Enhancing Employee Productivity and Efficiency Through Transparency in Government
June 8, 2012
Information management is a challenge for any industry, and success in government is impacted by not only the staggering growth of information but also citizens' expectations of information transparency as a result of open government initiatives.
Comprehensive records management solutions can better manage content and records, resulting in a markedly improved ability to comply with FOIA, open government, and records management requirements; improve employee productivity; and assist agencies in complying with policies and mandates.
VISIBILITY INTO ORGANIZATIONAL INFORMATION THROUGH RECORDS MANAGEMENT
Open government instructs agencies to provide information to the public online in open, accessible, machine-readable formats. Agencies are required to publish high-value information that will increase agency accountability and responsiveness as well as improve public knowledge of the agency and its operations. Open government demands transparency in how agencies are improving records management and publishing online information about how to access declassified agency materials. It also requires agencies to solicit public input about what types of materials to prioritize for declassification in the future. Furthermore, the directive also requires that annual Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) reports be published online in machine-readable formats.
The Freedom of Information Act is 46 years old and provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain federal agency records, except those records or portions of records protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions. The e-FOIA Act, passed in 1996, establishes electronic reading rooms to make sharing of information and records easier for the public and agency staff. A January 2009 Presidential Memorandum instructs agencies to administer FOIA with a clear presumption in favor of disclosure, to resolve doubts in favor of openness and not to withhold information based on "speculative or abstract fears," and to use modern technology to inform citizens about what is known and done by their government.
Additionally, in March 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder issued guidelines that FOIA "reflects our nation's fundamental commitment to open government." All agencies are to apply the presumption of openness, ensure agency accountability, improve FOIA performance, work proactively and promptly to make information available to the public, improve the use of technology, deploy an efficient and effective system for responding to requests, and increase proactive disclosures.
A key aspect of improving the FOIA process involves improving the search for records within an agency, a process that frequently entails searching through voluminous numbers of email messages and disparate records systems throughout the organization. Information requested through FOIA is increasingly found in electronic format — for example, email. However, the electronic files are typically printed and then mailed to the FOIA requester, and a printed copy is filed along with the FOIA request documentation, complicating the process and adding to the records management workload. Although some agencies are still tracking their FOIA requests in spreadsheets and log books, other agencies have taken steps to improve their FOIA systems. Examples of using new technology to assist FOIA requests include investing in electronic tracking and processing of emails as well as using electronic records to facilitate identification of the location of records responsive to requests.
As federal agencies modernize their records management programs, they should recognize similar transparency mandates across multiple agency functions such as FOIA and then deploy solutions that enhance the flow of information across all agency functions. Comprehensive records management solutions can better manage content and records, resulting in a markedly improved ability to comply with FOIA, open government, and records management requirements; improve employee productivity; and assist agencies in complying with policies and mandates.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO GOVERNMENT
Agencies are implementing reforms to FOIA processes, deploying best practices in disclosing government information in accessible and useful forms, and reducing their FOIA backlogs. They should build upon these efforts by deploying records management solutions such as access and retrieval and advanced records management software to improve access to information wherever it resides. Because so much work is done in email, agencies should leverage eDiscovery tools to assist them with aspects of their FOIA process, such as searching for and collecting records. Implementing litigation support will establish defensible processes of capturing, coding, and organizing digital information into eDiscovery platforms for review, analysis, and production, therefore reducing agency litigation costs. Greater visibility into organizational information — together with the ability to produce documentation when needed — allows agencies to enhance employee efficiency and productivity by quickly responding to questions and requests for information. Greater visibility into organizational information also provides the information needed for government to comply with the open government directives of transparency, collaboration, and participatory government.
To increase transparency, government should seek more pervasive integration of information within and across agencies so that employees and the public have better access to government transactions and knowledge. Agencies should continue to make proactive disclosures of information and educate the public and government employees about the availability of information. Because many electronic reading rooms are hard to navigate and don't provide search functions that allow ease of use for the public or FOIA managers, agencies should consider full-text search functionality. Without electronic files, it is difficult to find documents, and agencies should deploy intelligent scanning solutions to transition from paper to electronic records and minimize storage and retrieval expenses.
Do you have questions about federal government records management? Read additional Knowledge Center stories on this subject, or contact Iron Mountain’s consulting services team. You’ll be connected with a knowledgeable product and services specialist who can address your information management challenges.
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