In the modern era of the FOIA and Open Government, one of the most common discussion topics is the utilization of portals. Most recently, there has been and continues to be a large push for a single government wide portal that would be the epicenter for FOIA submissions. The idea of FOIA is a great one; however, improving the intake of FOIA requests only addresses a piece of the larger process of FOIA processing.
AINS has always been a supporter of the utilization of portals. We developed our Public Access Link or PAL, which is a portal that can be utilized by any of our FOIAXpress customers. PAL increases the efficiency of the intake process, enables requesters to track their FOIA requests, and promotes proactive release through the PAL’s reading room. It possesses all of the bells and whistles that other portals used by federal, local, and state FOIA offices. However, PAL does have something that sets it aside from many, if not most, of the other FOIA portals out there; it has an end to end case management system attached to it.
PAL is merely the front end of FOIAXpress, AINS’ case management and FOIA tracking system that is utilized by more than 250 different federal, local, state, and international FOI complaint offices. FOIAXpress has the ability to intake FOIA requester data and their FOIA requests, send and receive correspondence, store response records, apply redactions, access, deliver documents to the requester, compile reports, provide audit trails and more. It truly is a case management system where a FOIA can be processed on single platform, which enables enhanced accountability and efficiency.
As I said, the FOIA portal is a great idea and one that will greatly improve the experience for the requester; it already has for many requesters who have submitted requests through the PAL system at many different federal agencies using FOIAXpress. However, if all you have is a portal and no means manage all of the cases or requests, FOIA offices will just be flooded and backlogs and response times with skyrocket. This flood will also provide an environment for requests to be lost and accountability to limited.
Those agencies who have leveraged the power of FOIAXpress can attest that case management is essential in the processing of FOIAs and ultimately reduces backlogs and response times. Strong case management systems also provide strong audit capabilities and overall accountability for the steps taken in processing each FOIA.
The use of portals or a government wide portal will improve the FOIA process and provide the citizenry better access to information, however this only the case if case management tools are being utilized in the processing of FOIA requests. Remember, the federal government received over 700,000 requests last year; the processing of that many FOIAs requires technological support in regards to case management and without it, there is just a pile of 700,000 FOIA requests.