Enable FOIA requests and government transparency through citizen self service

By Daniel O'Leary posted 05-18-2011 11:55

  

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests help to keep our government transparent. Well, they’re the best tool we have at least.

We found some compelling issues on this topic down in Raleigh, NC’s News & Observer, in an article about a state law that would limit the reach of public records requests. One of the main arguments for the bill and limiting the access of people wanting to see what their government, school boards, public universities and elected officials were up to was the productivity burden inherent to searching for, organizing and providing the documents being requested. It can take public employees away from their daily jobs for hours and at times, becomes a multi-departmental effort.

Understandably, sorting through cabinet after cabinet of manually completed state HR forms or disciplinary action requests or salary histories for the last ten years would be enough to drive someone to drink. In the morning. But what if those forms were never paper to begin with? See where we’re headed with this?

Current FOIA backlog for the federal govt. in the USA

If all those forms were made into powerful LincDoc eForms, all that data would be accessible in a snap. You could even go a step beyond that to customize a search just for public records requests that would result in a single, multi-page document with each requested bit of information included. It could present to the user a single document that has forms from operations about some huge construction budget screw-up, personnel file information and board meeting minutes, each one being clearly time-stamped with its respective historic recording data (time, day, meeting attendees, etc.) for authenticity.

And, any portions of data that are exempt from public record, like those in personnel records or minutes from closed meeting sessions can be simply marked as so using business logic that will prevent them from being returned in a FOIA query.

Lastly, just to make this idea truly mind-blowing, you can make the request form available on a web site, connected directly to a universal records repository so that reporters and concerned citizens can search all by themselves, whenever they want and not have to take public employees away from their jobs in order to organize the request. They could however, see a record of who accessed the search request form and when. Oh, and, since public entities are often allowed to charge requesting parties a nominal amount for time spent, copies and printing charges associated with producing records, a payment module could be attached to the public-facing form. A product like WebLink from Laserfiche is what is used in many organizations, and works great.

See just how powerful eForms capture can be? It’s not just about the form, it’s about making things easy for everyone.



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