FOIA DIY Tips
It’s likely that “FOIA request management” wasn’t in your initial job description, but the information found in them is too valuable to pass up. So if you’re going to submit FOIA requests, you’ll want to avoid some of the headache-inducing, time-sucking pitfalls that every requester encounters. Here are some time-saving tips:
- Know the rules
- Details details details
- Honey 1st, Hammer 2nd
Know the Rules
Any information you want has a gatekeeper who will follow procedures determined by whatever government level that agency answers to or the agency itself. Look up the requirements ahead of time to avoid the risk of racking up lag time or getting the run-around.
What to account for:
- Fees – If fees may apply, let them know in the initial request that you agree to pay fees up to a certain dollar amount.
- Point of Contact – you’ll have to research to make sure you are contacting the right person. Otherwise, you may get no response at all.
- Detail Requirements – Is an RFP number required? Go ahead and locate that first.
- Response Times – If you know how long they have to respond, you’ll know when to set your calendar for follow-ups.
- Availability – Know if and when you can get the info you want. For example, you want information on a contract that was just awarded. Any info is likely unavailable until the terms of the contract’s terms are finalized.
Details Details Details
It doesn’t matter what you are requesting. The more detail you give the agency, the easier it will be for them to find it. Be careful not to assume they can decipher what information is valuable to you. Often, requests for data that aren’t specific/descriptive enough receive responses asking for clarifications or delivering wrong/incomplete data.
Honey 1st, Hammer 2nd
Here’s a scenario: You’ve submitted the request with all the right info. You know the rules, gave the details, and consented to the fees. This government-run agency is, however, under-staffed. But hey, that’s not your problem! You know the law, and they are missing the deadlines.
Before you reach for your legal hammer and start twisting arms, consider the proverbial “more flies with honey” approach. Treat the person on the agency side of your request as if they are doing you a favor (even if they are required by law to hand over the requested info). We often cut weeks out of our correspondence lag by taking this approach first. In the rare and unfortunate case where we run into an uncooperative agency, we’ll take a more legally forceful approach. But that rarely makes anyone want to deliver what we need ahead of schedule. The hammer is effective, but honey is often more efficient.
If you keep the previous tips in mind for your FOIA requests, you’ll drastically cut down on time lag. But you can’t avoid doing the tedious research or continuous follow-ups. There is, however, one short cut to make this whole process seamless… Outsourcing. If FOIA isn’t your main job, we recommend focusing your time and energy on generating revenue and passing this task off to the professionals. [Insert shameless self-promotion] FOIA Professional Services can manage and track all your requests. Our experts are already current on the regulations and best practices across the country. We manage thousands of requests a year for companies of all sizes. Drop us an inquiry!