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AINS Blog - FOIA and Case Management


DOJ Updates Guidelines for Gauging FOIA Requester Interest

The Department of Justice recently updated guidance on questioning whether or not requesters were still interested in the results of their FOIA cases. Freedom of information requests must be responded to within (timeline), but extenuating circumstance can lead to a longer amount of time before records are processed. Changes in circumstances or an extended request processing time can lead to FOIA requests no longer being needed by the original requester. In these cases, DOJ has put out new guidelines on when and how to ask requesters if they are still interested in the results.

"When done judiciously, this is entirely appropriate because agency resources should not be expended on processing a request when the requester is no longer interested in the records," the guidance says. 

Automation of the FOIA process through solutions like FOIAXpress can help alleviate backlogs and speed response time, but the fact remains that some cases can still slip through the cracks. New guidelines such as these can ensure that agency time and resources are being spent on FOIA requests that are still valid.

Read the DoJ Guidelines here



FOIA Oversight Committee Hearings Call for Better Tech Solutions

On Tuesday June 2nd, the Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, led by its new chairman Congressman Jason Chaffetz, concluded 2 days of FOIA-related  hearings. The House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform (HCOGR) stated the purpose of the hearing was “to examine the use of FOIA requests as a tool for government transparency and explore barriers to accessing public documents from the user’s perspective. The Committee will hear from witnesses that use FOIA in news reporting, academic research, and to conduct government oversight.” Monday’s government oversight committee hearing included two panels of witnesses representing journalists, academics, and 1st amendment rights advocates who spoke on their experiences with the FOIA process. Testimony came from the following list of distinguished witnesses:

  • Sharyl Attkisson, Investigative Reporter
  • Jason Leopold, Investigative Reporter, Vice News
  • David E. McCraw, VP Assistant General Counsel, New York Times
  • Leah Goodman, Investigative Reporter, Newsweek
  • Terry Anderson, Adjunct Professor, University of Florida
  • Tom Fitton, President, Judicial Watch
  • Cleta Mitchell, Partner, Foley & Lardner LLP
  • Nate Jones, Director of the Freedom of Information Act Project, National Security Archive
  • Lisette Garcia, FOIA Resource Center
  • Gabriel Rottman, Legislative Counsel/Policy Advisor, American Civil Liberties Union
  • Anne Weismann, Executive Director, Campaign for Accountability

The recurring theme from witness testimony included two major complaints about the current FOIA system: delays in meeting the required response timeline and abuse of the B5 Exemption which allows the “[exemption of] those documents, and only those documents that are normally privileged in the civil discovery context."

Testimony regarding delays in FOIA responsiveness was a recurring theme among the hearing’s witnesses. Many were talking about governments delay in FOIA response as not a matter of days, but on the magnitude of years. Reporter Sharyl Attkisson pointed to a FOIA request filed in 2003 which was finally responded to in 2013 – a full ten years too late to be used in the news story she was writing. Many of these delays can lead to lawsuits against the government agencies in question, which is both costly and timely for all parties involved.

Journalists at the hearing also cited government abuse of the B5 exemption as a major hindrance to FOIA process. Many claimed that when FOIA requests were fulfilled (sometimes the ones years past the 20 day response time limit), many of the documents received were redacted belong usefulness thanks to an over-zealous use of FOIA Exemption 5. There were claims that agencies used this exemption to withhold info where it was not warranted. These unnecessary redactions can also lead to costly court cases to get government records released to the public.

Anne Weismann, Executive Director of Campaign for Accountability and former DoJ FOIA supervisor, gave some perspective on the nature of Exemption 5 abuse. “Exemption 5 has become the catchall on which agencies rely to withhold virtually any records they fear may result in embarrassment or unwanted attention,” she said in her response to the committee. Weismann also stated that there has been a need to clean up the B5 FOIA law, but also said that these exemption abuses are an exception to the normal FOIA process and not the norm.

Wednesday June 3, 2015

The House Oversight Committee 2nd day hearing included testimony from the Director of the Office of Information Policy of the U.S. Department of Justice Melanie Pustay as well as from Chief FOIA officers from U.S State Department, Department of Homeland Security, Treasury Department, and Internal Revenue Service. The general message from these government officials was that there is a need for more FOIA technology, including eDiscovery software, to handle large doc requests and email correspondence. They also called for more resources to hire FOIA staff.

Nate Jones, Director of the Freedom of Information Act Project of the National Security Archive at George Washington University, claimed that one major barrier to the success of the FOIA process is “the inability of agencies to harness technology to improve the records management and FOIA processes, a problem that members of the Committee have long sought to improve.” Testimony at this week’s House Oversight Committee hearing pointed to the need for technology that could handle complex requests, voluminous requests, and requests that called on multiple document custodians as the causes behind FOIA response delays. A need for technology that can support records management and IT systems that are globally distributed such as at the State Department.

These challenges can be eliminated through automation solutions like AINS’ FOIAXpress and Advanced Document Review (ADR) which provide a complete FOIA solution by leveraging the best of eDiscovery and portal technology. AINS, as a leading FOIA vendor, brings leading edge FOIA tech to the government. Automated FOIA solutions when deployed provide a variety of capabilities that can speed FOIA processing and improve transparency. FOIAXpress ADR lets agencies address the email conundrum many testimonies touched upon wherein FOIA responses often did not include email correspondence. AINS’ document review software can be used to de-duplicate emails and review documents from multiple document custodians at once. These FOIA software solutions are created directly in support of open government and transparency. The FOIAXpress solution also offers the ability to produce FOIA annual reports as required by DoJ OIP as well as Chief FOIA Officer’s reports which tell the narrative in terms of what each agency is doing to improve FOIA administration.

In all, this week’s FOIA hearings called for improved FOIA response times, better employee training, and effective technology to manage the FOIA process.

Read more or watch the hearings online here.




All Hands on Deck to Dig Through ATIP Backlog

The federal government of Canada is using students and temp workers to help overwhelmed ATIP offices dig through surges in Access to Information requests. Canada ATIP offices have experienced a 28% increase in ATIP requests from 2012 to 2013 – up to a total of 55,145 requests in 2013. The outside help is meant to deal with the backlog resulting from these boosted request numbers. According to one ATIP director, internal staffing is suffering from ATIP analysts who “move from ATIP (office) to ATIP office.”

Large surges in ATIP requests can occur when large or unexpected events, such as national crises, occur. Sticky situations can arise when you have unexperienced temp workers dealing with sensitive government documents. ATIP analysts and managers need an expertise in ATIP law and requirements to work at peak efficiency. Another solution offered by Information Commissioner Suzanne Legault is to create an “emergency response team” of expert ATIP officers to assist departments experiencing these request surges. Creating pools of qualified analysts could ensure that understaffed agencies always have experienced ATIP analysts to pull from.

Hiring temporary staff to work on ATIP management is just one option available to Canada offices. Automation tools, like ATIPXpress, can be key in reducing request backlog and increasing request response time. Management tools like these allow experienced ATIP workers to process a larger volume of requests while creating audit logs and reports to help measure success. 




Let Case Management BPM Help You Go Green this Earth Day

This month we celebrate Earth Day, a reminder that our planet deserves care an attention to stay healthy and to keep the people living their healthy too. April 22nd year marks the 45th anniversary of Earth Day. Creating a healthy and sustainable environment doesn’t rely on just one miracle solution. It takes a lot of efforts from a lot of different sources to build into something great. While building community gardens, throwing recycling drives, and hosting other environmentally conscious events can help raise awareness and make an impact, there are other ways to help Mother Earth.

Something you might not instantly equate with saving the Earth is going green in your business. Sure, it seems like a small (and almost too easy) step to take, but in the long run it can make a big difference. One way to put the environment first at work is to transfer your business processes from manual systems to a paperless BPM case management solution. Case management platforms like eCase and FOIAXpress automate work processes digitally, so the stacks of paper that outdated systems use are saved. In a report put out by the Department of the Interior Office of the Inspector General it was reported that after updating their office to AINS’ case management system, “Workflows are reducing the amount of paper we consume every year. We estimated that we save almost 16,000 sheets of paper, or 32 reams, by processing telework agreements and micropurchases electronically.”

16,000 sheets is nothing to sneeze at. It follows that with more digital automation across more agencies that even more paper could be saved. Over the years, that adds up to a lot of trees (and dollars) saved.

There are other things your office can do to increase its benefit to the environment. The next time you need to make a maintenance switch, upgrade to fluorescent bulbs and low-flow toilets. Install hand dryers instead of paper towels. Using a recycling service can help your office to cut down on paper waste. 




Case Management Could Bring Government Into Digital Age

President Obama issued and Executive order in 2011 urging government agencies to improve their customer service by joining the digital services age. Many commercial businesses know that if you can’t compete in efficiency and quality, you won’t last long. Thanks to this practice, the U.S. public has come to expect a certain standard of customer service. They expect self-service options available at the touch of a button (or click of a mouse). American adults are also increasingly using mobile devices like cell phones and tablets to interact with services. They expect the federal government to offer more mobile-friendly and self-service options.

The federal government has been making efforts to bring their customer service into the digital age. is probably one of the most prominent endeavors by the government to improve their customer-facing technology. With an ever more tech savvy public, government is going to have to up its technology game. Dynamic case management solutions like eCase are one way to help the federal government get up to speed. Automating processes can cut back on the time it takes to respond to customer inquiries and requests.

Adaptive case management solutions combine BPM and ECM capabilities to speed response times, improve records accuracy, and decrease overall spending. Case management software can help with processes ranging from human resources and correspondence to audit and investigations management.




Courtney James is AINS' Marketing & Graphic Design Associate. She has experience with social media, public relations, graphic design, event management, and many other marketing topics. Courtney loves to blog about topics dealing with technology in government, social media, and case management. She holds degrees in Communication and Art from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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