Last Updated on March 31, 2023 by Sarah Gayda
Better email management can significantly improve government agencies’ ability to respond to FOIA requests
Within United States Federal Government agencies, managing records and information is an integral part of everyday work. You must comply with memorandums and directives for record classification and retention.
In part, this is so you can respond to the constant stream of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that many federal agencies receive. When a FOIA request is received, your agency must be able to produce all records pertaining to the issue in question. And many of these are email records.
The practice in many departments has been (or still is) to print emails and then store them as paper records. While reliable, this method is slow and cumbersome. It also takes a significant amount of staff time and is very expensive.
As a result, for many US federal agencies, complying with National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) recommendations represents a significant step forward in records management practices.
What is M-23-07?
Memorandum M-23-07 states that all US federal agencies must go paperless and move record keeping and business processes to a fully electronic environment by the end of June 30, 2024. Containing the subject Update to Transition to Electronic Records, the memorandum directs all federal agencies to:
- Ensure that all federal records are created, maintained and managed in electronic format with appropriate metadata
- Plan for closing storage facilities for paper records
The US Federal Government issued the directive to save money. Creating, using, storing, and finding federal records in paper format is costly to taxpayers. The directive will also help with efficiency, accuracy, and better of storage electronic documents and records.
OMB/NARA Memo M-23-07
Updating M-19-21 Deadlines pic.twitter.com/4hgcILsjJN
— National Archives Records Management Training Team (@NARA_RMTraining) December 29, 2022
Outlook PST files have been a constant challenge
Traditionally, most government organizations tasked employees with setting up specific folders in their archive inboxes to store records. This was a natural attempt at email records compliance. But it also meant records were embedded in Outlook PST files.
In addition, storing records in folders in inboxes makes responding to FOIA requests difficult and error-prone for three reasons:
- Time consuming searches impact multiple employees. FOIA requests can involve multiple employees and include an electronic search of various share drives, personal drives and email. They can also include paper files in desks, file cabinets around the office, and in file rooms. Usually coming with a short turnaround time, the requests almost always interrupt employees’ regular work and prove even more difficult if staff are out of office.
- Error-prone searches overlook critical files. By maintaining emails in PST files, no additional metadata is captured to facilitate searches. Only broad keywords can be used to search files. Then, a time-consuming and subjective manual review is required to see if emails have anything to do with the FOIA request. This increases the risk that not all the pertinent records are found.
- Missed files erode public trust. Multiple news reports have revealed that other government searches have found records that were not provided in previous discoveries. This undermines public trust in government and negatively impacts government credibility.
Automated email labelling & efficient records management is the answer
To accelerate and improve the accuracy of FOIA records management with email and address the requirements of the directives, a government agency implemented Colligo Email Manager. The add-in for Microsoft 365 seamlessly integrates SharePoint within Outlook to help automate email labelling and classification.
Part of an end-to-end records management solution, Colligo’s Email Manager is cloud-native, built for Microsoft 365 and SharePoint Online.
Cost savings of over $4M per year is just one of many benefits
The costs savings for this federal government agency were truly astounding. Prior to using Colligo, complex FOIA requests could involve 40 or more employees each devoting 3-5 hours to complete a search.
With Colligo, a single person can perform a search in under an hour. At a rate of $150/hour, this represents a $23,850 savings for each complex request. Each year, the Agency receives over 175 complex requests, representing a savings of over $4 million per year.
The agency now has fully automated FOIA search that keeps email searchable and accessible with metadata. As a result, time to respond to complex FOIA requests reduced from 160 hours to 1 hour. The Agency went from multiple people working for hours on FOIA requests to a single person for one hour.
Improved federal government records management & compliance
In addition to significant cost savings, the federal government agency realized many other benefits:
- Simplified records capture. Now, capturing records is significantly simpler. Using Colligo Email Manager, employees easily save emails that qualify as records into a shared SharePoint folder. This same process can be used for email attachments that need to be saved into SharePoint via the Outlook add-in. The system automatically captures key metadata and prompts for more, including content types, to determine the retention schedule.
- Enabled rapid and accurate search capabilities. With email classification using metadata, searching for records to fulfill a FOIA request is much faster and more robust. And there is less chance that something will be overlooked. Information is now centralized and structured in SharePoint, meaning that a single search is all that is needed to identify appropriate records.
- Deployed quickly. The underlying records management processes did not need to change, and no extensive training was required. In fact, the project team asked the first group of end users to demonstrate to upper management how easy it was.
- Provides faster, more accurate FOIA responses. Since implementing Colligo, the Agency has dramatically reduced the time needed to respond to FOIA requests.
- Achieved 100% user adoption of the new process. No new process steps were required.
- Attained records management compliance. The agency achieved compliance with Federal RIM Program Maturity Model and the Universal Electronic Records Management Requirements.
We help all levels of government
Let us help your government discover the many benefits of efficient and compliant email management. For more information on digital records management, including emails, or for a personalized demo, get in touch with us.