Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

United States

Company Size:

  • Small

Products Used:

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Since the 1960s, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has established a gateway for Americans to access a wealth of data and knowledge maintained by government agencies about virtually anything. And through public-facing websites, citizens are generating FOIA requests at a dizzying pace – well more than 550,000 annually for the 15 U.S. departments and agencies that receive 90 percent of all such requests.

However, FOIA has become a victim of its own success. Only eight of those 15 departments and agencies earned a "passing grade" when examined by the Center for Effective Government on the timeliness of their responses, effectiveness of their communications, and facilitation of information flow to citizens.

One of the 15 departments received more than 22,000 FOIA requests in fiscal year 2012 (the year in which the Center based its findings). To accommodate the demand, this department employs nearly 375 FOIA specialists either on a full-time or part-time basis. The specialists were spending an average of 33 days to respond to a request. In addition to exceeding the traditional, 20-day standard for responses, the effort amounted to an astonishing $60.5 million in annual labor costs for the department.

In researching the problem, department officials discovered that 22 of those 33 days were devoted to locating the required data. The specialists had to manually search the databases of more than 20 separate agencies within the department and lacked the latest innovative technology tools that would enable them to conduct queries in a cohesive manner.

Determined to cut costs through a sharp reduction of response time, the department sought to enhance its search capabilities in the following ways:

  • To use keywords to search all documents within the knowledge base and across FOIA websites.
  • To enable Boolean search capabilities with refined results.
  • To deploy business intelligence (BI) solutions so that queries using specific terms or keywords would result in a targeted answer, rather than an alternative interpretation.
  • To obtain results that capture the precise information sought, in the required format.


In October 2014, the department turned to Forcepoint™ and its SureView® Analytics solution to address the concerns. SureView Analytics is a proven, Big Data analytics and information sharing enterprise platform. Its search capability gives users instant access to all existing data which can provide a completely inclusive picture of an FOIA request. With leading-edge federated searching, it swiftly connects any number of remote data sources – such as internal or external databases, websites, emails and documents – to capture actionable results in seconds. The solution has a very low Total Cost of Ownership, is quickly deployed, and eliminates massive data duplication. Because SureView Analytics has a customizable Web interface tailored to automate repeatable search procedures, queries are executed quickly and easily with little user interaction and fast inter-agency adoption.


The searches that took 22 days can now be completed within six seconds, reducing personnel hours by 90 percent and decreasing estimated expenses from $60.5 million to just $5.5 million. Because the search results are so accurate, the department will experience limited exposure to litigation and appeals on the part of citizens making the requests – a benefit for which the dollar value is considered priceless. The upshot: Anticipated department return on investment, as a result of deploying SureView Analytics, will total nearly $55 million annually.



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