FOIAXpress® ADR, identify duplicate documents and emails to create a manageable, clean report to review. The software enables users to quickly find responsive content and apply consistent redactions with the click of a button.

The app automatically creates audit logs for accountability as well as reports and graphic models. eDiscovery tools produce faster, more accurate reviews and takes the burden off of your team.

  1. eFOIA must include document management

The worst thing that can happen during a FOInado is not being able to find the document you need. Having a centralized electronic repository for current and past artifacts is critical to managing response loads.

FOIAXpress® goes beyond tracking to include workflows, digital tools and a complete system for creating, delivering and archiving responses. This means never opening another program or shuffling papers from person to person. 

Document Management sets the bar higher. It enables users to store, search, redact and create correspondence within the system. By digitizing all documents, the software makes it easier for staff to respond now and save for later. Automated redaction ensuresconsistency throughout all documents and removes content pixel by pixel.

Moving work to the web enables teams in different locations to collaborate instantly instead of waiting for FedEx® or faxes to deliver critical information.

  1. Every organization needs a one-stop portal

As shoppers, we expect retailers to be available 24/7. Fast, digital responses are the norm. This expectation continues into our public lives as we hold agencies to the same level of service. And when they don’t…expect a FOInado.

Adding a web portal connected to your eFOIA software can decrease strain. FOIAXpress® has a customized web portal called Public Access Link (PAL). It provides both requesters

and responders a centralized space to submit/receive requests, communicate and track. Automated responses indicate requests received and provides status updates. With an

electronic reading room component, PAL gives requesters 24/7 access to information.

PAL can improve customer service. The technology makes the process easier for all parties and enables greater transparency. 

Use technology to ease the FOInado

You never know when a crisis will occur. Prepare in advance by assembling your digital toolkit. Choosing the right eFOIA solution can help your organization quickly recover from a FOInado.

FOIAXpress® –The #1 eFOIA Solution

FOIAXpress® transforms the way organizations manage Freedom of Information Act(FOIA), Privacy Act and Open Records requests. FOIAXpress® digitizes and automates the full lifecycle of FOIA from inquiry to delivery and archiving. That’s why it’s the leading eFOIA solution in North America.

Save time, lower cost and improve transparency with one easy to use web-based app. 

Download Full PDF here.

Wednesday
Oct112017

Q&A Series with Fred Sadler



Frederick Sadler retired after serving 40 years with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As the Director of its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office, he was responsible for administration and implementation of FOIA and Privacy Act (PA) programs.

 

Question #5: How do today’s non-technical FOI Program Officers fulfill growing technology-specific demands such as e-searching, e-redaction, e-posting and 508 remediation? 

Answer: For any FOI program to be successful and meet today’s demands from a tech standpoint, there’s no question that officers need to seek and obtain management support.

A year ago, I had the pleasure of speaking at the AINS FOIAXpress Annual User Conference. In one of my presentations, I raised some concepts which I felt had the potential to become “challenges” and potential issues within an agency's FOIA program implementation, in the near future.  One point that I raised was that for a FOIA program to be successful, i.e. manage its workloads, decrease backlogs, and avoid litigation, there needs to be management support and commitment to provide the necessary human and IT resources.  

The challenge is that in most FOI offices, agency IT components aren't part of the FOIA process. FOIA offices, in many instances, function with only minimal IT support for areas such as Capstone, 508 remediation, internet posting, or just scanning for e-redaction. I think there's a tendency to provide basic level services, after which the IT or CIO component diverts resources to address other program areas, for example cyber-security, which is outside FOIA.  

How does a program obtain that support, especially with scarce resources? 
You’ve heard it before – numbers don’t lie. So, make your case with them! The FOIA offices need to present workload statistics, and not just the type of numbers that are collected for the Annual Report. Some ways to get your case going are to start counting:

 

  1. The volume of responsive records, and numbers of redactions needed
  2. The time for consultation with subject matter experts to document what needs to be redacted (which you may need later, to support an Exemption 5 claim)
  3. The average number of requests that an experienced FOI officer can fulfill over time (short term counts aren’t of much help, because the volume and complexity of requests varies so much)
Once you’ve done this, compare your findings to your staff size, taking into account both attrition and any increase in your FOIA workloads. The data should illustrate an accurate picture and validate your request for additional IT support, because without it the agency will not be able to maintain sufficient output, therefore fewer responses to issues and growing backlogs. 

 

The same situation occurs as you act to pro-actively post records; remediate records to meet the requirements of Section 508; post records that were requested 3 or more times; and for ensuring that FOI officers have full access to any and all records retained under Capstone.

E-searching the new Capstone databases alone has already begun to change the way that FOIA officers conduct reasonable, comprehensive searches.  And, since most of the responsibility for Capstone data storage falls within the CIO’s office, it is incumbent on the FOI officer to establish and maintain close working relationships with that office.

TIP: If an initial attempt to connect the IT/CIO staff aren’t immediately successful, talk with your Privacy Act (PA) office. 

After all, FOIA and PA occasionally intersect, and in my experience, responses can issue under either/both programs in response to a single request, so connecting isn’t outside the bounds of normal program management. Notice that the PA requires that databases have a privacy impact assessment (PIA) completed, and that always requires IT input, for data security, access, life-cycle management, etc. You should expect that the PA offices already have an established line of contact with IT, so it makes sense to tap into their suggestions on compliance, facilitate a meeting with IT regarding your specific program needs, or just to share their knowledge.

Meet those FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 Requirements
By now, agencies should also have made significant strides to meet the requirements of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. Those statutory changes require every agency to:
  • Review and update its FOI regulations
  • Enhance your pro-active posting program
  • Make frequently requested records available in an e-format (i.e., on line)
  • Update form letters to include optional mediation services through OGIS
  • Expand your Annual Report
  • Implement the "foreseeable harm" test, when an agency applies Exemption 5.  

A significant part of this data gathering and documentation clearly requires IT support. To accomplish this:

  1. Prioritize your specific needs.
  2. Talk with your IT contacts and get their input on what can be done quickly and easily.
  3. Ask what authorization or funding would be needed, in order to meet the 2016 FOIA program requirements, or to support any additional documentation you need to justify a request for additional resources.  

The key is to ask for more than you expect to get - even if you just obtain assistance in document scanning and conversion. It can save a FOI officer a significant amount of time, and that time can be spent responding to FOIA requests. You’ll still have to review every record line-by-line before it’s released, but at least the document preparation will have been done for you, and that will also simplify compliance with the posting requirements.

Are you being asked to do more with the FOI program, but don’t know enough about technology to know what needs to be done, or how to do it? 

Share your experience here and Fred will address your challenge with a possible solution.

Thursday
Oct052017

Federal Workforce by the Numbers

How do you manage 4,185,000 workers?

With 4 million workers and uniformed military, all Federal Human Capital Officers know that strategic workforce planning starts with numbers. Critical data, tools and reports to see the big picture and support decision making.

The face of the Federal employee is changing. Being in the know when it comes to measuring these changes is critical to running your HR department effectively.

How many workers are eligible for retirement? How long does it take to onbaord an employee? What demographics make up the largest percentage of the workforce? 

Do you know your HR numbers?  Download the infographic to see the statistical trends at the heart of today’s federal workforce. 

 

Wednesday
Oct042017

The Role of Automation in FOIA Compliance

AINS is proud to announce the publication of the article "The Role of Automation in FOIA Compliance" by employee and FOIA software expert Cindy Dillow in Information Management Magazine.

In the article, Dillow explains how automation technology can improve transparency, efficiency, and record-keeping in FOIA processing.

Monday
Oct022017

PPC Joins AINS Partner Network Program

Industry Leading Information Technology & Management Consulting firm Looks to Grow with AINS’ eCase as a New Service to Federal Agencies

McLean, Virginia — October 2, 2017 — Project Performance Company, LLC, a leading Information Technology & Management Consulting firm announced that in April 2017 it joined the AINS Partner Network (APN) as part of a new partnership with AINS, Inc., a global provider of cloud-based, adaptive case management solutions located in Gaithersburg, MD.  

By joining the APN Program, PPC can offer AINS software expertise and implementation services to clients seeking a low code, adaptive case management platform to support a wide range of mission-critical business practices.  With the addition of eCase® and its suite of Apps to our solutions portfolio, PPC will be able to deliver new and innovative case management solutions to our clients in the Departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and other federal agencies.

“By partnering with AINS, PPC has added a proven Case Management engine to complement our service offerings in systems integration and development, cloud realization, and knowledge and data management.  The eCase Platform provides PPC with a proven solution that can easily integrate into our client architectures and deliver immediate benefits.  Working closely with our team of trained AINS eCase integrators and consultants, we’ve already begun demonstrating its capabilities to our clients and receiving positive feedback,” said Paul Strasser, President and CEO of PPC. 

About Project Performance Company

PPC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Data Systems Analysts, Inc. (DSA) of Trevose, Pennsylvania is a leading Information Technology and Management Consulting firm, delivering mission critical solutions to Federal, State, and Local governments and commercial industry. We are best known for Energy Management & Environmental Sustainability Consulting, Records and Knowledge Management solutions, Information Systems Development & Integration, and Cyber Security and Information Assurance services. With offices in the DC Metropolitan Area and across the nation, we serve Fortune 500 decision makers and Federal, State, and local government agencies to meet mission-critical challenges. Please visit www.ppc.com for more information.

About AINS, Inc.

AINS® is a leading global provider of cloud-based, adaptive case management solutions. Since 1988, AINS has empowered organizations around the world to rethink how they work, and how they develop and deploy new technology, by providing innovative, agile software solutions and services to government and commercial markets. Designed since inception for case management, the eCase® Platform enables our customers to bring new products to market quickly, digitize customer engagement, and automate unique business processes across diverse lines of business without the constraints of custom coding.  Ready-built Strategic Apps for Human Resources, Investigations, Audit, Correspondence and Open Government, via FOIAXpress®—further accelerate time to value, while providing organizations greater flexibility to adapt as their processes change. Together, these powerful solutions help our customers enhance productivity, reduce costs and achieve better outcomes. For more information, visit www.ains.com.

 

Contact

 Matt McDonald, Vice President

 703-748-7040

Matt.McDonald@PPC.com