Here is a follow-up to our discussion on government transparency in honor of Sunshine Week. Sunshine Week 2023 is dedicated to furthering the cause of government transparency and public access to information by celebrating the successes and progress achieved in the past few years. Its focus is on raising awareness of citizens’ rights to access government data, resources, and records, as well as promoting best practices for greater transparency in honor of Sunshine Week. Accessing government documents is an integral part of ensuring transparency in government. With the correct information, citizens can hold their governments accountable and ensure that public money is used correctly. Fortunately, there are various ways to access government documents and records. One way to access this information is through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. FOIA requests allow individuals or organizations to request access to certain federal records from executive branch agencies such as the Department of Defense or Environmental Protection Agency. Additionally, many states have their own open records laws, which may provide additional avenues for accessing government documents at the state level. Some states even offer online portals where citizens can make open records requests directly from their computer or smartphone without having to fill out paperwork or mail anything in. Some local governments post public meeting agendas and minutes on their websites so that anyone can view what topics were discussed at those meetings without having to attend them in person.
DTSI builds and sustains the U.S. Air Force’s Electronic Freedom of Information Act web-based portal. We work in close collaboration with our valued partner OPEXUS and their FOIAXpress tool (https://ains.opexustech.com/foiaxpress/) with its advanced Artificial Intelligence and Electronic Document Redactions tools. By providing an advanced system for filing, tracking, and fulfilling FOIA requests in a timely manner, we help the U.S. Air Force meet its FOIA obligations quickly and efficiently. I had a chance to speak with DTSI FOIA Program Manager, Todd Butler, and ask a few questions about the FOIA process and ways to best access information.
What is the Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law allowing citizens to access information from executive branch agencies such as the Department of Defense and Environmental Protection Agency. FOIA requests enable individuals or organizations to request specific documents from these agencies. They must respond within 20 business days with either the requested documents or a denial letter explaining why they cannot provide them. This act provides transparency in government by allowing citizens to hold their governments accountable for how public money is being used.
How do I file a Freedom of Information Act request?
Filing a Freedom of Information Act request with the Air Force can be an effective way to obtain documents and records related to your inquiry. The FOIA allows citizens access to federal records from executive branch agencies, including the Department of Defense, which includes the Air Force. By submitting a FOIA request, you can gain access to information that is not available through other channels. You may reach the Department of the Air Force FOIA site to submit a request either by going to FOIA.gov which we linked above or you can go directly to it at: https://efoia.cce.af.mil, create an account and submit your request.
How can I access Federal Government documents?
Any person wanting to request documents from the United States Federal Government can go to FOIA.gov – Freedom of Information Act and from there can drill down to the agency they think owns the document and submit a request to that agency for processing. Processing times will vary from agency to agency.
What are some tips for filing a Freedom of Information Act request?
Filing a FOIA request can be a great way to access government documents that may otherwise not be available. However, it is important to keep in mind some tips for filing a successful FOIA request. The following are some tips for filing a FOIA request with the Air Force:
1. Research the records you are requesting.
2. Be specific and use keywords to ensure your request is processed efficiently.
3. Make sure your request includes all relevant contact information, such as name, address, phone number and email address.
4. Include a written description of what documents you want to access with enough detail for the agency to understand the scope of your request without confusion or misinterpretation.
5. Clearly state that it is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request in both the subject line and body of your email or letter for clarification purposes
6. Provide any additional documentation you have gathered on the topic related to your FOIA Request if available
7. Specify how you would like to receive responses from the Air Force – by mail, fax or email.
8. Follow up after submitting a FOIA Request by contacting the agency directly until they provide an acknowledgement receipt and estimated timeline for processing.
9. If at any point during processing of your FOIA Request there appears to be an issue arising with either granting access or providing requested documents, consider consulting legal professionals who specialize in this area before taking further action.
10. Be prepared for possible delays due to backlogs within the Air Force offices that respond.
Filing a FOIA request with the Air Force can be a simple and effective way to access documents and records. Following these tips will help you file a successful FOIA request and ensure you get the information you need in a timely manner.
Greg Olivares, DTSI Account Executive