The “FOIA Files”

The FOIA Files: Stories that FOIA Made Possible

Countless media outlets, government watchdog groups and individual Americans have used the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain important information on how — and how well — their government operates, knowledge that is crucial to a well-functioning democracy.

Find over 700 stories using the federal FOIA by clicking the map, or browse the entire collection.

SGI has collected hundreds of these stories in The FOIA Files. Among them:

 

How to search the “FOIA Files” Database

Use the lavender toolbar across the top of the page to navigate.

To search by keyword, type in a keyword in the Search for box and click on Apply.

To search by federal agency, category or state, use the Limit Records dropdown box and select Agency, Category or State. Use the dropdown box to the right to select a particular Agency, Category or State. Click on Apply. For example, Agency = DOD pulls stories that resulted from FOIA requests to the Department of Defense.To find stories that mention a delay/denial, lawsuit or fees, use the Limit Records dropdown box to select the appropriate term, select Yes or No in the dropdown box, then click Apply.

(Note: We indicate a story involves a delay, denial, lawsuit, or fee issue only if the story indicates as much. Few stories do report challenges to obtaining records, although such obstacles to obtaining information through FOIA are common.)

To arrange the FOIA files by date, media outlet, city, or headline, use the Sort By dropdown box and select Date, Media Outlet, City, or Headline. Click Apply.For example, Sort by: Media Outlet will bring up all the FOIA Files in alphabetical order of the media outlet, from Associated Press to USA Today.

You may also group the stories into categories defined by the location of the story subject, not necessarily where the news outlet is located. For example, a Los Angeles Times story focused on FBI surveillance of anti-war demonstrators in Colorado would be listed under Colorado stories and may also be listed under California stories.

To arrange the FOIA files by state, category/keyword or agency, use the Group By dropdown box to select State, Category/Keyword or Agency. For instance, Group by: Agency will bring up all the FOIA Files in alphabetical order by agency, from the “Agency for International Development” to the “Veterans Administration.” </p>

 

Learn about a typical FOIA dispute

While there are many problems with FOIA today, ProPublica describes a typical FOIA dispute (in 2009). A FOIA request comes in for a particular document, in this case information about a contract to build a website (recovery.gov) to track federal Recovery Act spending. The agency releases information with significant redactions:

The requester appeals, thinking some of the information shouldn’t be hidden behind the black pen. While this case is still pending, it’s an interesting case example of a FOIA dispute. (N.B.: This took place before the new Office of Government Information Services was established, to help requesters and agencies resolve such problems.)

 

See what FOIA can do for the public
Nearly half of the bridges owned by Amtrak in the Philadelphia area are rated poor or worse, declares the Philadelphia Inquirer, which based its coverage on inspection reports that Amtrak would disclose only when the paper drafted a lawsuit under the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The FOIA-based reporting spurred U.S. Senator Arlen Specter (PA) to push for more funding for repairs.

 

And don’t forget to stay in touch

Finally, if you know of a good story that relied on FOIA and is not in our FOIA Files, drop us a line!