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More than half of primary elections have taken place in states across the country ending blackout periods for many Members of Congress. However, even as many Members are coming out of blackout periods, time is quickly running out before blackouts begin again on August 8th. Here are a few tips for maximizing your communication efforts during this open period of time. 

Live stream town hall events

One great way to connect and engage with your constituents is through town halls, including virtual town halls. Virtual town hall services, such as Access Live, are an easy, scalable solution for reaching even large and diverse districts and communities. Studies have shown that a single virtual town hall event can increase approval ratings on a specific issue by as much as 38%. Access Live allows you to dial out to your constituents directly, stream live to your website and social media networks, and interact with your audience through live polling and taking questions directly from callers. With live support from the IQ and Broadnet teams, and the ability to sync your data directly into your CRM, Access Live events are the easiest virtual town hall solution on the market and are ideal for reaching your community before blackouts begin again. We recommend holding one virtual town hall per week every week until the next blackout begins on August 8th. 

Email outreach

It might seem obvious, but one of the easiest and effective ways to reach your constituents is through email outreach. Now is a great time to let your constituents know about the biggest issues you’ve worked on this term, about the issues that you are committed to continuing to pursue, and to collect feedback from your district on how you’ve been doing so far. Communication shouldn’t be a one way street. Be sure to include surveys, embed rich content, and ask for feedback in your outreaches.

Optimize website content

Now is a great time to take a critical eye to your website and make sure the content is as good as it should be. If you’re reaching out to your constituents via the two steps above, you will likely see an increase in traffic to your website. You’ll want to be sure you’re putting your best foot forward in representing the work you and your office are doing to promote the interests of your constituency. 

Clean up your data

The pre-election blackout will be here before you know it and your outreach needs to land.  Clean up your data now and make sure your messaging makes it to your constituents’ inboxes. Work on expanding your email subscriptions through email marketing and virtual town halls so that when blackouts hit, you will still be able to reach a large segment of your district.

These next six weeks will be critical in getting in front of your constituents before blackouts begin again. To speak with a sales representative about sending out email communications or planning your next Access Live virtual town hall event, email iq.info@leidos.com or call us at 703-206-0030. 

As the provider of the leading CRM in the public sector, the Leidos DSI team deals with many Federal and state agencies who are struggling to efficiently manage their FOIA and public information request (PIR) processes. For agencies who may be looking to improve their FOIA management and customer service, here are five tips that we think will help your organization improve and simplify FOIA request management.

Proactive data posts

One way to help ease the burden of public information requests on your agency is to proactively publish unclassified materials that may be of interest to the public. One great example of this was the CIA’s decision in 2017 to publish thousands of recently de-classified files from the Kennedy assassination. Once they decided to de-classify the material, they may have been inundated with FOIA requests from journalists or citizens wanting to review the materials, but proactively making the documents available online made it accessible to the public without a FOIA request. Committing to proactive posts—particularly of files that may be of special interest to the public—ultimately results in a constantly growing library of documents available to the public online and can save your agency valuable time and staff resources that otherwise would be tied up in information requests.

Modern IT Tools

Making the request process simpler for both the requestor and your staff can also go a long way in saving your agency’s finite resources. There are many software solutions available that can help streamline and automate the request tracking, payment collecting and overall back and forth involved in processing and filling FOIA and PIR requests. However, even with these resources available, there are still many state and local agencies that are tracking and managing information requests in spreadsheets. Upgrading to a system that can take a request through your agency’s website, auto-assign it to a staff member, estimate and collect fees and provide a reference number to the agency and the requestor makes a huge difference in the efficiency and quality of the experience for the requestor and the organization. If you are interested in learning more about how software solutions can automate this process for you, take a demo of Intranet Quorum.

Disciplined Communication

Another big key to improving the FOIA process for both agency staff and the public is committing to disciplined communication. What this means is having a set of standards for communicating with the public about their requests and making sure those standards are consistently applied across your organization. Something as simple as acknowledging an incoming request when it’s received can make a big difference in the requester’s experience so implementing agency-wide communication guidelines can ensure each requestor has a positive experience. If your agency is using a modern tracking system, arming a requestor with their request’s tracking number and the ability to check in and see live status updates can eliminate many follow up communications and help ease the mind of an anxious reporter or other member of the public. Additionally, if you are communicating back and forth, it’s a best practice to record all of your communications in one repository where it can be referenced along with the request itself.

The spirit of the Freedom of Information Act is about government transparency. We know this is not always easy, but we believe it is important. One way to make sure that you’re complying with the nature of that stature, more than simply the letter of the law, is to think of your role as an advocate for the requestor by cooperating with them to try to understand what information they are looking for and doing the work to help fulfill the request. We know not everyone is a FOIA expert, and they may make a request that is not quite clear in scope or directive. We recommend whenever you encounter an unclear request to reach out directly to the requester, using plain language, and try to understand as best as you can exactly what they are looking for. This can help focus your work, foster good will with the requestor and help to avoid litigation or disputes later on.  

Disclosure Standards

Every agency, whether required to by law or not, should define and publish a “foreseeable harm” standard that is specific to their agency to ensure both openness and protection of information that could be harmful if improperly released. What we mean by this is clearly identify the types of materials that would be harmful to release to the public that your staff can refer to when they receive a request. A well-defined policy makes it easier for your staff to make informed decisions regarding disclosure while working with the public. When filling a request, be sure to confirm that requested documents that are classified continue to be properly classified, rather than assuming their status has not changed. Lastly, releasing documents to the requestors as they become available rather than waiting until the entire request is filled can help ease the mind of the requestor and show that your agency is working on their request.

Clear Fee Structure

Processing fees is a big part of FOIA processing which can be simplified by implementing a few best practices. First, agencies should provide costs estimates as soon as possible after receiving and reviewing a request. Having a defined pricing structure clearly listed on your website can help mitigate back and forth between the requestor and agency as well. Secondly, each agency should apply a minimum fee for small requests.  One federal agency does not charge for any request that they estimate to be less than $50. This makes it easy for their staff to process less labor intensive requests more quickly. Finally, agency staff should be empowered to waive fees above and beyond their outlined policies.  There may be a time when a staff member assesses that waiving a fee may be a more efficient means to accommodating the requester and avoiding a dispute. Providing flexibility for your staff to make that call in certain situations can help them manage a situation before it escalates.

Hopefully these tips will be useful for your agency in efficiently managing the FOIA process. For more information on how Intranet Quorum can help you improve public relations and service fulfillment at your agency, please reach out to us at iq.info@leidos.com

FedRAMP, or the US Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, is a government-wide program that acts as a standardized model for security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring for cloud-based IT products and services. Through FedRAMP, federal agencies can work with an approved cloud computing service provider with complete confidence that their data is secured according to a stringent set of cybersecurity safeguards. This is critical in the digital age as some of the nation’s largest companies have succumbed to phishing scams and data breaches. It is imperative that the government, across its many agencies, stays vigilant in ensuring the safety and security of their mission-critical data and sensitive information.

When a government agency selects a FedRAMP certified (or FedRAMPed) partner, they benefit from the highest possible levels of data protection but also from significant cost savings across the entire enterprise.  Working with a FedRAMPed cloud solution can cut costs by 30-40% and save staff time and energy by eliminating redundant security assessments.  When you see that a potential service provider is FedRAMPed, you can rest assured that they’re serious about keeping your data safe. 

IQ is the CRM solution designed specifically for government organizations. It’s flexible enough to handle the complex and unique processes of robust government agencies and available on a FedRAMP approved cloud platform to ensure the utmost in security standards and regulatory compliance. When you choose IQ, your government agency benefits from the security, flexibility, and reliability of a CRM provider invested in helping you carry out the mission of your government organization.

Security
IQ is available on a FedRAMPed CSP uniquely positioned as a highly secure option for organizations operating at every level of classified status.

Flexibility
IQ is highly configurable and designed to navigate complex workflows. We work with 100+ government agencies to help simplify and automate even the most involved business processes.  

Reliability
When you choose IQ, you will receive a Project Manager, an Information Technology Consultant, an Engineer, and a Trainer to help you install and tailor IQ to fit your unique organizational priorities, and to guide you along the process of getting set up.

Leidos Digital Solutions is pleased to offer government agencies IQ, our industry leading CRM solution, available on a secure, stable and scalable FedRAMP certified cloud platform. IQ can be acquired quickly and easily on our GSA Schedule 70, Contract GS-35F-0636K.  To learn more about IQ, browse our website or contact us with any questions you may have. 

Visit our YouTube channel for a preview of how IQ really works!