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Entries in FOIAXpress (9)


FOIAXpress User Conference & Technology Summit 2016 Recap

This year, AINS marked the 11th annual FOIAXpress® User Conference & Technology Summit. We celebrated our 2016 event with the theme “Changing Landscape: Reshaping Citizen Engagement through Technology.” More than 250 FOIA and Privacy professionals were in attendance from across North America representing federal, state and local government agencies and institutions. This exclusive, one-day event was a great opportunity for all to learn, share and network with many of the best and brightest in the industry.  We had a jam packed agenda – with a combination of key industry speakers, interactive breakout sessions and best practice workshops designed to ensure our attendees walked away with at least one new idea to bring back to their organizations.  

Wayne R. Jewell Award winners from HUD celebrate their acheivement.The insightful speaking sessions offered a wide range of perspectives on the FOIA process as they were hosted by FOIA thought leaders and educators, FOIAXpress customers and power users, and our very own AINS product experts. Sessions ranged from the general to more issue-specific; touching on the impact of the new FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, how to maximize fee and tolling efficiency, and tips and tricks on how to improve agency use of FOIAXpress. 

AINS works with many wonderful agencies and FOIA departments. Every year at our annual conference, we pause to acknowledge one customer who has displayed an extraordinary working relationship with AINS and FOIA processing performance. This year, we recognized the entire Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Freedom of Information Act Office with the Wayne R. Jewell Customer Appreciation Award. HUD has been a FOIAXpress customer for more than 10 years and also utilizes AINS’ eCase case management platform to manage agency processes.

If you were unable to attend or would simply like to review them, speaker presentation slides are available on the FOIA Summit website.


AINS works with many wonderful agencies and FOIA departments. Every year at our annual conference, we pause to acknowledge one customer who has displayed an extraordinary working relationship with AINS and FOIA processing performance. This year, we recognized the entire Department of Housing and Urban Development’s (HUD) Freedom of Information Act Office  with the Wayne R. Jewell Customer Appreciation Award. HUD has been a FOIAXpress customer for more than 10 years and also utilizes AINS’ eCase case management platform to manage agency processes.

 [DH1]Is this part of the Executive Secretariats office?


Celebrating 50 Years of FOIA

This Independence Day marks the anniversary of another freedom – the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). On July 4, 1966, Lyndon B. Johnson signed FOIA into law. A year later, the act went into effect giving private citizens a “right to know” by providing a streamlined means to request government records.
Pro or con, to redact or release – it’s time to acknowledge the hardworking people who have kept the doors of democracy open for fifty years. On this golden anniversary, AINS salutes Access Professionals across the public sector. Those front-line staffers who responded to 769,903 FOIA Requests in 2015. Professionals who rose to the occasion to manage a 30% increase in requests since 2008. These are the unsung heroes that protect our liberty one piece of paper at a time.
“FOIA offices have an important task. They are a vital part of democracy by keeping the government transparent. They serve the government, their agency and citizens.” said Moe Goswami, CEO of AINS Inc. the maker of FOIAXpress®, the leading eFOIA solution for the Federal Government.
In 2016, the fifty year law is taking center stage. Savvier citizens have come to expect transparency; they demand a greater level of accountability and access to a broader range of government information and records – from standard reports to video, emails, social media and new forms of communication.

“FOIA is only going to get more complicated. Social media and technology are changing the way people interact; more content is going digital. They (FOIA Offices) are going to need greater levels of support and expertise in order to meet the growing demand” said Goswami. “Despite a greater burden on the FOIA community, it is positive that FOIA is growing. A transparent government is the cornerstone of our democracy.”
So, this July 4th, raise a sparkler for the Access Professional. To the analyst, lawyer, public information director and Chief FOIA Officer who respond to media requests, citizen questions and uphold the First Amendment. To the people who search, redact and respond on demand – walking the tightrope between disclosing too much and safeguarding our nation. These quiet champions deserve a nod for keeping the lines of communication open for half a century.
Happy July 4th!


Download the PDF version.



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.

You can read the full article online or in Information Management's printed January/February publication.



U.S. Announces New Open Government Transparency Initiatives

This week members of the Department of Justice and Federal Government are participating in the 2015 Open Government Partnership (OGP) Summit in Mexico City, Mexico. In addition to U.S. Government representatives, the Summit has in attendance members of civil society organizations from around the world. The OGP is an organization founded in 2011 with the goal of working domestically and globally to promote open government and transparency.

In conjunction with the event, the Department of Justice has published its 3rd United States National Action Plan which covers a 2 year period and defines commitments to advance government transparency and accountability as well as to increase participation in technological innovations. The plan intends to initiate or continue 45 transparency initiatives including:

  1. Modernizing Freedom of Information Implementation. By expanding services offered by the website, conducting a proactive disclosure pilot for posting FOIA-released records online, and improving existing agency FOIA sites the DOJ plans to improve the FOIA process. Modernization of FOIA processes through adaptive case management can also help bring the Federal Government up to speed.
  2. Making it easier for individuals to access their own information. DOJ will assist an interagency team led by OPM, GSA, and the Department of Commerce to develop new authentication tools to protect individual privacy and ensure that personal records only go to the intended recipients. Tools like the FOIAXpress or stand-alone PAL Web Portal can make it much easier for agency FOIA departments to share and receive FOIA-related records and payments with the public. FOIAXpress tools also eliminate room for error when data is sent between agencies with differing FOIA protocols.
  3. Improving transparency of privacy safeguards. "The Administration will revise and reconstitute guidance to agencies on the collection and protection of individuals’ personally identifiable information."
  4. Enhancing transparency of Federal use of investigative technologies. "As law enforcement and homeland security have employed new technologies, such as unmanned aircraft systems, the Administration has recognized that these must be used in a manner that protects the privacy and civil liberties of the public. Agencies are encouraged to develop and make public a privacy analysis for advanced technologies."

Modernization of the FOIA process through IT improvements, new technology, and proactive FOIA protocols is the key to maintaining an open and accountable government.

Read the White House post >>

Read the DOJ post >>


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.