May 10 Deadline Approaches for FOIA Portal Plans

The deadline for agencies to submit interoperability plans with the FOIA Portal is almost here!

By May 10, 2019, all government agencies must submit plans to the Department of Justice to show how they will comply with the new FOIA request portal on FOIA.gov. Through the portal, any member of the public can submit a FOIA request to any government agency.

What are your agency’s options?

To comply with the FOIA Portal, agencies can either (a) use a “structured Application Programming Interface (API)” to accept FOIA requests or (b) accept FOIA requests “via a formal, structured e-mail to a designated email inbox.” Let’s take a look at these options:

Option 1: Email Integration

We do not recommend this option for a number of reasons. For starters, unless email is already integrated with your existing FOIA system, your staff will have to manually populate FOIA cases. This increases workload and risk of data entry error. Plus, if you’ve ever run a high-activity email account, you’ll know how quickly the inbox can fill up. If your agency is hit with a FOIA surge, the email system is ill-equipped to manage the high volume of requests.

Option 2: API Integration

This is the best option for compliance since it allows for seamless communication between the FOIA Portal and your existing FOIA system. A correctly developed API should automatically create and update cases as they are submitted through the FOIA portal, eliminating the need for manual data entry.

So what’s the best API approach?

You could hire a contractor or build your API internally, but this can be costly and support may be complicated if you run into technical problems or changing FOIA requirements. The best solution is to implement a prebuilt API compatible with your existing system and the FOIA Portal. Prebuilt APIs should already be integrated with the Portal and supported by the vendor in case of future changes.

If you’re a FOIAXpress customer, or are looking to become one, we recommend our new FOIAXpress FOIA Portal API. Our API seamlessly sends requests from the Portal to your Public Access Link (PAL) module and then directly inputs the request into your FOIAXpress application for processing. Your agency can then correspond and deliver documents to the requester just like any other request submitted through PAL.

To learn how to implement our new API, or if you have any questions about your FOIA Portal integration plan, please contact us at info@ains.com.

This article is part of a series on FOIA law and regulations. Stay tuned for our upcoming article on how AINS can help your organization handle unexpected surges in FOIA requests.