At HUD, it takes too long to find electronically stored documents and data

HUD headquarters. (Timothy Vollmer / Flickr)

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Submit a Freedom of Information Act request with the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the agency is legally mandated to respond to the request for documents within 20 business days.

However, a recent inspector general’s evaluation found that HUD might struggle with this task — the agency’s tool for finding these documents, its E-Discovery Management System (EDMS), is just too slow. In a moderately redacted version of the evaluation posted online, the IG lays out the reasons why HUD struggles to find electronic documents in a timely manner.

The evaluation, initiated “to determine whether HUD’s EDMS has the capacity to meet customers’ demand,” ultimately concludes that the EDMS does not fulfill its job. A FOIA request is just one reason that HUD officers may be looking for electronic documents, or “electronically stored information” (ESI), as the report calls it. Other offices as well, such as the Office of General Counsel and the Office of the Inspector General, might find themselves needing to collect internal emails, word documents, spreadsheets and more.

HUD has a contract with Leidos Innovation Corporation for such e-discovery services, the evaluation paper states. As set forth in the contract, the process works like this: A HUD customer (the FOIA office, for example) submits a request for ESI. That request is approved by the general counsel e-discovery team and then passed on to the Leidos contractors for actual collection of the materials.

But the system is struggling to meet demand. “HUD customers are submitting more and larger requests for ESI than the contract was originally estimated to cover,” the IG report states. There are technical challenges too — requested information is sometimes stored on a local hard drives, for example, and thus not easy to find.

The report offers some suggestions for how these difficulties might be alleviated. For one, the current Leidos contract will end on Sept. 29 of this year and the IG urges HUD to “conduct a study to project HUD’s capacity needs for ESI collections” and give this study to the agency CIO before any decisions are made on awarding the next e-discovery contract. Additionally, the IG states, moving ESI data to the cloud — away from localized storage — will make it easier to find.

HUD’s general counsel agreed with the evaluation’s recommendations.

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FOIA, Housing and Urban Development Department, Inspector General