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When it comes to a Public Records Request, technology is no longer optional

Brenda Dodd
May 9, 2018 12:01:42 AM

Responding to a disclosure request is time consuming and under the duress of trying to meet the strict deadlines, it opens the agency to mistakes and risks of accidental disclosure.  Most agencies receive thousands of requests each year.  A single disclosure can involve hundreds, if not thousands of records. When the agency fails to timely or inadequately respond they face penalties, fees and quite possibly legal action.  All of which cause a significant financial and operational impact on the agency.

The cost of transparency

As the number of FOIA requests increase exponentially, the time and cost for identification, collection, review, and disclosure of the requested information continues to burden agencies at the federal, state and local government levels. In 2017, a record number of over 800,000 FOIA request were made at the federal level with an estimated cost that will well exceed $500 million.

A key component of President Obama’s FOIA Memorandum in 2009 was the direction to "use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their Government."  Unfortunately as the public records request landscape is becoming more and more complex, agencies are still employing manual methods or antiquated technology for handling request.

Yet, here we are about 9 years later and based on newly published recommendations of The FOIA Advisory Committee from April of 2018, the utilization and deployment of FOIA technology across agencies has still not been fully addressed and continues to hamper the timeliness and thoroughness of fulfilling public records requests.  All while agencies are facing more complex data types, ever expanding data volumes and public records requests are at an all-time high.

eDiscovery for government

As folks in the legal industry can attest, the use of technology has changed the practice of law, especially as it relates to the discovery process. Which begs the question, why should the FOIA disclosure process be any different. The use of technology can streamline data identification and collection, increase efficiency and accuracy and reduce the amount of manual review by enabling automatic identification of disclosable information that must be redacted before the documents can be released.

The days of using solutions such as SharePoint to manage and collaborate on requests, outlook and windows explorer to search and collect and Adobe to create and redact PDF are over.  No longer can agencies continue to use these archaic solutions to meet their public disclosure needs.

The bottom line is, technology is no longer an option - it is must. When used for public records, technology can decrease response time and reduce risks and cost while simplifying and automating the disclosure process.

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