Tuesday, March 18, 2014

FOIA in the Sunshine

Sunshine Week is an annual celebration of open government and freedom of information. Librarians, journalists, educators, advocates, and others spend this week promoting the public's right to know about what our government is doing and why.

In honor of the right to know, here are a few resources to help you understand and use FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. §552).

In the Law Library, check these out:

P. Stephen Gidiere III, The Federal Information Manual: How the Government Collects, Manages, and Discloses Information under FOIA and Other Statutes (2d ed. 2013), Classified Stacks KF 5753 .G53 2013. Published by the ABA, this practitioner-oriented includes a chapter on the successful elements of a FOIA request

James T. O'Reilly, Federal Information Disclosure (2013), Classified Stacks KF 5753 .O74 Winter 2013. This 2 volume work covers FOIA, the Privacy Act, the Federal Advisory Committee Act, and the Government in the Sunshine Act.

Cornish F. Hitchcock, The Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts (2013), Reference Area KF 5753 .G85 2013. Half of the 3 volume-set is appendices, including the text of all state freedom of information or open records act.

On the web:

United States Department of Justice Guide to the Freedom of Information Act. Comprehensive legal treatise (the last edition in print, from 2009, was over 900 pages). Chapters are updated as needed (and available as PDFs).

The DOJ Office of Information Policy website includes

  • annual reports from federal agencies to the Attorney General
  • annual reports to Congress from the Attorney General on FOIA litigation and compliance 

You can create your own reports using the data from these annual reports at FOIA.gov, an initiative launched 3 years ago to coincide with Sunshine Week.

FOIA.gov also offers

  • videos on how and where to make a FOIA request

  • a tool that allows you to search across federal agency websites to see what has already been made available

  • a list of agency FOIA contacts

See also our previous blog post, FOIAonline: A Multi-AgencyFOIA Repository

Tip: before making a FOIA request to a particular agency, look at the agency’s "FOIA Library" (formerly called an "electronic reading room") to see if what you want has already been made available. You can use the search tool on FOIA.gov, but if you are focusing on one agency it might be easier to start at that agency's FOIA Library. 

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