Records requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) present their own unique set of challenges in the era of increased desire for transparency in government. 

The government established the FOIA in 1967 so any member of the public can request access to records from any federal agency. In turn, those federal agencies have to provide the requested information, except if it falls within one of nine exemptions.

The growing number of government records requests has put a strain on the timeliness and accuracy of the data redaction process for federal agencies that have to fulfill them.

Watch the webinar: Discover & Redact Data: Automating Government Records Requests

Government Records Requests Requirements

Federal agencies must process a government records request within 20 business days of receiving it. In addition, the agency has the right to add 10 more business days to that deadline if unusual circumstances apply. This can include:

  • If other field offices hold parts or all of the requested data.
  • If the request includes a larger-than-normal amount of data that has to be found, organized, and redacted.
  • If the federal agency needs to consult with another agency or the EPA due to substantial interest in the records request.

Under normal circumstances, processing a government records request in 20-30 days can be tight. However, add in the complexities brought on by the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns and setbacks, and it’s nearly impossible. In fact, major delays of FOIA government records requests have been standard in 2021.

Federal agencies have to find a way to speed up the redaction process for government records requests by addressing the most pressing challenges. 

Managing the Request 

Today’s overwhelming number of government records requests is only going to grow. But the pileup of requests from the pandemic slowdown won’t get any better any time soon. 

It’s clear federal agencies must take action. Before they can, though, they must understand exactly what the challenges are. That way, they can make sure the solution they implement strategically addresses the most pressing issues when it comes to redacting data for government records requests.

The Federal Agency needs a way to intake the requests, and capture the relevant information about the requester and the scope of the request.

Finding all the data

When completing a government records request, federal agencies have to gather all the relevant information across all the departments and in all the places — online and offline — where it’s stored. This human coordination is time consuming, and can mean late fulfilment of the request as well as uncertainty as to whether all the information has been gathered. 

Redacting information

Next, federal agencies must redact other people’s sensitive or private data from the record before sending it out to the requestee. Because this is a manual process, it also requires countless man hours and is prone to error.

Federal agencies must find a solution to eradicate the manual processes. This will exponentially speed up the time it takes to process a government records request. It will also reduce mistakes and prevent missing information.

Complexity of data

Not only is requested information often stored across different federal agency field offices, it’s stored in different formats and file types. For paper records, all applicable files have to be sifted through at all offices. Copies have to be made of the files, and they all have to be sorted through again during the review and redaction process. 

Federal agencies also have to provide electronic records. That means sorting through emails, databases, and other communication tools to find the requested information. Everything has to be printed, redacted, and combined with the paper records.

The complexity of the many data formats can bog down the government records request process even further. It’s easy to miss files because there are so many types. 

Federal agencies must address this major challenge by centralizing the file type the data is stored in. They must also store and organize all files in a central location for easy access and to deliver a complete records request.

High costs

The overwhelming amount of time and resources it takes to deliver a government records request comes at a high price — literally. Federal agencies pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of wages to their employees tasked with fulfilling these requests.

The backlog of requests — and the likelihood they’ll only continue to increase — puts a strain on federal agencies’ budgets dedicated to managing this task. 

It’s not only undesirable, it’s unsustainable.

Federal agencies must find a way to cut costs. A solution needs to face this challenge head on, reducing the complexities of processing government records requests. It will decrease the involvement of federal agency employees to save money.

Watch the webinar: Discover & Redact Data: Automating Government Records Requests

Conclusion: Automate Government Records Requests

Automation is the modern solution to the outdated government records request challenge. Federal agencies can use AI-driven data discovery and redaction and automated workflows to complete the process in less time and fewer employees. 

Discover, classify, and redact data in a single workflow without getting bogged down by manual tasks — all with automation.

OneTrust Government Records Request solution is designed to do just that. It’s the first solution of its kind, built especially for federal agencies managing FOIA government records requests. This solution uses the power of automation to eliminate the manual identification and redaction of data.

You’ll save time and money, while building trust with the public by delivering on time, every time.

Request a demo or start your free trial today.


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