Everyone Wins When Grant Programs Award Funds for GovQA
The Washington State Archives Local Records Grant Program (from the Secretary of State) Awarded Technology Grants to 11 Jurisdictions to Pay for GovQA
Technology Grants for Public Records — Eleven jurisdictions in Washington state serving populations from 7,500 to nearly 1,000,000 proposed and won grants to transform their public records request processes with GovQA in recent years. What were their public records headaches and what was behind their decision to go with GovQA? The grant process gives in-depth insight on these questions, including the challenges specific to each grant winner and those they all share no matter their size or business.
So let’s dive in – what are the top reasons these cities, counties, and special districts chose GovQA as their public records request solution? In their own words, what are their major pain points, and why is GovQA the best solution?
*please note that jurisdictions responses were slightly edited for brevity and clarity
Technology Grants for Public Records - What problems need solving?
Problem #1: Dysfunctional patchwork of systems
- Numerous departments, no centralization
- Multiple software and tools, bogging down the process
- Data, documents, responses, etc. fall through the cracks
“The County is an amalgam of 55 distinct agencies and departments that received thousands of public records requests each year with no central public records management system. …county-wide management of public records is an unpredictable patchwork of methods that often result in confusion and substandard responses”. Spokane County
“Records coordinators in each office and department use a cobbled-together system of software programs and methods to receive, log, respond to, and track public records requests. A records coordinator may use SharePoint to comply with the statutory log requirement, Excel to track the status of requests and monitor deadlines, Word for correspondence and notes, Outlook to communicate with the requester, Adobe Pro to redact records, and Laserfiche to store records.” Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
“Records are duplicated between multiple systems used to track requests. Depending on workload, it can take IT up to a week to grant access to a secure folder for transferring files.” Tacoma-Pierce Co Health Dept
“[We] are in need of some tools to improve our response times and records management. First, we are operating with Excel Spreadsheets, MS Word and Outlook to track requests. In addition, we send requesters large files through Google Drive. Since many of our records are currently not in electronic format, we search through paper originals and numerous programs to manage requests, save and retrieve records and redact personal information. We have numerous programs to search through which causes us to be less efficient at responding, tracking, managing and fulfilling requests especially with respect to extremely complex requests.” Highline School District
Problem #2: Litigation risk due to noncompliance
- Lost data leading to missed deadlines
- Inaccessible/hard-to-find files
- Actual litigation with financial losses
“We were sued recently for an alleged violation of the Public Records Act. It was extremely difficult for us to locate and assemble all of the related records — from the initial request through to the records and exemption log.” City of Bellingham
“Our current solution has failed to properly integrate and consequently we have lost data and failed to respond to numerous requesters within five days as required.” City of Bellingham
“The County’s ability to respond to public records in a timely manner is continually stressed and its exposure to liability increases because the County has no central public records management or public records request system.” Thurston County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office
“The Health Department has multiple missed deadlines. This increases the chance of litigation, reduces transparency, and decreases customer satisfaction.” Tacoma-Pierce Co Health Dept
“In the last 12 months, the City has spent $22,924.40 on attorney costs related to public records requests.” City of Mill Creek
Problem #3: Records response demands on overstretched staff
- Time-consuming, inefficient records processes
- Multiple roles including public records processing
“Our limited staff currently spends a disproportionate amount of time organizing, sorting, redacting, scanning, and copying records, which also takes them away from their core and statutory duties.” City of Mill Creek
“We currently have only one person reading, redacting and releasing email for public records. This employee is also in charge of manually logging requests and retaining records which contain pertinent information.” City of Mount Vernon
“Our designated Public Records Officer is also the City Clerk and Executive Assistant who must prioritize the essential functions of government while trying to adhere to the Public Records Act.” City of Mill Creek
“Records staff with the County Sheriff’s Office alone are estimated to spend over 750 hours per year on functions that could be automated.” City of Mill Creek
Problem #4: Requests Are Getting More Complex
- Volume increasing
- Complexity increasing
- Quantity of Files increasing
- “Any and All” requests
“(In 2016)The City Clerk’s Office processed 213 public records requests, increasing in 2017 to 501 requests. This is an escalation of 135% in just 4 years. The police department has experienced similar increases [and hired no] additional staff to assist with this workload increase.” City of Federal Way
“The City received 1076 public records requests over the last 12 months (July 30, 2017 – July 30, 2018). Most of these requests have been complex in nature, involving substantial resources and months to complete.” City of Mill Creek
“In 2018, the Health Department received 639 public records requests. The average time to respond was 11 days. Sixty requests took more than 30 days to respond to. PRRs have increased 23% between January-March 2018 and January-March 2019. They have also become harder to track, with a 16% increase in ‘any and all’ requests for the same period.” Tacoma-Pierce Co Health Dept
“The numbers of public records requests [and quantities of] electronic records and scanned paper records produced has been increasing each year. The number of electronic files produced are: 1st Quarter 2018: 2,187; and 2nd Quarter 2018: 3,218.” San Juan County
“Some of our requests involve hundreds of thousands of emails which must be searched, redacted, updated and released to a requester. Having a system with the capability of streamlining this process would eliminate the possibility of mistakes that could lead to excessive legal fees.” City of Mount Vernon
Technology Grants for Public Records - Which Solutions Won?
The GovQA solutions the jurisdictions identified
Solution #1: GovQA is a streamlined, automated, end-to-end system for managing records requests that packs a plethora of critical functionalities (including redaction, retention/destruction, security, invoicing/payment) while being highly cost-effective
“GovQA will consolidate all responses and communications [for each request] into one searchable system and will streamline invoicing and payment for records. [It] will save our departments’ valuable time and money while effectively fulfilling requests in a timely manner.” Ferry County Prosecuting Attorney
“GovQA will allow the City to no longer rely upon the unsecured FTP site for transmission of documents. GovQA provides a user-friendly secure portal for the transmission and downloading of requested documents.” City of Federal Way
“GovQA is packed with features that make it the most cost-effective solution for the City.” City of Federal Way
“GovQA has built-in tracking to manage timelines across departments and individual requests. The City will be able to more effectively manage strict timelines and confirmation [that] requestors are accessing and receiving the documents they have requested.” City of Federal Way
“The GovQA redaction tools will save time, reduce risk, increase productivity, provide consistency, and ultimately create a better experience for the requestor.” City of Mill Creek
“[GovQA] will improve our request response time and will simplify our process by allowing us to utilize one program to respond, redact, scan, search, retain and manage public records requests. [GovQA] will allow us to log, respond, track, search, scan, redact documents, manage, and efficiently correspond with requesters. Highline School District
“With GovQA’s integrated processes, retention schedules, automated workflows and robust notification structure, we expect improved security; transparency; collaboration; cost savings; risk/liability and staff time savings; and [a better] customer experience.” City of Mill Creek
Solution #2 a better customer experience through transparency, ability to self-serve, and access to more information resources.
“GovQA features a public-facing side designed to increase transparency by creating a County-branded public portal where citizens can submit records requests, track the response, view past requests by other citizens, and examine the documents produced.” Spokane County
“The real power of GovQA is the in-line deflection and suggestion that scans requests for keywords and attempts to direct the requestor to resources that are already available. This provides a huge benefit to the public as they are able to get their requests [satisfied] immediately, and City staff is not burdened by a request that already has an available answer from a previous records request.” City of Federal Way
“If a similar document has been requested by someone previously, it will direct the requester to that request which will eliminate the need to submit a new request, thereby reducing staff involvement and tracking and providing a good experience for the requester.” City of Sequim
“The average time to close a records request is just under 12 business hours. Of the requests started by citizens within our portal, almost 40% were deflected to existing readily-available content that we have already digitized and made available to the public through GovQA, our own website, or documents transferred to archives.” City of Sedro-Woolley
“We expect zero late acknowledgment letters after successful implementation of GovQA. Response time will be improved by…publishing non-sensitive documents directly to the website.” Highline School District
Solution #3 GovQA is easy, fast and efficient to get up and running and keep going
“We can move quickly to install the software with remote assistance from GovQA.” City of Bellingham
“The public records officer will host on-site training sessions for the agency staff members who will be working directly with the new solution. We will not need to hire any additional staff.” City of Bellingham
“Since GovQA is a software as a service platform, it is very easy to get up and running. The City will not need to employ temporary staff or a consultant. This project should also have minimal to no impact on archives staff.” City of Federal Way
“Our goal is to have the system deployed within 90 days of contract signing.” City of Mill Creek
“Support is available 24/7.” City of Mill Creek
Grants are a great way to buy – Let GovQA help you win the funds you need!
Washington State’s Local Records Grant Program is just one of many funding sources available to help jurisdictions across the country invest in systems and technology to improve public records management and request handling. We can help! Request a free consultation on where to find funding/grant sources, how to prepare winning applications/proposals, or advocating for new funding sources to be made available!
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 email@example.com.