How to File a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request
When our clients require information to improve their bids, The Bid Lab is able to provide the extensive research support they need. When this information is publicly available, but not immediately accessible, The Bid Lab helps our clients navigate the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request process. It’s worth noting that FOIAs should be used only as a last resort for requesting information, as many government agencies will readily provide this information utilizing a less formalized process.
What Is FOIA?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one (1) of nine (9) exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security and law enforcement.
Many of the exemptions may not be relevant for your industry, but the full list includes:
Every FOIA request must be made in writing to the specific agency’s FOIA Office. Although, most federal agencies now accept FOIA requests electronically, including by web form, email or fax. Keep in mind, each agency has their own process and requirements for making a request. Luckily, FOIA.gov provides an easily searchable list of agencies and requirements.
FOIA also exists at state-level agencies. These laws may also be known as the Open Records Act, Open Records Law, Public Records Act, Public Records Law, Sunshine Law, Right to Know Act, Public Information Law and so on. Depending on which state you’re accessing information from, the process may vary, but the overall premise stays the same: to guarantee the public has access to the records of government bodies at all levels within the state.
Filing a FOIA Request
The Bid Lab is here to help you submit a successful request citing federal FOIA regulations, or state-based Open Records laws. Should you choose to navigate this process independently, we have provided a high-level overview based on our experience and expertise below:
Begin by submitting a new request on the Federal Government’s FOIA website.
1. Select the relevant Federal Agency from which you are requesting the document(s).
2. Provide your Contact Information.
3. Address the Processing Fees component.
Typically, there’s no fee to file a FOIA request. However, requesters may be charged fees to:
- Search for records
- Review records
- Photocopy records
These fees are usually under $25, but you can also indicate an amount that you’re willing to pay and provide that with your request.
4. Describe Your Request, in detail, and why you’re making the request.
5. Choose to Request Expedited Processing.
In these instances, it may be possible to request a special expedition of your request:
- Threat to Life or Safety
- Loss of Substantial Due Process Rights
- Other Considerations. Though rare, other considerations may be considered by the court for expedited release of information.
Additionally, the US Justice Department provides helpful information about applicable FOIA expedition procedures.
6. Finally, Attach any Additional Information and/or Supporting Files.
You can enter information, explain your request, and upload supporting documents all on one page at the FOIA Online website.
Additional FOIA Tips
While each FOIA request will be different, our experience with the processes has given The Bid Lab several valuable insights we’re happy to share.
To begin with, do the research. Before submitting your FOIA request or Open Records request, see if the agency has already made the information publicly available. Complete information searches on the individual agency website and in their FOIA Libraries. If the information isn’t available, you should then proceed with a FOIA request.
Secondly, it’s important to identify the correct government agency for your request. There are over 100+ federal agencies, not including state agencies, and each is responsible for managing its own requests. In order to not delay receiving a response, make sure you have identified the right agency. The FOIA.gov website is a helpful resource to identify agencies including their individual FOIA regulations.
Finally, some federal agencies, like the Federal Department of Homeland Security, provide a useful step-by-step guide for filing their office’s FOIA. To repeat, each agency may require different information to request documents. We suggest starting with the identified agency’s site to begin your request.
Need Additional Help With Your FOIA Request?
Furthermore, at The Bid Lab, we help clients with a variety of issues related to public sector bidding, contracts, RFPs and more. We have experts who also know how to get the information our clients need from federal government agencies, or state-level governments, in a timely manner. So if you need information from a government source to help inform your bidding strategy, pricing proposals, compliance checks or anything else, reach out to us today for a free consultation!