January 18, 2022
The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) is committed to keeping the public informed about its work. Since 2019, we overhauled the DHHS website, added a blog to our home page, developed dashboards such as those used for COVID-19 activity, and regularly engage in press conferences, briefings, and other events. We respond directly to constituents as well as to Freedom of Access Act (FOAA) requests.
The intensity of the DHHS work during the pandemic has generated additional requests for information. In 2021, DHHS constituent services responded to 5,310 inquiries, an increase of more than 15 percent since 2019. Additionally, the number of FOAA requests received by DHHS increased to 218. During this same time period, DHHS spearheaded the response to the pandemic, adding significant, unanticipated work across most parts of the Department.
Challenges in fulfilling FOAA requests have underscored the need to update the Department’s FOAA process to ensure responsiveness, improved time and cost estimates for reviews, and compliance with the numerous Federal and State laws that govern public disclosure of DHHS work and activities. DHHS will examine best practices throughout state government, conduct additional training of the FOAA liaisons in the different parts of the Department, develop standard expectations for timeliness of reviews and cost estimates, consult with the Office of the Maine Attorney General on handling of legally protected information, and research how to improve communication with FOAA requestors about the status of their request. The Department has initiated an evaluation of existing policies and the electronic management system for FOAA requests to identify opportunities for greater efficiency and accuracy.
We are factoring these process changes, alongside the existing queue of requests and extra work by DHHS staff due to the pandemic, into estimated response times to request in the coming months.