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Discussions from the FOIA IT Working Group
March 15, 2013 Posted by

As a part of OIP’s ongoing efforts to explore different ways to leverage technology tools in order to improve FOIA administration across the government, yesterday our office convened a meeting of the FOIA IT Working Group.  Serving as a forum for agency personnel to both discuss the application of technological and digital tools to various aspects of FOIA administration and share best practices in the use of such technologies, the FOIA IT Working Group continues to explore how to harness the power of technology to find efficiencies in the processing of FOIA requests.

During this Sunshine Week meeting, and joined by stakeholders from the open government community, the Working Group discussed many important aspects of how to promote a culture of openness through the use of technology.  Director Melanie Ann Pustay provided details on OIP’s recently published guidance on the use of uniform metadata tagging for FOIA documents posted online in FOIA Libraries.  She was joined by staff from the Department’s Civil Division to discuss the Department’s recently completed digital-FOIA pilot program.  The Working Group also discussed how social media platforms could be used as a tool to inform the public of the availability of government operational and policy documents which agencies make available to the public proactively without the need for a FOIA request, and some of the challenges that agencies face when posting material and documents online.

As the discussion turned to the topic of working with electronic files, the representatives from the open government groups in attendance raised the general topic of electronic communication with requesters.    As more organizations continue to submit requests and send correspondence to agencies through electronic means, the representatives noted that they receive hard copies of documents.  Though members of the Working Group discussed why some agencies may still prefer to communicate by paper or be constrained in their efforts to communicate electronically, OIP believes that the use of electronic communication represents a simple and easy way to create efficiencies in communicating with requesters and responding to requests in a timely manner.  Director Pustay informed the group that she believed this was a good subject to be addressed by OIP Guidance. 

OIP has previously issued guidance on The Importance of Good Communication with FOIA Requesters, and with yesterday’s discussion, we now will look to issue new and updated guidance regarding the use of electronic means to communicate with requesters.  As OIP looks to draft this guidance, if you would like to share your thoughts on the effective use of electronic communication during the FOIA process from either the requester or agency view point, please send us an e-mail at DOJ.OIP.FOIA@usdoj.gov with the subject “Views on Electronic Communication.”  The input received both from agency personnel and the requester community will prove valuable in the drafting of this guidance.

As agencies continue to explore how to harness technology and digital tools in the administration of the FOIA, the FOIA IT Working Group will continue to meet in order share the latest developments across the government.  Details on the next meeting will be announced here on FOIA Post and on Twitter at @FOIAPost as they are finalized.

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