Every federal agency receives requests for disclosure of previously unreleased information and documents. And they are subject to penalties for hindering the process of a petition for information. Agencies have 20 days with which to respond to a request for information, per the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requirement. Yet the challenges of collecting requested information have greatly increased with the proliferation of email, digital documents, instant messaging, electronic recordings, videos, news media, and more. There is a lot more data to keep track of these days! Agencies are also required to keep track of changing FOIA regulations.
Other challenges facing FOIA analysts today include finding the most current or official version of a document, and conducting searches which involve public shared drives, email inboxes and folders, personal hard drives, archived documents, etc. The FOIA process can be compounded with the decision on how to deal with sensitive or confidential information that an agency should not share with the general public. For this reason, checks and balances are put in place, with many eyes reviewing disclosure materials that may contain duplicative content, personal identity information or content considered to be classified and therefore would be exempted from disclosure. A concise list of “FOIA Exemptions” may be found here.
Each agency has their own process for managing FOIA requests. For those agencies that do not have an automated solution, there are typically many manual tasks involved, which makes auditing the FOIA process virtually impossible.
For agencies looking to develop a customized automated solution, Microsoft SharePoint offers a variety of features that can be leveraged to alleviate the various issues we have already mentioned. RDA recently developed a SharePoint 2010 solution that leveraged taxonomy, document sets, content types, FAST search and K2 blackpearl to greatly alleviate the burden of collecting and classifying the documents that make up a FOIA response. The solution provides the ability to track correspondence between the FOIA Office, requestor and third parties related to the request.
To see a video of the solution, please visit our Public Sector page and scroll down to the FOIA solution demo.