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Treasury Dept. Gives FOIA A Technology Makeover

Department deploys cloud-based tools to manage and fulfill freedom of information requests.

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The U.S. Department of Treasury is leveraging cloud computing to make it easier for the department to handle Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, as well as for people to submit them.

The move is one of a host of efforts to expedite FOIA requests as agencies in the Obama administration try to make government information more accessible.

A new system at Treasury called goFOIA has three key features to improve the process of requesting and obtaining FOIA documents, according to a post on the CIO.gov blog by Treasury CIO Robyn East.

[ New technologies and services are under consideration by many in Washington. Read Should Postal Service Offer Email, Online Storage? ]

One is a Citizen Web Portal that allows people to make requests from the department online, a move that also is in line with President Obama's mandate for agencies to improve customer service. Previously, people would have to send a written request by regular mail or email to make FOIA requests, East said.

Two back-end features of the new solution also improve Treasury's FOIA process. One is a cloud-based tracking tool that allows personnel to manage FOIA requests and information internally, according to East.

The third feature of goFOIA also is in the cloud--a collaborative document-management system that employees can use to handle the documents they need to respond to FOIA requests.

Leveraging the cloud for goFOIA provided Treasury technology flexibility and cost-savings to improve the department's response to FOIA requests, East said. Federal agencies also have a mandate to use the cloud to create new efficiencies both internally and in how they interact with the public.

"These three tools were selected because they were cost effective, quick to implement, and allowed a balance of efficiency and transparency," she said.

Because the tracking and collaboration tools are in the cloud, Treasury personnel can access FOIA requests from any computer with an Internet connection, and share information with other personnel about requests.

"This means more accurate reporting, which is used to achieve faster responses to requests and increase accountability," according to East.

To keep Treasury accountable for improving response time to requests, the back-end tracking system includes a homepage dashboard that calculates and charts the amount of pending requests, making special note of the 10 oldest requests, she said.

Historically, finding the right records to fulfill requests has been a problem, and the collaborative aspect of goFOIA will address those challenges "by providing a framework for program offices and sub-groups within the Department of the Treasury to collect, organize, and compile their response in one place," East added.

Modernizing FOIA has been a part of agencies' open-government plans, and the Department of Justice has a FOIA website on which agencies can post the latest documents of interest that are available for public consumption.

The site also tracks how agencies are faring in terms of responding to requests, with the Department of Homeland Security currently at the top of both the "Most Full and Partial Grants of Records" and "Most Appeals Processed" lists.

Our annual Federal Government IT Priorities Survey shows how agencies are managing the many mandates competing for their limited resources. Also in the new issue of InformationWeek Government: NASA veterans launch cloud startups, and U.S. Marshals Service completes tech revamp. Download the issue now. (Free registration required.)

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