Program aids agency's move to secure E-FOIA responses

One of the smallest federal agencies is taking some of the largest steps toward an
all-electronic Freedom of Information Act request system.

The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. rolled out its Electronic FOIA system in May and
eventually plans to move to secure, Internet FOIA responses. The E-FOIA system, built from
commercial hardware and software, cost PBGC $83,000.

PBGC, a self-financed federal corporation, has 730 employees and receives about 3,000
FOIA requests every year, disclosure officer Bill FitzGerald said. Most requests have to
do with pension plan records and participant information.

PBGC protects the retirement incomes of about 42 million U.S. workers enrolled in
45,000 defined-benefit employer pension programs.

The requests usually arrive by fax or postal letters. Federal regulations mandate that
the agency respond to FOIA requests within 20 days of receipt or receive an extension. The
1996 E-FOIA amendments require that certain records be made available in electronic form.

PBGC chose Imagine FOIA 98 redaction software from Imagination Software Inc. of Silver
Spring, Md., as the front end for its E-FOIA system. PBGC employees redact, or edit, FOIA
documents to protect personal and proprietary information.

The Imagine software, via Microsoft ActiveX controls, shows a drop-down list of FOIA
and Privacy Act exceptions that FOIA clerks can cite in redacting FOIA requests. The
package lets administrators control who can create, delete, print and move annotations.

Imagine FOIA 98 supplies ellipses, polygons, squares and free-hand shapes for hiding
sensitive information. Clerks can black out sections. The black-outs can be permanent to
guard edited documents from hacking if disseminated on the Web.

PBGC officials are now scanning millions of letters and records into the E-FOIA system,
FitzGerald said. In the future, they will link FOIA requests to an electronic image
processing system through an automated data retrieval link. Pension plan records and
participant plan information all will be stored on a server.

FitzGerald said the E-FOIA system will save PBGC time researching and duplicating FOIA
information. The agency could also save on storage costs if it retains less data in paper
form, he said.

Imagine FOIA 98 automatically links PBGC’s Image Processing System to a database
from FileNet Corp. of Costa Mesa, Calif. The database contains hundreds of thousands of
scanned images, FitzGerald said. Users can search the database through Imagine FOIA 98 to
see whether the images of requested documents are present.

The E-FOIA system’s server, a Compaq ProLinea, has a 233-MHz Pentium II processor
and 128M of RAM, and it runs Microsoft Windows NT Server 4.0. A Model 6338 scanner from
Bell & Howell Document Management Products Co. of Chicago is attached to a scanner
station from BTG Inc. of Fairfax, Va. The scanner has a 233-MHz Pentium II processor and
98M of RAM.

The scanner station runs Windows NT Workstation 4.0, as do six BTG client stations,
which have 233-MHz Pentium II processors and 32M RAM.

PBGC has worked with Imagination Software developers to identify problems in the
Imagine FOIA 98 software, FitzGerald said. “We’re somewhat of a pilot user of
the software” among federal agencies, he said.  

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