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AINS Blog - FOIA and Case Management

Tuesday
Mar172015

Sunshine Week: AINS Commits to FOIA-Forward Thinking

If you didn’t know, March 15th to March 21st is National Sunshine Week – a celebration of Open Government and Transparency across the U.S. As we reflect on the importance of the Freedom of Information Act, we think it is a great time to reaffirm our support of those who keep the FOIA system going. AINS is committed to the constant improvement of our Freedom of Information solutions ATIPXpress and FOIAXpress. Creating an open and transparent government is the responsibility of both the public and federal agencies.

Sunshine Week is a reminder not only for public activists, but for agencies of the federal government. Many watchdog organizations, FOIA activists, and government agencies host transparency-inspired events during this week. In 2015, some of the events hosted come from the U.S Department of Justice, National Press Club, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and the U.S. Census Bureau. 

AINS would like to extend a sincere thank you to the government employees that keep the FOIA system running smoothly. We will continue to support FOIA efforts through improvements to our FOIAXpress software and training events.

Importance of FOIA in 2015

Open Government and transparency are a hallmark of a great government. President Obama recognized the importance of this idea and said, “My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in Government.” The Obama Administration has vowed to become the most transparent in history. The Obama Administration urges the public to get engaged in transparency efforts in order to enhance the Government’s effectiveness and the quality of decisions the Government makes. Pushes to improve FOIA recently occurred in the Senate and House as well. Both Republicans and Democrats backed a FOIA Reform Bill to limit fees and regulate the statute of limitations on confidential information. The bill is meant to create a “presumption of openness” as well as a universal web-hub for all agency FOIA departments.

 

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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.

Wednesday
Mar112015

FOIA Report Card

Source: Center for Effective Government 2015Freedom of Information Act advocacy group, Center for Effective Government, recently conducted an analysis of 15 federal agencies’ FOIA performance and posted their results in a report card format. The study found that USDA and SSA lead the pack when it comes to criteria like processing requests, disclosing rules, and quality of their websites.  The Department of Justice also did well according to the study, scoring 100% for its website and disclosure rules.  Overall, many agencies improved since last year’s report.

The Center for Effective Government judged many of the agencies in the study harshly based on their processing ability, and rightfully so. Speedy and accurate processing is important to the FOIA process. Backlogs of requests can be costly to federal agencies. One of the best ways to improve processing ability is through automation and standardization of the FOIA process.

Automation tools like FOIAXpress can reduce backlog, speed processing reply time, and ensure proper tracking and management of related documents. FOIA solutions like this one feature tools for fee and billing tracking, connections to public websites, redaction capabilities, and deadline tracking. With more tools in their arsenal, FOIA workers can more effectively and quickly respond to FOIA requests. Once more federal agencies adopt FOIA software for tracking and processing, we should see a bump in next year’s report card.

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

Friday
Mar062015

What Clinton's Private Email Means for FOIA

Earlier this week it came to light that Hillary Clinton had been using private email to conduct official Secretary of State business. Clinton reportedly set up a private email account before becoming Secretary of State to use for State Department affairs. The type of account used by Clinton allows users a high level of control over communications, including the ability to completely erase messages without leaving a record of the message. The revelation brought to light several issues: cybersecurity vulnerabilities and FOIA access to government emails.

 

Cybersecurity Risks

The use of a private email account by public officials is both a risk to cyber-security and transparency - both issues have been championed by the Obama Administration. After the Sony Pictures hack, the White House has made mention of the importance of digital security. Clinton’s use of private emails certainly opens up those pieces of correspondence to increased security risks and to a risk of data loss.

Using a private company to set up a personal email account adds in outside interests to the security process whereas government emails have fewer access points. Government email domains can only be set up by government agencies, limiting the number of people who can access them. "From a technical perspective, a cabinet member using a homemade solution means adding an array of technologies and middlemen through whom the United States government can effectively be severely compromised," Patrick Nielsen, Senior Security Researcher for Kaspersky Research, said.

 

FOIA and Transparency

Clinton’s private email setup should also teach us a lesson about the value and importance of transparency in government correspondence. The Freedom of Information Act enables the public to request the disclosure of government documents – including emails. However, private email correspondence does not fall under the same jurisdiction and does not need to be disclosed as a result of a FOIA request. Using a private email system leaves more risk of important messages not being properly preserved.

“What I can tell you is that very specific guidance has been given to agencies all across the government, which is specifically that employees of the Obama administration should use their official email accounts when they’re conducting official government business,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said. “However, when there are situations where personal email accounts are used, it is important for those records to be preserved consistent with the Federal Records Act.”

FOIA processing is much simpler when all email correspondence goes through secure government channels. Maintaining emails through a government account also means that there is less risk of losing data. When government offices have access to all emails in one place, it takes less time to track down specific information in response to FOIA requests or internal needs.

Automation tools like AINS’ FOIAXpress Advance Document Review (ADR) can help agencies to sort through correspondences like emails, but only when that information is available to the agency. The FOIAXpress ADR tool searches through documents to find the ones responsive to FOIA requests. Automating this process can save government offices a ton of time and manpower.

This past Wednesday, Clinton stated on Twitter that she wants the public to see the email correspondence from the time period in question. A Clinton aide stated that Clinton turned over more than 50,000 pages of messages from her tenure as Secretary of State.

 

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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.

Thursday
Feb192015

White House Appoints First-Ever Chief Data Scientist

The White House announced the appointment of the first U.S. Chief Data Scientist on Wednesday. The new position will be held by Dr. DJ Patil, an experienced data scientist and engineer. Patil worked to create Silicon Valley’s first data science team at the social media company LinkedIn. Patil will report to U.S. Chief Technology Officer and former Google executive Megan Smith.

Patil’s appointment as Chief Data Scientist comes in the wake of a recent White House focus on big-data and cybersecurity. In a recent address at the Cybersecurity Summit held at Stanford University, President Obama stressed the importance of cybersecurity to the U.S. defense and economy. The President also touched on subjects like the Sony Pictures hacking attack – pointing to the need for a more focused effort on data protection.

According to a White House blog post, “President Obama has prioritized bringing top technical talent like DJ into the federal government to harness the power of technology and innovation to help government better serve the American people.” In his position as Chief Data Scientist, Patil will work with the White House CTO team and work to further the Administration’s open data and data science goals.

 

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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.

Thursday
Feb122015

Mark Your Calendar for 10th Annual Sunshine Week

We are just one month away from National Sunshine Week coming up March 15 – 21. Sunshine Week is a nationwide celebration of the importance of transparency, open government, and freedom of information. The week-long event centers around National Freedom of Information Day held March 16. During Sunshine Week, FOIA watchdog groups, museums, college campuses, nonprofit organizations, and other open information fans.  Many participating organizations hold events and discussions to raise awareness of the issues surrounding Privacy Act and Freedom of Information laws.

Sunshine events are happening nationwide, but if you’re looking for some FOIA fun in Washington, D.C. take a look at what events the nation’s capital has to offer.

March 13 – The Newseum – The Newseum institute, OpentheGovernment.org, and the American Library Association will host a look back at 10 years of Sunshine Week and the importance of government transparency.

March 16 – U.S. Department of Justice – The U.S. DoJ will present awards to those with outstanding FOIA service.

March 17 – National Press Club – The DC Open Government Coalition will hold a discussion on transparency priorities for newly elected Mayor Bowser’s administration.

March 19 – Sunlight Foundation – The Sunlight Foundation will host a happy hour reception for FOIA activists and nonprofits.

You can keep up to date on all the Sunshine Week events at: http://sunshineweek.rcfp.org/

 

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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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