Using Foresight to Manage Your Oversight: A Closer Look at Open Government Processes

April 11, 2023 / #Open Government

You’ve heard us talk about FOIA, but what about its often overlooked counterpart, correspondence?

What is government correspondence?

Much like Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, correspondence refers to public records requests submitted to federal agencies. However, while FOIA requests are submitted by the general public, correspondence refers to requests submitted by members of Congress, the White House, news outlets, or other agencies. These requests can serve as an important piece of research to help inform bills and subsequent policy.

How does correspondence in government work?

Oftentimes, Congressional correspondence requests come to agencies via a different channel from FOIA requests and lack structured workflows. This can cause inefficiencies and time wasted reviewing and redacting similar requests and can lead to duplicative efforts and create room for discrepancies. For example, if an agency released different information to a Congressional Committee and the Washington Post, it could lead to frustration, confusion, and lack of trust.

Why is correspondence relevant?

A November 2022 Government Accountability Office (GAO) report revealed that DOJ does not have proper systems in place to efficiently respond to this type of Congressional inquiry. Specifically, it found DOJ:

  • Does not systematically maintain quality data to track and monitor the status of responses
  • Lacks guidance to ensure tracking system data quality
  • Has limited efforts to measure timeliness performance

DOJ is not alone in this conundrum. Many agencies struggle to efficiently fulfill correspondence requests. When requesters do not receive responses in a timely manner, it can impede the perception of an efficiently working, transparent government process.

How government agencies can fulfill correspondence requests with greater efficiency

Agencies can start by breaking down siloed systems. Oftentimes, the documents that are requested by Congress overlap with FOIA requests. This means there may already be a redacted version of the requested document on file that could be tailored to fit the correspondence need.

The easiest way to do this, is by taking a combined approach by aligning the fulfillment process across open government requests. In doing so, they can:

  • Reduce total number of required responses
  • Decrease oversight demands and congressional hearings
  • Enforce standardization and reduce risk of errors and inconsistencies
  • Minimize and avoid backlogs, reduce response times, and mitigate organizational inefficiencies

OPEXUS is the federal market leader in FOIA. There is a natural segue to efficiently and cost effectively expand that into similar applications. Adding eCase Correspondence to FOIAXpress helps deliver efficient workflows, comprehensive redaction tools, and configurable software to meet your agency’s unique needs. Whether a request comes from a reporter, Congress, or a member of the public, you can guarantee a quality and consistent open record fulfillment process.

Listen to our very own FOIA Advisory Committee member, Ben Tingo, discuss these challenges in a recent video from Sunshine Week.

To learn more about how we may be able to help, please reach out to us.


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