Setting the Standard for FOIA Case Management: What to Expect From OIP’s New Business Standards Initiative

Today, as Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests continue to skyrocket and backlogs grow, it’s critical that agencies take a hard look at their FOIA programs to identify pain points and find ways to improve. Thankfully, government professionals are more than happy to share best practices and collaborate with each other to solve common problems. However, when it comes to FOIA, most government agencies are “doing the same thing as everyone else, in their own unique way,” and this variety of approaches can make it difficult for program offices to compare notes.

Recognizing this pressing need for streamlined processes and standardized solutions, the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) has taken the lead in spearheading a government-wide effort to establish business standards for FOIA request management. This working group is trying to set business standards for several functional areas of FOIA case management such as request intake, processing, responding to the requester, fee estimation and processing, administrative appeals, and customer service.

After seeking input from stakeholders, including agencies and private sector experts, the OIP will soon release a draft version of the business standards available for public comment this summer and anticipates finalizing the business standards later this year.

Once finalized, the standards won’t be mandatory but should be influential in how agencies administer their FOIA programs and possibly technology procurements. They will be published as a Federal Integrated Business Framework (FIBF) and offer agencies specific recommendations and guidance on FOIA case management best practices, so when they look to adopt new tech or modify policies, they’ll have a standardized framework to measure against and potential considerations to keep in mind.

Separately, the Chief FOIA Officers Council will be publishing a FOIA technology guide that will help agencies make informed decisions about what technologies they need to manage their FOIA programs, in part by clearly defining the various elements of FOIA-related technology, such as case management, document management, OCR, AI-enabled search and redaction, analytics, etc. The efforts will lead to better communication within the FOIA community and government-wide improvements to FOIA programs. By giving every agency a meaningful and clear way to think about FOIA processing, it probably will — and should — also result in increases in government headcounts and technology investments. The real question will be whether FOIA programs finally get the respect — and funding — they deserve to fulfill their statutory obligations and provide this invaluable service to our community.

Benjamin Tingo is the Chief Legal Officer and Vice President of Strategic Partnerships at OPEXUS. OPEXUS (formerly AINS) is a DC-based GovTech 100 awardee whose mission is to empower professionals to elevate trust in public institutions through the design, development, and delivery of specialized case management software, including Open Government (FOIA and Correspondence), OIG Audits and Investigations, and Human Resources/Employee Management. Benjamin is a licensed attorney, with nearly twenty years of experience with complex civil and criminal litigation and as in-house GovTech counsel. He is also a member of NARA’s FOIA Advisory Committee and a volunteer firefighter.

Image by Eskay Lim on Unsplash

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