This morning for my #Monday #FOIA #Advice tweet, I tweeted about FOIA communications and it started a little buzz and demonstrated it was a well worthy topic for a blog.
FOIA communication is not only an essential action for better FOIA processing for requesters and FOIA offices, but also it is the underlining idea of the FOIA. The FOIA is a means of communication between the government and the citizenry; the citizenry is provided the right to ask for information and government is obliged to respond. This level of communication and avenue for information sharing is an essential and truly great part of our form of government.
Now, anyone who has ever been part of a FOIA request, as a requester or FOIA official, knows that this line of communication is not always as wonderful as I described it, but it can be! I have provided a few ideas to better communications in FOIA:
1. FOIA Offices Provide Strong and Reliable Means of Communication
FOIA offices need to provide the requester a means to communicate; they need to have a way to submit a request, monitor a request, and receive requested information. Reliable public liaisons are essential in this process, as well as a well-organized case management and FOIA tracking system (FOIAXpress anyone?)
2. Requesters be Clear and Concise in Regards to What you are Requesting
Requesters must be clear in what they are asking for and they cannot just ask for “any and all.” “Any and all,” means I have a general idea of what I’m looking for……you’ll figure it out. Not only does that come awful close to “fishing,” it also makes for a very time consuming and difficult request to process.
3. FOIA Offices use Technology!
FOIA Offices need to leverage technology. The era of the portal is upon us and FOIA offices need to catch up; many already have, but the rest need to follow. Portals, like FOIAXpress’s Public Access Link, enable requesters to submit, monitor, and receive their information on a single platform.
4. Requesters Use Technology!
Requesters need to make sure they are using technology if they can; if there is a portal, you should use it. Mailing requests can be done, but let’s save some time and tree and make the FOIA more electronic.
5. FOIA Offices be Proactive
The best form of FOIA communication is a proactive one! Post more information in reading rooms and on web sites.
6. Requesters be Understanding
Requesters need to be understanding of the challenges of FOIA processing. If you submitted a FOIA last year, you were one in 700,000+ requests. The processing of these requests takes time and a lot of hard work. Cut your FOIA offices some slack!
The moral of the story is that better communications in FOIA is not just the job of the requester or just the government, it is a team effort. Just like the tango, it takes two to better FOIA communications.