It is no secret that government agencies have long been short on resources, including staff. As the number of FOIA requests rise, government staff members are being stretched in more directions than ever before. This increase in request volume takes employees away from other higher priority agency projects and can create backlogs in not only fulfilling requests but in managing other projects.

Do Agencies Have Enough FOIA Personnel? (A Federal Example)

In FY2018, the federal government overall received a record high 863,729 FOIA requests and processed just over 830,000. This record volume of requests was handled by 4,904 FOIA personnel. Given that request volume remains steady, FOIA personnel numbers grew to 5,002 and 5,559 in FY2019 and FY2020, respectively.

And requests are getting more complex to fulfill. According to the PiPRIndex, public records complexity has increased 150% since data collection began in 2018. The unprecedented events of 2020, such as the pandemic and civil unrest, are increasing the volume of public records requests and are sending processing times soaring because of the complexity of audio, video and other large files. 

Each government agency processes its own records in response to requests. Depending on an agency’s size, there may not be enough staff to handle FOIA response and resources must be allocated as necessary. The growing complexity of requests can also create backlogs. Simple, straightforward requests can be processed quickly; while more complex requests (like those for video, audio, and “any and all emails”) require additional resources. Every jurisdiction must evaluate its own needs and determine whether adding FOIA personnel is the answer.

Best Practices + Technology Can Reduce Pain

Properly trained staff keep operations running smoothly and efficiently. But a streamlined agency requires so much more than just basic employee training. Every employee working with FOIA requests should be aware of the following best practices in public records, which work well in agencies of any size:

  • Training
  • Post policies
  • Know mandatory timing requirements
  • Understand exemption code
  • Know what records are on file
  • Understand retention and storage requirements
  • Clarify scope
  • Assign responsibility
  • Use 4-step approach to determine if records should be released
  • Collect fees, if allowed
  • Implement an emergency/crisis management plan

Agencies will realize the greatest benefits in managing requests by adopting these best practices. Implementing public records management and request management technology can help you do more with less.

Using and Understanding Software Technology Solutions

Government agencies of all types and sizes are turning to public records request management software to process FOIA requests in the most efficient manner. These technology solutions are becoming increasingly beneficial as jurisdictions streamline their processes and centralize communications.

With public records management software, agencies are able to better manage records in all formats – email, paper, social media, text messages, and video – and release them on-time, securely, and with consistency and accuracy.

Join the Conversation. What are your peers prioritizing as they look to 2022?

Take the 2022 Peers In Public Records Survey.

The Peers in Public Records Newsletter (formerly FOIA News) is a bi-monthly e-newsletter brought to you by GovQA. It is a collection of the latest trends in public record requests and government transparency initiatives, shared stories, live roundtables, informative case studies, and actionable knowledge that will help you calm the chaos and keep your organization compliant. Send your comments to peers@govqa.com.

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