IV. Participation and Collaboration

Why Commerce Needs to Do This

Participation and collaboration are central tenets of the President’s Open Government vision.  Although many units within Commerce have long-standing, close relationships with external partners, the rapid evolution of collaborative technologies and practices offers new ways to engage wider and more varied cross-section of the public.
In addition to experimenting with these new tools, Commerce is seeking to increase employee participation in the formulation of significant policies and strategic plans.  The Secretary has called for breaking down barriers to cooperation previously existing between Commerce’s operating units to create a Department that is a fully integrated service provider.  In order to realize this vision, managers across the agency have been asked to explore opportunities for communication and collaboration across operating units.

What Commerce Has Done

The Assistant Secretary for Legislative and Intergovernmental Affairs is the primary adviser to the Secretary of Commerce on legislative and intergovernmental issues and the Department’s principal liaison to Congress, state governors, and elected state and local officials.  As a result, OLIA communicates directly with these stakeholders and responds to inquiries for information and constituent requests, and tracks current or proposed legislation and congressional hearings. OLIA also oversees the legislative and intergovernmental outreach strategies and communications of the individual bureaus of the Department.  OLIA utilizes a multitude of public and specialized internal databases, correspondence tracking, grant tracking, and outreach tools to ensure inquiries are responded to in a timely and professional manner. 

What Commerce Will Do

Commerce is exploring ways to use the technology and approach developed for the BroadbandMatch site for other Departmental initiatives that seek to connect grantees and better use government resources.  One project currently under consideration involves adopting this model for EDA’s Regional Innovation Clusters Program, which seeks to connect established businesses and entrepreneurs to pursue joint projects that will promote regional economic growth. 

Commerce’s USPTO is designing the next phase of the Peer-to-Patent pilot, described in the transparency section of this document, in partnership with academia.  As details are finalized they will be made available.  

Incoming FOIA inquiries are directed to a lead operating unit that is most likely to have the requested records.  The lead operating unit coordinates with others as needed to locate all responsive records, determine the extent to which any redactions are necessary, and respond to the request.  The Departmental FOIA Officer is responsible for processing requests that relate to Commerce as a whole.  In the event that a requestor wishes to file an appeal, the Department’s Assistant General Counsel for Administration serves as the Departmental appeals official with the exception of USPTO, which – under the Patent and Trademark Office Efficiency Act – retains responsibility for processing its own appeals.

Commerce receives and processes an average of 2,100 FOIA requests each year.  Recently, it has experienced an increase in both the number and scope of FOIA inquiries received.  The Department has limited its backlog of inquiries during the last two fiscal years to an average less than 7.5 percent of total requests.  The operating units are taking various steps to help reduce this level, which include additional training, streamlining procedures, augmenting staff, and automating processes.

The Department is also exploring options for procuring FOIA management software.  While each operating unit uses IT software and systems to a varying degree, a single approach has not been adopted across the Department.  As an example, USPTO currently utilizes commercial software to manage all aspects of FOIA processing.  At the Census Bureau, certain portions of its process are automated, e.g., redaction, while others are not. 
To facilitate the transition to automated processing enterprise-wide, the Department is exploring the purchase of a site license for software that could be used by the Departmental FOIA Officer and each operating unit’s FOIA Officer.  Also, the interagency Chief FOIA Officers Working Group is considering the adoption of a coordinated, government-wide approach.  By increasing its use of technology, Commerce expects to enhance its ability to receive and track requests, produce and post FOIA reports to the Web, and manage documents responsive to FOIA requests.

The Department is also working to provide quicker access to documents that are of public interest.  It intends to create a searchable archive of FOIA responses.  This will not only make it easier for the public to find out more about how the Department has responded to requests, but also reduce the staff time associated with answering duplicative requests.  Additionally, in the past, records were typically posted to the e-FOIA Reading Room after a minimum of three requests had been received.  Commerce is now posting records that relate to topics that may be of broad interest following the receipt and processing of one request.

Information on Commerce’s FOIA program and how to file a FOIA request is available at http://www.osec.doc.gov/omo/FOIA/FOIAWeb site.htm.  This Web site provides access to many documents and records maintained by the Department, including frequently requested records, Departmental policy statements, administrative manuals, general counsel opinions, annual FOIA reports, online Commerce libraries and FOIA reading rooms, and much more.

Deployment of such electronic collaboration and idea-generation tools could aid with enhancing intra-Departmental communication.  Deployment could also help ensure that the public can reach decision-makers with their thoughts and suggestions, and share their ideas with others.  Commerce is looking forward to building on its experience with Ideascale and to develop an ideation platform to solicit thoughts from its employees and the public on how it can better deliver services and administer programs.  It is currently evaluating the wide array of ideation tools that are available and anticipates launching a solution by January 2011.

The Office of General Counsel has assisted in devising a standard policy that can be used across the Department to ensure a clear understanding of what is and is not allowed when blogging.
Blogging and commenting tools are planned to be a part of the next iteration of the Commerce Web site (www.commerce.gov) and should assist management in carrying on conversations with employees across the Department and with the general public.  The new version of the Commerce Web site should premier in the second half of 2010.  An intranet, featuring tools for intra-Departmental blogging, may be also put in place in the second half of 2010, pending the availability of funding.

For example, it is not enough to seek input from the public without recognizing the need to provide thoughtful responses.  As the Department begins to adopt these new forms of communication, employees may feel overwhelmed with new technologies or other responsibilities, or confused about the appropriate channels for responding to suggestions and comments received through social media.

To make certain that these new technologies are being used to engage in real dialogue, Commerce will:

Additionally, when the Department receives a request for information from a member of Congress or Congressional Committee, OLIA works to respond to the request in a timely and appropriate manner.