Vol. I, No. 1
Coordination Stressed at HEW
To facilitate coordination of Freedom of Information Act activities in a department with hundreds of diverse programs, the Department of Health Education and Welfare has focused on training of personnel.
This effort pays off for HEW in better ability to meet deadlines and better understanding of what records must be released and what may be withheld, according to Russell Robert, HEW's Freedom of Information Officer. He and Mary Goggin, Chief of the Administrative Law Branch, Office of the General Counsel, have teamed up to conduct sessions in Washington and in HEW regional locations. They adjust their seminars to meet the needs of the particular component and hold programs that range from thirty minutes to several days.
HEW has an extremely low rate of denying access to agency records. Les than 3% of requests are denied in whole or in part and only 10% of those requesters appeal. HEW's policy expressed in the regulations since July 4 1967, has been to release records unless there is a "compelling programmatic need" to deny access. Only sixteen people in HEW have denial authority--the ten directors of public affairs in the regional offices and six officials in Washington.
Greater awareness of the access laws throughout HEW has alleviated some of the administrative burden at headquarters according to Roberts. He still gets an occasional call from a program manager who says that he or she does not want to participate in the FOIA program any more as it drains programmatic resources, but with extensive training more employees understand that they do not have an option to withdraw from the "FOIA program."
Thus, even though it costs money to conduct FOIA training throughout the country, in the long run Roberts says that it is a money-saver in terms of headquarters administrative costs. There also are other benefits. With the vast size of HEW, training is an effective method for ensuring standard operating procedures. In addition, FOIA personnel in the various HEW programs with unique FOIA problems have an opportunity to discuss and solve their specific difficulties in implementing FOIA.
HEW has emphasized training especially since the 1974 amendments and will conduct FOIA sessions on request or when any major change occurs either in policy, on the Hill, or in the courts.
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