The Rising Demand for Transparency in the Government

The following article was written by AINS CEO Moe Goswami and is Part 1 of a 4-part series on digital transformation in government agencies and Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs).

To view the original article, click here.

Last month, I wrote a piece about how artificial intelligence (AI) is changing business. As the owner of a software company, I often think about the new challenges our government clients will soon be facing. I also think about how data and information is evolving through digitization, creating particular challenges related to transparency.

Emails, social media, and other forms of digital communication have given government agencies a lot more to manage. Every day, we generate over 2.5 quintillion bytes of data,[1] which is about one billion times more data than the average computer holds. Included in that 2.5 quintillion bytes of data are the more than 132 million business emails we send daily, according to a 2017 estimate.[2] Since government agencies generate emails at a rapid rate, you can imagine how the emergence of massive amounts of data poses new problems.

Civic engagement is higher than ever, which of course is great for our democracy. The internet and the information it provides has brought with it a closeness and awareness of policy to the public. However, this means that our government agencies have to be hyper-vigilant about how they handle access to information. Increasingly, the public has demanded higher transparency in the form of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. So much so, that the volume of FOIA requests is rising, breaking new records each year.

We’ve seen this surge firsthand with our clients, who in the beginning looked to our application, FOIAXpress, to automate tedious redaction processes. But as agencies demanded faster software to keep up with the rise in FOIA requests, we’ve introduced features like electronic document review (EDR) to cull a large number of emails and documents, and AI to automatically redact common patterns. Staying ahead of these challenges has allowed our clients to meet the transparency guidelines that seem to be constantly shifting.

Whistleblowers, also critical to transparency, pose new problems for government agencies due to their increasing visibility in the public sphere. Whistleblowers have a long history with U.S. political affairs, but given the high profile of some recent whistleblower cases, public scrutiny has only just begun to set its sights on how agencies handle whistleblower complaints. “Whistleblower culture” has become so pervasive in the minds of inspectors general (IGs), we saw it as a forefront topic at many IG conferences we attended this year.

Tips are still “the most common way to detect fraud,”[3] having accounted for 40 percent of fraud detection as of 2018.[4] As such, pressure persists to ensure that whistleblower complaints are properly managed and that whistleblowers are protected. Technology has been key to providing safe and accessible avenues for employees and the public to report instances of fraud, waste, and abuse, while digital processing tools have enabled OIGs to better legitimize various cases.

Policy is constantly shifting to meet demands for transparency. Legislation like the 2014 Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act has already driven many agencies toward digital transformation. In turn, as our company’s Governance, Risk, and Compliance (GRC) specialist Will Fitzgerald tells me, this inclusion of modernized technology has prompted the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE) to re-evaluate its policy documentation for audits.

The Generally Accepted Government Auditing Standards (GAGAS) Yellow Book, which provides the basis for our audit management application, is written to guide auditors though paper and email-based processes and procedures. But according to Fitzgerald, “CIGIE may have to consider these approaches in GAGAS versions both short and long term, knowing there are alternative approaches to streamlining auditor guidance with the evolution of digital transformation.”

Government agencies need robust digital tools to mitigate challenges brought about in the information age. The public is unfaltering in its demand for increased transparency—even the private emails of government officials are subject to FOIA, according to a 2016 ruling.[5] Digital transparency has changed the way our government agencies do work, and it’s important to understand how agencies are taking steps to manage these new priorities, to better solve evolving challenges before they emerge.

References:

[1] Marr, Bernard. “How Much Data Do We Create Every Day? The Mind-Blowing Stats Everyone Should Read.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, September 5, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2018/05/21/how-much-data-do-we-create-every-day-the-mind-blowing-stats-everyone-should-read/#69bcf36860ba

[2] Radicati, Sara, and Levenstein, Justin. “Email Statistics Report, 2013-2017.” The Radicati Group, Inc. April, 2013. http://www.radicati.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Email-Statistics-Report-2013-2017-Executive-Summary.pdf

[3] “Report to the Nations on Occupational Fraud and Abuse.” Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, Inc. 2010. https://www.acfe.com/uploadedFiles/ACFE_Website/Content/documents/rttn-2010.pdf

[4] “Report to the Nations 2018 Global Study on Occupational Fraud and Abuse.” Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, Inc. 2018. https://s3-us-west-2.amazonaws.com/acfepublic/2018-report-to-the-nations.pdf

[5] Competitive Enterprise Institute v. Office of Science and Technology Policy, 827 F.3d 145 (D.C. Cir. 2016).


AINS, Inc. has provided innovative adaptive case management products and services since 1988. Our case management platform, eCase, is deployed at over 400 installations, including federal agencies and offices, state and local governments, educational systems, health institutions, and commercial customers. Unlike other BPM solutions that were retrofitted for case management, eCase was built for case management from the ground up, enabling faster prototyping and production of solutions across diverse business processes. By leveraging the power of eCase, AINS excels at analyzing client business requirements and quickly configuring (not coding) scalable solutions that adapt to the needs of our customers.