This video provides a good six-minute primer on how to submit an effective Freedom of Information Act Request, with insights from a couple of The Washington Post's FOIA power users.
The video provides several solid pointers for submitting a request which we'll elaborate on here:
- Make your request specific to the documents you are seeking. Broadly written requests can result in slow response times, return unhelpful records, or can be grounds for getting your request denied.
- Call the agency before you submit your written request. This is helpful for a couple reasons: to make sure you are submitting your request to the appropriate contact person inside a sprawling agency, and to help craft the language of your request to make sure it specifically describes the records you want in language that the agency will understand (like the specific title of a form or report the agency produced instead of just a vague description of that record.)
- Follow up with the agency's FOIA contact person after you've submitted the request. This is an opportunity to make sure your request isn't lost in the shuffle and to provide clarifications to your request which may allow the FOIA officer to find and produce the records you want more quickly.
- When you are calling or corresponding with the FOIA officer, be nice but persistent with them. Taking a friendly tone in your initial approach will will often produce the best results, as many FOIA officers will be naturally helpful. If however you get pushback from an agency on your request, then it's helpful to get persistent with your follow up and to be able to articulate your rights and their responsibilities under the law.