Writing Good FOIA Requests

What makes a good FOIA request? We studied 33,000 to find out by By Nicholas Dias, Rashida Kamal and Laurent Bastien.

From the post:

EVERY JOURNALIST HAS IDEAS about what makes a good public records request. But surprisingly few people have actually tried to systematically analyze how requests can be written to improve their chances of success.

To fill this vacuum, we analyzed more than 33,000 Freedom of Information Act requests and identified a few characteristics that were typical of those that were fulfilled.

The requests were made to five federal agencies that publish to FOIAonline.gov: the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Commerce, Customs and Border Protection, the Department of the Navy, and the National Archives and Records Administration. All were filed between 2011 and 2016.

We defined success as the receipt of all records requested, as defined by the agency. There was no straightforward relationship between wait time and any of the characteristics we considered, so we factored it out as a measure of success.

For the requests we examined, the full-grant rate across all five agencies was around 23 percent. That’s the same success rate for requests across all federal agencies, according to Max Galka of FOIA Mapper, a project funded by the Knight Foundation that outlines the record systems of federal agencies.

Requesters in our sample typically waited around 142 days, or a little more than four months, to get responses. Less than 39 percent of requests received responses within 28 days, which is the longest amount of time an agency could spend fulfilling a request while still meeting FOIA’s 20-business-day time limit.

That’s a pretty bleak picture. So, how can you improve your chances?
… (emphasis in original)

What? Evidence-based FOIA practices? 😉

After reading this review of FOIA practices, get thee to MuckRock.

MuckRock has advice, tools, community, in short, it is a one-stop FOIA shop.

What FOIA request(s) are you going to file?

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