Part 2: FOIA Request Management
This article is part of a 3-part series on privatization of government processes.
The 2020 manned SpaceX launch proved to be a historic success, kick starting a second wave “Space Race” between companies like SpaceX, Blue Origin, and the long-competitive United Launch Alliance. As more companies win contracts with NASA, we are likely to see an acceleration toward the commercialization of space, including further opening of the International Space Station (ISS) to tourism and expanding the role of private companies in space missions.
Last week, we explained how the SpaceX launch and NASA Commercial Crew Program demonstrate an increased need for a robust contract management solution for the agency to protect itself from productivity and spending loss, as well as the validity of bid protests. Increased commercialization also poses other unique process management issues that mature case management solutions can address. As agencies like NASA award more high-profile contracts, the number of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests submitted to NASA and other agencies are expected to increase.
We’ve outlined in previous articles how the number of FOIA requests to federal agencies is rapidly growing. We’ve also described how FOIA requests can surge during high-profile events. The SpaceX launch caught nationwide attention because it was the first American-manned launch from U.S. soil in nine years. But despite the success of the SpaceX launch, space exploration still involves high risk and potential for disaster. With the Space Shuttle Columbia and Space Shuttle Challenger disasters defining the end of an era, public scrutiny is likely going to follow commercial space exploration programs for some time.
Commercialization of spaceflight might make some skeptics uneasy about quality assurance processes and safety controls. Because the programs are driven by industry rather than government, people might also worry about a loss of transparency. However, SpaceX has always been held to the highest standards of safety and accountability by NASA, in part an effort to ensure that the errors in the Challenger shuttle were not repeated.
Additionally, as more companies look to do business with NASA, the increase in competition will likely cause NASA to see more FOIA requests to existing contracts. Government contracts are largely susceptible to FOIA requests, and companies will often FOIA the terms of a contract to gain a competitive edge in future bids. Although some information, like line item pricing, can be exempt from FOIA on a case-by-case basis under Exemption 4 as “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person [that is] privileged or confidential.”
NASA and other agencies pushing for industry can prepare for the surge in FOIA requests through a FOIA request management solution like FOIAXpress. With FOIAXpress, the number one FOIA solution in the U.S. federal government, NASA can automate the FOIA request process from request intake to redaction to release, greatly speeding response time and reducing backlog. AI, electronic document review, and a public reading room are some of the many features that greatly reduce redundant efforts when responding to FOIA requests. Additionally, FOIAXpress can provide a bench to customers that will quickly help reduce backlog on a critical case.
As we outlined in our last article, NASA’s pivot to meet agency objectives through industry reflects a growing trend throughout the federal government. For several years, federal contract spending has increased, growing by nine percent in 2018. This increase accounts for many reasons, including the cost-effectiveness of sourcing government programs to industry. But as the private sector further integrates with federal programs, agencies will require more mature case management solutions to handle their processes. With FOIAXpress, NASA can be secure in how they handle increasing backlog of FOIA requests. Other agencies looking to expand their involvement with the commercial sector will also need to make these considerations.