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DHS Launches Federal Government's First FOIA App

The Department of Homeland Security has released a new mobile app to make it easier for the public to submit Freedom of Information Act requests regarding DHS documents. 

DHS' new app, called eFOIA, allows users to submit and check the status of their FOIA requests from their mobile devices. Users can also access step-by-step instructions on how to file a FOIA request and learn about material exempted from FOIA. 

“The Department of Homeland Security is committed to transparency and accountability and the eFOIA app is the latest in a series of efforts that the DHS Privacy Office has taken to help modernize FOIA processes and improve the customer experience,” Karen Neuman, the DHS chief privacy officer, wrote in a July 7 blog post.

It's the first app of its kind for the federal government. 

DHS receives and responds to the most FOIA requests of any agency. In 2013, it received more than 230,000 requests, according to FOIA.gov. But it also has a better track record than most for responding to those requests. In January, Syracuse University researchers sent simple FOIA requests to 21 agencies, and the first one to respond was DHS.

The DHS app includes the department's full FOIA library and all of the other content currently available on the DHS FOIA website. It also alerts users to upcoming events, such as stakeholder meetings and recently released reports.

The department's Office of the Chief Information Officer and the Office of Privacy jointly developed the app. 

DHS has also recently upgraded certain aspects of its FOIA process. The agency created an online system for the public to check status capability and revamped its FOIA submission form. These improvements were likely responsible for the recent 20 percent decrease in the department's FOIA backlog.

The government currently operates three different governmentwide websites designed to make it easier for people to file FOIA requests. However, only one of them -- FOIAOnline, operated by the Environmental Protection Agency -- allows users to actually submit records requests. The most recent FOIA site to debut is openFOIA, which was developed by the General Services Administration’s 18F digital team, and is currently in the alpha stage.

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