Building at the Speed of Thought.

AINS specializes in innovative solutions for Enterprise Information Management (EIM) » More
Need help? » Contact Us

AINS Blog - FOIA and Case Management

Thursday
Aug312017

What Keeps HR Directors Up at Night

Tracking, Accountability, and Reporting in HR

What keeps HR Directors up at night?
 
Numbers. Getting data on who, what, where, when and why things are happening. Building compliant reports that track trends, metrics and productivity across the agency.

The Data Behind Workforce Planning

UPDATE: Since the Government Accountability Office's last report in 2015, the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), the Chief Human Capital Officers (CHCO) Council, and individual agencies have strengthened their leadership over Strategic Human Capital Management; however, OPM and agencies have only partially met the criteria. The 2017 High Risk Report  still includes this on its list and notes that "OPM and agencies have not yet demonstrated sustainable progress in closing skills gaps."
Smart managers know what it takes to hire, retain and engage workers. They need help gathering the necessary data to back up their plan. To capture metrics that inform workforce analytics.
 
To get to the heart of the matter, agencies need to be able to account for every employee – to track their lifecycle, measure performance and identify risk factors. The data needs to aggregate to show patterns over departments and agencies. Managing HR functions in silos makes it difficult to get a clear picture. Manual processes don’t connect Employee Relations with a poor performance. Siloed systems won’t show the relationship between a slow onboarding process and critical skill gaps in high demand areas. 
 

An Inside View

How do you capture this data throughout the enterprise? By using smart technology that goes beyond talent management. Software that examines processes and connects activities across an organization to give both the detailed view of a talent management suite and the broad scope of Business Process Management (BPM).

Adaptive Case Management focuses on achieving better outcomes. The software manages people as cases – grouping related information together. It brings transparency and efficiency to processes by centralizing key information in one system. Once a digital form is submitted, a case management system drives the request through an approval process through adaptive workflows. Workflows can be structured or change on the fly to meet the changing demands of HR. This nimble approach shows the details of a function while easily consolidating related information.

Why do these metrics matter? Adaptive Case Management Software allows leaders to get a complete view of their organization. From every keystroke on an Employee Grievance to running real-time insight on an entire class of workers, the technology enables leaders to obtain digestible information that can be used to inform intelligent decision making. Metrics that legacy systems or manual processes just can’t provide.

Using Data to Increase Accountability

Easily accessible metrics give more insight into both the employee experience as well as who is performing HR work. Dashboards and interactive visual interfaces show task lists for each case. It measures productivity of the HR worker – showing what, when, where and whom is processing a request. It allows HR Directors to identify gaps in their teams; to find efficiencies and strategize on better ways to serve their agency.

The technology encourages accountability by showing how each action effects the rest of the chain. It makes it easier to stay on task by visually showing where they are in the process. This data motivates employees to perform at their best and identifies top performers in each department.

At a higher level, smart technology provides the data needed to prove value. Numbers, metrics and detailed task lists show leadership the effectiveness of programs. Easy to run reports inform strategy. Solid, case by case and agency-wide analysis verify the resources needed for future endeavors.

The only way to look to the future is to study and change the present. A case-centric approach generates data on every employee, request and process in real time. Metrics that can be used immediately to improve processes today and banked to predict tomorrow’s needs.

eCase HR

eCase® HR is a workflow-driven, adaptive case management solution that unifies essential human resource functions and puts employees’ professional growth at the heart of the organization. Built for the public sector, eCase HR delivers a single, unified solution to improve the employee experience – from onboarding through retirement.

Learn more about eCase HR. 

>  Are you a Federal Government agency?
Get started with eCase HR quickly through our BPA with the Department of Agriculture’s National Finance Center (NFC).

 

 

 Download Article as a PDF

 

Tuesday
Aug292017

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 #2 : What are some of the major factors that will effect FOIA professionals in the next four years? 

Answer: Limiting bonuses, reforming pension plans, reduced hiring or not backfilling vacated positions, potential budget cuts, and other Civil Service reforms, will all take a toll on an already overworked federal workforce, and FOIA will be no exception.  

Reduced Hiring and its Negative Impact on Operations

As I mentioned in our first blog post August 16, decreasing staff will clearly result in an agency’s inability to maintain the status quo, unless there are creative and substantial changes in the day-to-day operations. Continued backlog reduction will be exceptionally difficult; such efforts have been on-going for years, and the “low hanging fruit” have been harvested.   


What’s usually under-estimated is the time that a FOI review requires – there must be a line-by-line, or even word-by-word, review of records before release (consider the requirement for “reasonable segregation”). And for records with a (b)(4) component, the initiation of EO 12,600 for Submitter Notice prior to release is required and can be time consuming. Redaction just can’t be rushed – it requires a level of education and understanding of the nature of the information contained in the records requested, if only because an error in release exposes an agency to potential litigation. Even the administrative requirements can be extremely time consuming, particularly for pro-active posting, or posting frequently requested records. After all, if a FOI officer had the IT skills needed to remediate and post records, s(he) would probably move to a better paying IT job.


One basic tenant, which is frequently overlooked by managers, is that even if a FOIA office can backfill a vacancy, output still slows in the short term. The experienced redactors must mentor, train, and review the work of newer staff prior to release of sensitive records to ensure compliance, thus reducing numbers of requests which they were previously able to complete.

 

Training for a Better FOIA

As experienced senior staff leave, there will be an increased need for training. At this time, only 2 sources of FOIA training are available – the Justice Dept., and the American Assoc. of Access Professionals (ASAP). Justice has limited resources to provide training (especially for programs outside the Washington, DC area) and may have to restrict numbers of attendees because of facility limitations, although they always do an excellent job in training. ASAP has been offering workshops outside the Metro area; in 2017, FOIA training was available in Denver and Chicago, but travel and training funds may become more of an issue in some agencies in 2018.


FOIAXpress


Making headway to help automate the FOIA request process that saves agencies time and money, while ensuring compliance with requirements, is AINS FOIAXpress.

The FOIAXpress software solution has the largest installed base of any FOIA management system on the market with over 180 customers across the United States. Customers leverage this powerful solution to manage the entire lifecycle of a FOIA request from initial request to final delivery of documents, including request management, correspondence management, document management, fee/payment management, document review and redaction, and reporting.

AINS is making headway to fill the FOIA staff training gap with its annual FOIAXpress User Conference & Technology Summit. I will be presenting at this year’s conference on October 25, 2017 at the Marriot Marquis, D.C., which is complimentary for government employees. 
 

Visit the conference website for more information. http://info.ains.com/2017-FOIAXpress-User-Conference.html

Monday
Aug212017

Top 5 Reasons to Attend the FOIAXpress User Conference

 

The FOIAXpress User Conference & Tech Summit is the one event of the year that features key industry experts, interactive education sessions and networking opportunities focused on helping our customers and get the most from their FOIAXpress software.

If you are a government FOIAXpress product user, or a FOIA government professional who needs the most up-to-date information, the 12th Annual FOIAXpress User Conference and Tech Summit is a must-attend event – here’s why:  

  1. Get first word on the latest FOIAXpress product updates and enhancements aimed at creating better citizen collaboration, staying ahead of regulatory requirements and streamlining FOIA request processes.
  2. Celebrate 12 years with us! - Join hundreds of FOIA professionals as we deliver our most innovative event yet, packed with fun and celebration with this year’s winner of the coveted Wayne R Jewell recognizing outstanding customer achievement.
  3. Hear from top FOIA Experts - Learn from key industry experts and top government officials about the most recent issues, opportunities and challenges relating to present-day FOIA.
  4. Engage in interactive workshops on a host of carefully selected topics for experience-level specific guidance you can implement immediately.
  5. Exchange ideas and network with your peers from similar settings to discover their tips and best practice strategies for optimizing FOIAXpress to drive better performance.

Who Should Attend
If you’re a Chief FOIA Officer, FOIA Officer, FOIA Specialist, Senior IT Leader who uses FOIAXpress, or someone who’s looking to maximize the value of the solution, don’t miss this opportunity to learn and network.

Get Your Boss on Board
We know you get it: You’ll learn things and make connections at AINS’ FOIAXpress User Conference that will unlock your full product potential and make you more effective. But, convincing your manager may be another story, so we’ve prepared this
justification letter to help you.

For more information and to register for the FOIAXpress User Conference, please visit the conference website: http://info.ains.com/2017-FOIAXpress-User-Conference.html 

We look forward to seeing you there!


Monday
Aug212017

Recognizing the Value of My Summer Internship at AINS

Rishi was a summer intern with AINS working with the Marketing and eCase Product teams. He is starting his Junior year at the University of Maryland, College Park majoring in Information Systems.

By Rishi Banerjee

Nobody knows what to expect at a new job, or in my case, a new internship. Prior to interning at AINS an Information Technology and Services company in Gaithersburg, MD, my only work experience was an internship at a research laboratory. I knew that my work here at AINS would be entirely different from anything I had ever done before. However, I never would have expected to enjoy interning at AINS as much as I did.

From my very first day with AINS, I was welcomed as a member of the team, and it was clear that they would look to rely on me for important tasks. I was able to hit the ground running and immediately start working on a project that would contribute to the company’s strategic direction.

I was assigned a research project about the competitive market space for a product offered by AINS. After translating my research into spreadsheets and presentations, I was able to present to lead development members my findings and recommendations for potential market opportunities. Within one week, I saw the impact of my work on other employees and the decisions they would make for the product’s business plan.

I was then asked to conduct a research project focused on a new product space for AINS. After completing this research project, I was quickly made a member of the product team. Immediately, I was included in team communications, meetings, and some client conversations. As part of this team, I worked on data validation, system testing and created workflows, while continuously conducting research. Throughout this whole process, I felt comfortable walking into each team member’s office to either offer some new insight or ask any question without any need to set up a meeting. That accessibility was an entirely unexpected benefit of interning at AINS.

But, while the work was rewarding and challenging, it had been only one part of my intern experience. In addition to my professional growth, everyone at AINS has helped me to grow personally. My co-workers made it a priority to invite me out to lunch as a way to learn more about me and make me feel more comfortable. I enjoyed talking with them and listening to them talk about their experiences ranging from their lives at AINS, to their families at home and watching Game of Thrones.

Over the past nine weeks, I have had a better experience at AINS than I could have ever imagined. I am returning back to college with a summer filled with experiences that I will always treasure. I plan to return again during my winter break, which I’m looking forward to as I’m sure I’ll have all new opportunities to learn and be useful to the company.

There are many reasons to consider interning at AINS, but perhaps none is more worthwhile than having the unique opportunity to be challenged to go outside of your comfort zone and hone professional skills to impact meaningful projects. I could tell my work was valued each step of the way by the frequent feedback and encouraging comments of my team members. Interning at AINS made me truly appreciate and enjoy contributing the team – and it can do that for you too.

Tuesday
Aug152017

Q&A Series with Fred Sadler

The new Trump Administration and its impact on FOIA professionals 

Join us for a question and answer series with Fred Sadler as he reveals his insight into our inquiries about the new Trump Administration and its impact on FOIA professionals, as well as challenges and trends as they relate to present-day FOIA. 


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 #1: How do you think the current hiring freeze has impacted FOI programs (or will in 2018), and the FOI officers responsible for handling requests?  

Answer: First, it’s interesting that the current administration has broken with tradition, and hasn’t issued a government-wide memo on the implementation and interpretation of the FOIA. Nearly all of the previous administrations, from Lyndon Johnson to Barak Obama, have provided their vision of FOIA and disclosure, by such means. (To view past FOI memos, go to the Justice Dept.’s archival website, https://www.justice.gov/oip/available-documents-oip and search under “Operation documents, Atty. General Memos on the FOIA”.)  

My observation is that FOIA doesn’t seem to be high on the current administration’s radar at this time, but there is no way of knowing whether a guidance memo will issue at a later date. In light of the freeze and pending budget reductions, it would certainly be helpful.

Resource Strain Impacts Output
Unfortunately, I agree that the hiring freeze has already begun to impact output (and therefore compliance) with the FOIA, both because of the restrictions on replacing departing staff, and because the signals are in place for budget reductions, which may already be limiting purchase of new technology or hiring contractors.  

And, as anyone working in the FOIA arena well knows, compliance with the FOIA is all about resources. If you lose a percentage of your staff, it logically follows that if we operate in the same manner as we have previously, then output will also decrease by that percentage. So the challenge may be to consider alternatives to the ways in which FOI offices have operated, and to maximize the use of technology.

If an agency has no other option than to include FOI positions in the freeze (or staffing reductions), even the requester community should expect that output will decrease. Clearly, that means that there is an increased potential for litigation, based on non-response or responding outside the statutory timeframes. This potential burn of FOI and general counsel resources could be used to support hiring contractors to work with the FOIA programs, but that is also in question if the 2018 budget results in substantial cuts.  

If Agency management is considering whether to provide needed funds for FOIA, the FOI officer should reference the 2006 FOIA Amendments change, which permits a plaintiff who “substantially prevails” in litigation to obtain attorney fees from an agency’s “allocated funds” (i.e., the agency’s already reduced budget).   

Not All Agencies Impacted by Freeze
The Executive Order (EO) issued Jan. 23, 2017 addressed the freeze (https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/01/23/presidential-memorandum-regarding-hiring-freeze), and exempts some positions if an agency head deems the positions necessary to meet “national security and public safety responsibilities” (although the EO doesn’t define those functions).  

It seems logical that Defense and Homeland Security are impacted to a lesser extent than other federal programs, but the public safety reference isn’t comprehensively defined. That shortcoming has been partially addressed by OMB’s issuance of two additional memos, which provide additional information on exempted functions, but do not specifically reference FOI.  

  1. Who is, and is not, subject to the freeze (M-17-17, Jan. 25, 2017 at https://admin.govexec.com/media/gbc/docs/pdfs_edit/012517guidance.pdf
  2. Functions which are exempted from the freeze (M-17-18, Jan. 31, 2017, at https://cdn.govexec.com/media/gbc/docs/pdfs_edit/013117e3.pdf)  

Such exemptions to the hiring freeze in certain agencies might ensure that at least the current level of FOIA staffing would be maintained.

How Agencies are Preparing
Some agencies prepared internal instructions for HR and managers on implementing the freeze. DOD’s memo, for example, identified a range of exempted functions to include cybersecurity, deployments, weapons safety, security, etc., but again, doesn’t address FOIA. (See https://admin.govexec.com/media/gbc/docs/pdfs_edit/020217defensefreeze.pdf).

OMB issued additional memo #M-17-22, on April 12, 2017, “Comprehensive Plan for Reforming the Federal Government and Reducing the Federal Civilian Workforce,” (see https://www.whitehouse.gov/sites/whitehouse.gov/files/omb/memoranda/2017/M-17-22.pdf) instructing agencies to prepare Reform Plans for the next fiscal year.  

Again, the memo doesn’t reference FOIA specifically, but does provide for public input, and directs agencies to take into consideration “efficiency and effectiveness” and “customer service.” If the requester community were to utilize this opening to make a case for continued FOI support, it could potentially benefit the agency’s program, in my opinion. No matter where the government lands, there will be a huge competition for scarce resources. And, as those working in the FOIA arena well know, compliance with the FOIA is all about resources.

Stay tuned to this blog as more information unfolds in Fred’s commentary on how the freeze may impact you.