Improving Responsiveness to Requests for Public Information 

July 27, 2022

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) continually strives to keep the public informed about its work. This includes redesigning the DHHS website, creating and regularly updating a blog, developing and updating data dashboards, and regularly engaging with the press, constituents, stakeholders, the Legislature, and the public. Mostly recently, the Department concluded a comprehensive review that resulted in a set of improvements to responding to Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) requests.  

The Department receives a significant volume of information requests from the public, which soared during the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, DHHS constituent services responded to 5,310 inquiries, an increase of more than 15 percent since pre-pandemic in 2019. Additionally, the number of FOAA requests received by DHHS increased to 218 in 2021. The Department aimed to be responsive to this surge while, at the same time, spearheaded the statewide response to the pandemic. This unprecedented demand underscored a need for FOAA process improvements.  

Since January, the Department has led a comprehensive effort to improve responsiveness, time and cost estimates for reviews, and compliance with the numerous Federal and State laws that govern public disclosure of DHHS work and activities. The team examined best practices throughout state government and consulted with the Office of the Maine Attorney General on responsibilities and handling of legally protected information. The Department updated standard procedures for efficient management, templates for standard responses, and the tracking system for FOAA requests. We engaged and trained points of contact on the process and improvements. Two examples include a new option to submit a FOAA request via an online form on the DHHS website and a standardized invoice form and process to ensure payments are handled consistently and as promptly as possible. The Department created a learning group that will continuously improve this process. 

These improvements are a work in progress as the Department continues to process current requests with the existing number of staff. The Department remains committed to investing time and energy to improve the FOAA process to benefit Maine people seeking information on our services.