On April 20, 2020, 500 FOIA practitioners from across the government joined the Office of Information Policy (OIP) and the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) for a virtual discussion on the Chief FOIA Officer (CFO) Council Technology Committee’s recent efforts to develop best practices and recommendations based on a study of agencies’ use of technology. The workshop featured the Committee’s co-chairs Eric Stein from the Department of State and Michael Sarich from the Veterans Health Administration, who highlighted the Committee’s recent accomplishments, reviewed several best practices on the use of technology in FOIA, and shared recommendations made to the CFO Council and the Committee’s 2020 agenda.
A discussion on lessons learned in adapting to COVID-19 workplace precautions was one particular area of note that was covered, which the Technology Committee plans to continue to explore. The discussion focused on the importance of using technology to communicate with requesters and to support FOIA professionals working remotely. The group also discussed various points in the FOIA process where IT advancements currently in use by other agencies could be beneficial to all. As an example, the group discussed alternate IT solutions to improve intake, search, review, referrals and consultations, delivering responses to requesters, and proactive disclosures. Among other things, agencies were encouraged to explore opportunities to collaborate with their colleague agencies, improve the user experience of their FOIA websites and requesters’ abilities to submit requests electronically, leverage shared platforms and internal and external file sharing solutions, enhance the functionality of case management systems and review tools for full remote access, leverage tools and best practices to better facilitate processing and delivery of large files, and to regularly communicate with requesters.
In addition, the panelists recommended creating "communities of interest" for FOIA professionals interested in exploring and sharing information about various topics. Suggested topics included steps for gathering IT requirements, the use of specific FOIA IT tools, and the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) within the FOIA process.
Some notable examples of the best practices shared at the event include:
- Obtaining senior-level agency support for records management and FOIA programs.
- Having an IT component in FOIA programs and/or establishing a close, formal relationship with the IT component of an agency.
- To the extent feasible, ensuring FOIA IT solutions are interoperable.
- Building public release of records and disposition of records into new agency recordkeeping systems.
- Leveraging the budget cycle to request resources to enhance FOIA programs.
- Networking with fellow FOIA professionals to candidly share strategies for overcoming common challenges.
A detailed list of the best practices discussed during this series, as well as the panelists’ presentation slides, the Technology Committee’s February 2020 Report, and related OIP guidance can be found on the Best Practices Workshop Series page of OIP's website.
Launched in 2014, the Best Practices Workshop series was designed as a part of the United States’ Second Open Government National Action Plan commitment to modernize FOIA administration. The goal of the series is to improve FOIA processes by leveraging effective strategies from across the government, highlighting successes achieved by agencies, and sharing successful approaches on a wide range of FOIA issues.
We invite you to suggest discussion topics for upcoming Best Practices Workshops, and you can e-mail your suggestions for new workshop topics to DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov(link sends e-mail) using the subject line "Agency Best Practices Workshop Suggestion."