My first two weeks working on the real time project has involved sending out FOIA requests to as many as 80 federal agencies. We are asking for logs of correspondence between members of Congress and each agency. Most of them have been via e-mail or online forms and around 25 others via regular mail.
Since this is going to be a monthly feature, I was hoping that FOIA officers would send us the data at the end of every month, but that seems increasingly unlikely after a few conversations I’ve had with FOIA officers at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Treasury. But just to make the process easier, Bill and I are working on some ideas, from a simple mail merge to a more thorough automation process.
I’ve encountered a few hurdles: Some agencies want us to send FOIAs to all their departments while others want just one sent to headquarters. This could be a problem, just increasing the number of FOIAs we have to track. Electronic FOIA is another problem: some of the e-mails have been bouncing back or the online forms are not going through like the one with the Department of Education.
I’ve received e-mails or letters from most of the agencies with the assigned FOIA tracking numbers with a few already asking for an extension. An e-mail from the Army says that they are processing other FOIAs from January so we should expect ours answered only after the 20-day period.
Considering this response, Bill and I are toying with the idea of sending in FOIA requests to them in advance, and then maybe we’ll get responses in time. For instance, if we send out a request end of March asking for correspondences in June 2007, we may actually get them end of June. But that’s something I’m almost certain won’t go down too well with FOIA officers.
And so the wait begins for the FOIAs to trickle in.
– Anupama Narayanswamy