The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) and the Chief Records Officer (CRO) constantly observe and analyze the performances of FOIA agencies. The goal is to improve FOIA implementation across Federal Agencies.
They do this by relying on the Records Management Self-Assessment. In the past 3 years, the RMSA got a nearly 100% response rate from FOIA agencies.
This July, OGIS and the National Archives reported that in 2017, 99% of agencies that received the RMSA link, successfully responded to the 6 questions included.
And, these were the results:
- FOIA and Records Officers generally work together. Also, FOIA Officers report that records needed to respond to FOIA requests are generally accessible.
- Records tend to be more readily accessible when FOIA professionals and records managers are located in the same office/division and when the Records Officer and FOIA Officer have a good working relationship – or are the same person.
- Most agencies report that FOIA offices can conduct some searches without contacting other agency employees.
- Most agencies are notifying requesters of OGIS’s dispute resolution services during the FOIA process.
- A majority of agencies are primarily using email to send records and responses to FOIA requesters.
Major Problems Identified In The Survey
As it can be noted from the results of the National Archives report, the major concern falls on the relationship between the agency’s FOIA and Records Management operations.
This relationship receives a special attention in the report and as part of it, three problems have been identified as major ones:
Communication is an integral part of FOIA processing. And, like every other process, FOIA implementation depends on more than one person.
It is basically a chain of operations and people need to fulfill them efficiently and timely. To do so, the team needs to be synchronized, organized, and have excellent communication.
Unfortunately, the results from the survey included above identify Communication as one of the biggest problems among agencies in their FOIA implementation. And as the report shows, this problem stands for both communication within the agency (among colleagues, departments, and organizations) and communication between FOIA agencies and requesters.
This is a problem that we can’t ignore.
Bad communication means errors and delays.
Bad communication means frustration, stress, and unsatisfied citizens.
To put it in simpler words: bad communication means backlogs.
So, let me ask an obvious question: Why do FOIA agencies have communication problems?
The answer is simple. Most FOIA agencies still rely on outdated FOIA Software Solutions.
FOIA solutions that don’t see communication as a priority.
FOIA solutions that still rely on email as a means of communication.
And in organizations where timely and secure communication is a must, sending emails is not the way to go. This is a real problem, and it needs a solution. Fast.
But let me first go through the problems, and later on, we’ll talk about the solutions.
2. FOIA Search Practices
FOIA search practices is another big problem identified by OGIS and CRO in their observations and analysis throughout the last year. As they say in the report:
“Most agencies report that FOIA offices can conduct some searches without contacting other agency employees.”
Allow me to be a bit blunt here. ‘Some’ is not enough.
In fact, ‘some’ means that FOIA agencies have troubles with search practices. And since searching for details is half the job in FOIA Request, struggling to find the right information quickly is a serious productivity and reliability problem.
The Search problem can cause serious issues in FOIA Request processing, that can result in wasting a lot of time, and even releasing information that should not go public.
We’ve actually done a webinar where we address this very issue. Feel free to sign up and watch the recording.
3. FOIA Records Accessibility
OGIS and CRO pay special attention to records accessibility in their survey. And as we could see earlier in their report, Accessibility of Records… Let’s just say the report at a glance gives a positive note. But..dig a bit deeper and it could turn out it’s the other way around.
Image Source: OGIS & CRO Survey
It’s really, a YES or NO question. Did every employee find all of the needed data easily to process all of the allotted FOIA Requests in that year? Yes, or No.
If it’s Most of the Time or Some of the time, then it’s closer to a NO.
It goes without saying that accessibility of records holds a high position in FOIA processing. And if your current FOIA Software Solution can’t find all of the needed document to properly answer a FOIA Request, then we have a problem.
Only 31% had a resounding YES to the Records Accessibility question. This means that 69% of the times, your staff is struggling to process a request.
Well, that can’t be good.
What is really going on with the numbers?
Image Source: OGIS & CRO Survey
Call me critical or idealistic, but I think this table should have only two rows: Always and Never. Did the FOIA Officer find all the documents needed to process the request successfully? If they didn’t find ALL of the documents, we have a problem.
And I’d expect to see no difference in Records Accessibility. It should be a non-issue of where the data is stored, and whether the FOIA Officer and Records Officer are in the same building. In a digital world, distance is irrelevant.
From my pragmatic perspective, the report shows that 70% of the times, FOIA Staff have problems processing FOIA requests. Their inability to find the needed documents and the effect of physical distance, point out a Systems problem.
If I’d be as bold, I’d conclude that 70% of the FOIA requests aren’t processed thoroughly, and documents aren’t released because of a poor FOIA Requests Management System.
How Armedia FOIA Software Solution Can Help With These Problems?
The first thing to understand when it comes to FOIA is that handling FOIA requests is not just a submission-delivery process. It is much more than that. And outdated FOIA Software Solutions that do not put much worth in the relationship between the agency’s FOIA and Records Management operations could never solve these problems.
Interested in seeing a modern FOIA Records Management software? Here’s a recorded webinar that’s some 45 minutes long and explains all the benefits of FOIA Processing modernization.
I can even say without any hesitation that, practically, it’s the outdated solutions that caused these problems among agencies in the first place.
Records Management is an essential part of FOIA implementation. It’s the very core of it. In fact, FOIA processing starts and ends with Records Management.
Relying on a FOIA Software Solution that doesn’t support this relationship will only mean poor communication, weak search practices, and limited access to records.
End result: We get only 30% “Always Found Needed Records” response from FOIA agencies.
And that can’t be good.
Not in this day and age.
Armedia has been in the trenches of FOIA Software Solutions for a while now. It was out of necessity that we developed our FOIA Module for ArkCase. To help you avoid situations and problems like these, we’ve created Armedia FOIA Software Solution.
Our Modern FOIA Software is a reliable, revolutionary, secure, flexible and scalable solution that reinforces this relationship between the agency’s FOIA and Records Management operations.
Armedia FOIA Software Solution is more than just a regular FOIA processing tool. It’s a modern solution that includes:
- Document review and redaction,
- Correspondence Management,
- Records Management,
- Request Management.
With all of this, Armedia FOIA Software Solution is more than capable of solving the problems identified in the survey.
Let me share with you how the Armedia FOIA Module can tackle the 3 big issues found in the Survey.
1. User-friendly Interface that Encourages Communication
Armedia FOIA Software Solution integrates one easy-to-use interface for communication for both departments/agencies/colleagues and requesters.
Even more, Armedia FOIA Software Solution provides a multi-track system and automatic status update feature, both of which allow the employees to follow each step of the process and always know their place and task without wondering around.
This feature also allows the requesters to keep up with the progress of their FOIA request and always be informed about the stage their requests are in.
These features do not only solve the problem of communication, but they also increase the effectiveness and the level of productivity among employees. Your team can now reduce the time spent on each FOIA request which results in backlog reduction.
No more forgotten emails, or emails lost in the Spam folder.
2. AWS-Powered Data Storage
Armedia FOIA Software Solution relies on the AWS cloud-based storage for all cases and forms. It stores and keeps all request-related records and correspondences according to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) requirements.
Because the records details are stored on the Cloud, we enable FOIA Staff and Records Management Staff to be able to access any bit of information, at any time, from any place, from any internet-ready device.
This way, your agency will be able to work from anywhere, save time, increase productivity and effectiveness, while at the same time, being sure of the safety of records.
3. Easy Search
The centralized database we just talked about and the Cloud storage, allow for all request-related records to be safely stored in one single place. This feature of Armedia FOIA Software Solution does not only contribute to easier access to records, but it also improves search practices.
Having all records stored in one single place, well organized and structured, allows for FOIA agencies to have an excellent search practice.
Namely, with Armedia FOIA Software Solution you could search through records with one single click. You can easily search through Records, Notes, Documents. You can even search through audio and video recordings and find exactly where on that video there is a mention of your search phrase.
I have talked about the features and capabilities of Armedia FOIA Software Solution many times, in many blog posts. But for you to see the full force of Armedia FOIA Module, please sign up for a recorded webinar where Matt and I explain most of the key features and benefits of using our FOIA solution.
Let’s Wrap Things Up
As the National Archives reported this July, according to the survey conveyed by OGIS and CRO, FOIA agencies face difficulties in their FOIA implementation.
Key issues that I find: Poor document management and poor communication between staff involved in processing FOIA requests.
The reason behind this is outdated FOIA software solutions that agencies use for processing FOIA requests.
Dealing with FOIA operations without a modern, reliable, secure, and effective FOIA Software Solution is practically impossible. No wonder that we get to see confusing and even misleading reports to a simple Yes/No survey.
That is the reason why FOIA Software Solutions like Armedia exist.
To find out more about the Armedia FOIA Module, please watch our recorded webinar.
Then, after that, if you want to see a guided tour of the Armedia FOIA Software Solution, feel free to contact us. And, don’t forget to share this article with your colleagues on social media.