Saturday morning held a solution to one of a reporter’s most common problems – filing a FOIA request.
Gregg Leslie, a representative with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, explained to attendees of the “Simplifying FOIA” session how to utilize iFOIA, an online tool for filing and organizing requests. The tool is an update on the organization’s FOIA Letter Generator which initially launched in 1996.
In case you missed the demonstration, here’s how to file your FOIA request in five easy steps using the iFOIA generator.
Step one: Fill in the essential info
Register for the iFOIA site, and then start a new request under “Requests.” You’ll need to use your personal information and indicate whether the request is at the federal or state level. You will also select the agency and fill in the information needed to get the request to the FOIA officer. You may draw on information from previous requests.
Step two: Create your argument
The system will then give you space to answer essential questions for the request, such as specifically what you’re requesting, what the department has that you need, and the importance of the information.
“This isn’t just a form you’re filling out – this is your argument,” Leslie said.
Step three: Apply for a fee waiver
The system will prompt you to pick whether you’re eligible for a fee waiver. There is an option specifically for journalists, but be sure to make your case as to why the information is needed and what benefits it could have for the public.
Step four: Make it official
Have a company letterhead ready to go. If you don’t have access to one, create your own by entering company information in the header section of a Microsoft Word document. The iFOIA will generate your document using the letterhead you submit so that your request looks professional.
Step five: Send and maintain
You can then preview the PDF of your request. After you get it where you want it, there are options for iFOIA to send it via email or for you to print off a hard copy of the PDF. iFOIA also allows you set a reminder for the system to email you when you should follow up on your FOIA.
Top tip – Manually set the calendar date to a month from when the request is filed. The system will automatically set it 20 days from the date, but you can give it 20 business days before you follow up.
The system will email you when you receive an email response to your request. You can also manage the status of all your requests
FOIA Wiki – A complimentary resource for iFOIA that includes information regarding filing FOIA requests in each state and what documents you have access to. The Wiki is still being built, but anybody can submit information to help build the Wikipedia.
Reporter’s Committee for Freedom of the Press for law assistance – If your request is denied, make sure to get legal advice before proceeding.