FOIA FOIA FOIA

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests keep growing. A lot. In order to keep up, the Chief FOIA Officers Council’s technology subcommittee recommends adding commercial, FOIA, and records management software to GSA’s Schedule program. (Federal News Network, August 2019)

According to Michael Sarich, the Veterans Health Administrations’ FOIA director and subcommittee co-chair, functionality and pricing for similar off-the-shelf FOIA software varies a great deal. He believes agencies may be experiencing difficulty implementing technological improvements in large part due to the exhaustive number of systems available. Eric Stein, director of the State Department’s Office of Information Programs and the subcommittee’s other co-chair, said the subcommittee’s final report will review ways agencies can standardize redaction and case processing tools. (ibid)

The subcommittee views their recommendations as the first step for greater adoption of artificial intelligence tools. They expect these tools will become a “force multiplier” and allow the FOIA workforce to reduce case backlog requests. (ibid)

With over 800,000 FOIA requests in fiscal 2018 and only 4,500 FOIA officers to manage the requests, each FOIA officer holds responsibility for 200 FOIA requests per year. On top of that, FOIA fees cover only 1 percent of the half-billion dollars that agencies spent in 2016 processing FOIA requests, and the number of requests increases each year. (ibid)

The Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy continues to work on new FOIA guidance, as well. A June Supreme Court decision redefines the scope of information available under FOIA. Most important to private industry is the financial data piece: financial data shared with the government will not be subject to FOIA requests under the new guidelines. (ibid)

Trying to figure out exactly what the government can share from your recent bid? Give us a call.

HHS is buying smarter

Over the past 18 months, the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been developing the Buy Smarter Initiative. The production phase has ended, and with it a new name: “Reimagined Buy Smarter.” Reimagined Buy Smarter uses artificial intelligence (AI) to analyze vast amounts of data, comparing prices along with other money saving plans. (Federal News Network, May 17, 2019)

Last year, 97,000 contracts were fed into an AI solution. Algorithms and a proof of concept of 10 product categories demonstrated significant price differentials on the same items. For instance, the same case of copy paper was $27 a case in one instance and $59 in another. (ibid)

DHHS wants requirements operating across all divisions in order to use of economies of scale. Through the development process, they have found that many departments order the same items, but from different contracts at pricing all over the map and duplication of efforts. With Reimagined Buy Smarter, DHHS  departments can consolidate requirements, utilize economies of scale, and eliminate unnecessary contracts. (ibid)

They plan to introduce 18 steps of technology for buyers.  The program has a $49 million multi-award Indefinite Delivery, Indefinite Quantity (IDIQ) contract for a catalog of new and emerging technologies. DHHS hopes “to get a very large number of vendors who can provide services that can be shared/scaled across HHS and ultimately the entire government.” (ibid)

DHHS created the new contract due to older contracts being so outdated. The Program Support Center for DHHS receives many requests for new technologies, but by the time the contracts are awarded, they are already obsolete. Additionally, contracting officers have spent a lot of time cutting and pasting from a “paper” system, which will be answered by a pre-populating process automation. (ibid)

Findings suggest the following categories of spending:

  • Medical and lab supplies
  • Software licenses
  • Professional services (ibid)

Workgroups are forming to address consolidating contracts for shared opportunities, eliminating overlapping or unnecessary contracts, and taking advantage of economies of scale. (ibid)

Interested in discussing Reimagined Buy Smarter? Give us a call at (301) 913-5000.

Veterans Affairs is Getting Cloud-y

The Department of Veterans Affairs is moving all of its new and current applications to the cloud. At the recent ACT-IAC’s Health Innovation Summit, a spokesman said, “the target is 350 applications, which is about roughly half of our portfolio, [to be] moved to the cloud by 2024.”(Fedscoop, April 10, 2019)

This announcement follows the VA’s recent move toward a modernized electronic health record and secure tele-health capabilities. Each of these actions will give veterans the ability to access their information faster and more efficiently. (ibid)

At the recent summit, an example of the importance of moving to the cloud was provided: in 2017  Hurricane Harvey left a number of Veterans Benefits Administration regional offices closed in southern Texas. VA “had just migrated some Veterans Benefits resources and materials into the cloud, and when all of those regional offices and sub-offices were shut down, every one of those rating specialists and the folks in Veterans Benefits Administration was able to continue their work without the facility being in operation.” (ibid)

The Subcommittee on Technology Modernization, within the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee continues to closely watch VA modernization efforts. As recently as last week, the House committee asked about the progress of the tool being developed to give veterans better access to non-VA community care. The representative testified that the tool will be ready by June. (ibid)

Have questions about the Department of Veterans Affairs move to the cloud? Give us a call at 301-913-5000.