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FOIA Solutions: Little things mean a lot

When you are contemplating how to improve your agency’s FOIA program, think small and consider the personal touch. (ARC Identifier 521325)

The Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) hosted a Freedom of Information Act Administrative Forum on June 5, 2013, giving FOIA professionals – particularly FOIA Public Liaisons – a chance to discuss the issues they face.

As with many discussions in this budget climate, the conversation inevitably turned to how to do more with less. Agencies are seeing budgets drop while their FOIA caseloads increase. So what can agencies do to meet growing demands without additional funds?

For many agencies, big solutions – like additional staff and comprehensive technology packages – may be out of reach. The savvy attendees at Wednesday’s event suggested ways to think small instead:

  1. Consider smaller, less expensive technology solutions that may help address some portion of your agency’s FOIA issues. Could you use FOIAonline, a multi-agency FOIA portal to receive and track requests, as well as make released documents widely available? Does your agency’s legal department have an eDiscovery solution that you could use to simplify the task of weeding out duplicate email messages? Could you work with your agency’s IT staff to find a low-cost solution for archiving emails (particularly those of employees who have left) to make searching for responsive records more efficient?
  2. Harness the power of the personal touch. Several agencies reported success in reducing the scope of very broad requests. The key to their success? Contacting the requester immediately after receiving the request, rather than when the request is at the top of the (in some cases, long) queue. Requesters will be more willing to work with you if they believe that you are being responsive and respectful of their time.
  3. Be creative. If you receive two requests that are similar, is it possible to broaden the scope of your search so that you can respond to both requests at the same time? Take a close look at your process to see if there are inefficiencies that you can fix.

If you have ideas for how an agency can do more with less, we’d love to hear from you!