Most Recent Posts

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!

This year, take the time to engage with the people who sent you to Washington.  Your state may still be in a blackout period with various restrictions on your outreach. But that doesn't mean you can't proactively communicate with your constituents - within Franking rules.  Sending 499s is a great way to communicate with targeted groups or random selections of contacts.  Whether you are restricted by blackout rules or not, we can help make sure your next email campaign is effective as possible.  Here are a few tips for optimizing your next newsletter:

1.  Design

Did you know that 84% of email users aged 18-34 use a preview pane to manage their inboxes?  Emails that don't pass the sniff test in the preview pane are destined to wind up in the trash.  Using intriguing design elements is a great way to engage your constituents before they get to your primary message.  Don't have an in-house design team?  We do.  Our graphic artists design custom eNewsletter templates for IQ offices - free of charge.

2.  Subject Line

A catchy, succinct subject line can sometimes be the difference between a successful email campaign and one that falls flat.  In fact, studies show that 69% of email users in the U.S. may report an email as spam based on the subject line alone!  Try to keep your subject line under 50 characters and resist the urge to use splashy clichés.

3. Use Social Media

Social media is a excellent way to generate opt-ins, build your contact lists organically and promote meaningful engagement in your district.  After all, anyone who follows the Member on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. has already taken an active interest in what the Member is up to in Washington.  Using the IQ eNewsletter Wizard you can push your latest newsletter out to your social channels in just one click and direct your followers to your email opt-in page.

4. Events

Live events in the district are another great way to increase your opt-ins and build better contact lists.  IQ is integrated with Eventbrite, a leading global event management platform, which allows you to capture the contact data for everyone who registers for an event in your district, and then import into IQ for use in your next outreach campaign.

5.  Call to Action

As simple as it may be, a strong, consistent call to action is vital to generating opt-ins.  If you want people to sign up for your mailing lists, don't forget to ask!

6. Optimize for Mobile

Last year, 48% of all emails in the U.S. were opened via mobile devices.  Optimize for mobile and make sure your message is accessible in any format.  Clickable areas should be between 40-50 pixels and any images you use should be compressed.  This way, your audience can access and interact with your message on a mobile device, even with a weak cell signal.

7. Purchase Scrubbed Contact Lists

While we do believe that organic growth through opt-ins is the best way to build your lists, sometimes it is necessary to augment by purchasing new data.  If you do decide to go this route, it's very important to work only with trusted sources.  Leidos offers fully vetted, scrubbed data files to Congressional offices in a variety of purchasing options that can meet any budget.

8.  Quality vs. Quantity

In some Congressional offices, staff are under pressure to reach out to the largest possible number of constituents, regardless of the quality of the contacts or the likelihood of an interaction.  We encourage you to focus on fostering meaningful conversations with engaged constituents rather than simply looking at the total number of outgoing emails in a given campaign.

9.  Timing

When planning your next email campaign, consider conducting a simple A/B test to better understand when you can best reach your constituents. To perform an A/B test, simply split your list in two, choose different day/time combinations for each group, then send and review the results after about 48 hours.  While every district is different, Tuesdays and Thursdays, mid-mornings and late afternoons are historically considered "sweet spots" for email campaigns.

10.  Targeting Your Message

The audience of your message is one of the most fundamental components of any outreach campaign.  However, even the most experienced communications staffers sometimes neglect to take the time to properly understand who will receive their messages.  IQ gives you the ability to easily slice and dice your data until you've targeted the exact group you want to reach.  For example if you wanted to reach out to retired veterans in a certain ZIP code who also consider agricultural legislation their top issue, you can identify and select this group in just a few clicks and then craft messaging specifically for that group.

To learn more about how we can help your office optimize email outreach and generate opt-ins, get in touch with us today.