RCG, Excalibur team on EFOIA solutions

RCG Information Technology Inc. and Excalibur Inc. have signed a partnership agreement aimed at bringing Excalibur's search-and-retrieval technology to agencies seeking to meet the requirements of the Electronic Freedom of Information Act.

Under the partnership, RCG Information Technology, a consulting company that until now has not been active in the federal market, will develop and sell retrieval solutions, including totally outsourced packages tailored to government agencies' EFOIA needs. Several provisions of the 1996 act come into effect this year.

The solutions will enable agencies to scan paper documents so that the documents can be searched and retrieved easily from a database. Agencies also will be able to store electronic versions of documents before and after redaction. Additionally, typical solutions will enable agencies to scan and store FOIA requests.

The solutions will be based on technology developed by Excalibur, which started as a government contractor and has developed search-and-retrieval software for several Defense Department and intelligence agencies.

The RCG Information Technology/Excalibur partnership will compete against other companies already selling EFOIA solutions, including Bethesda, Md.-based DoxSys Inc., a former subsidiary of Federal Data Corp. that entered the federal EFOIA market about 18 months ago.

RCG Information Technology and Excalibur officials say their EFOIA solution creates a repository of all FOIA requests and retrieves all types of media that are part of the public record. The repository is aimed at increasing the efficiency with which agencies handle FOIA requests, said Paul Karch, senior manager of enterprise solutions at RCG Information Technology.

But the feature also will help agencies meet a requirement of EFOIA, which says agencies must have a repository and an index of all records that have been released as a result of FOIA requests. Agencies have to make the index available electronically by Dec. 31.

The provision was added to streamline repetitive steps of the FOIA process because agencies have long recognized that certain documents are requested continually, said Susan Janger, a solutions architect for DoxSys.

In addition to the repository and index, EFOIA also requires agencies to provide the public with electronic access to all orders and final opinions issued in contested cases; all statements of policy and interpretations adopted by the agency but not published in the Federal Register; and all administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that may affect the public.

Another requirement says agencies have to provide records in the form requested if the agency can readily reproduce the record in that form.

FOIA officers who have not yet started on projects to meet the requirements of EFOIA still have time to get a handle on the challenge, Janger said. Enforcement of EFOIA provisions is not expected to be that strict because agencies have had to concentrate on Year 2000 fixes, she said.

A simple scan, store and retrieve solution that moves paper documents from cabinets to databases is a good start, Janger said. More complex document-management processes can be handled in a second phase. DoxSys offers a solution with EFOIA at its core, but that solution leaves room for customization, Janger said.

"One of my customers has four or five FOIA-related documents; another has 13 different types of FOIA documents," Janger said.

Excalibur's Retrievalware has been used in "needle-in-the-haystack" jobs such as the Army's declassification of Persian Gulf War documents, said Mark Demers, director of marketing for Excalibur.

Retrievalware can do different types of user-defined searches, including a search for a specific block of text that goes on for hundreds of words, or it can do searches that look for words that are semantically linked, Demers said.

The product was developed in response to the needs of intelligence agencies, which "have long realized the need to scour through a lot of information from all different sources and help their users to very quickly and accurately find what they are looking for," Demers said.

RCG Information Technology and Excalibur also plan to promote Retrievalware's ability to search video files. Such a search ability is not a requirement of the current EFOIA rule, but it might be added, Karch said.

Video taken by the National Transportation Safety Board during the search for John F. Kennedy Jr.'s plane is an example of the type of video file that might be part of the public record in the future, Karch said.

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