Agency seeks e-mail system for FOIA requests

System will help TSA handle flood of requests.

The Transportation Security Administration needs an e-mail archival and retrieval system to respond to a flood of Freedom of Information Act requests, according to an agency solicitation.

Several companies have responded to the request for existing technology that includes installation, maintenance and training of the necessary software and hardware. The agency stopped taking solicitations in August and plans to announce an award soon, a spokesman said.

"The purpose of this project is to bring TSA into compliance with National Archives and Records Administration standards for document e-mail archive and retrieval," the solicitation said. "TSA has had a steadily increasing volume of [FOIA] requests since its creation. The FOIA requests frequently involve collecting data resident in [business] e-mail."

TSA was the first security agency created after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It is charged with protecting the country's transportation sectors, including more than 400 commercial airports, railroads, highways and mass transit systems.

The agency wants to install the e-mail system at TSA headquarters in Arlington, Va., and a data center in Hazelwood, Mo. The agency would use the system for some 20,000 e-mail accounts between the two locations to respond to hundreds of FOIA requests.

Individuals have requested various types of data from TSA under the information act, which lets people request access to government records, including e-mails. A spokesman said most of the requests deal with aviation security programs, as well as wait times and claims for damages or losses at airports.

"Basically any [aviation] program that has gotten significant media attention," the spokesman said. That would include the Registered Traveler initiative, which lets frequent fliers bypass long security lines in exchange for background checks and biometric information.

The US-VISIT program to track foreign visitors also is a popular FOIA target, and some individuals try to determine if they have been restricted from flying or must undergo a second round of screening.

Such initiatives have ignited the ire of privacy and civil-rights groups that argue that personal and sensitive data is not adequately protected. They also believe the programs are ineffective because individuals like Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, have found their names on security lists.

TSA hopes the e-mail retrieval and archival system would help them quickly find relevant information to answer FOIA and other requests.

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