iFOIA, a free online system to create, send and track federal and state records requests, is now up and running. After nearly a year of project development, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press (RCFP) offered iFOIA to Bloomberg News and NPR for beta testing. Since its official release at the Online News Association Conference on Oct. 17, major newsrooms, including The Washington Post, have hosted representatives from the Reporters Committee for tutorials on how this resource can be used effectively by journalists. Emily Grannis from the Reporters Committee stopped by the Workshop today to give our staff an iFOIA briefing.
Since 1996 the committee has offered a free letter-generating service to provide users with the correct language and structure for FOIA requests. Over the past year they looked for ways to expand this tool to better serve reporters. In recognition of the fact that a single investigation can require hundreds of FOIA requests, they sought to make it easier for journalists to track and organize records requests.
“Reporters are always trying to remember where they’ve submitted requests, how much time has passed since they made the request and who they need to follow up with,” said Grannis.
iFOIA acts as a cloud service in which journalists can store all of their records requests online, sorted by project. Federal agencies are required to respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days — at which point iFOIA automatically sends users a reminder that they should have received an answer. Furthermore, the system automatically fills in contact information for federal agencies and saves information for state agencies after those are added by the user. The users also have the option to share state agency contact information with the iFOIA community, while still keeping their requests private.
As previously reported by Senior Editor Wendall Cochran, out of 428,107 FOIA requests received by 13 federal agencies in 2012, only 117,074, or 27.3 percent, were granted in full. The current FOIA backlog represents approximately 17 percent of the total number of requests. Given the low number of FOIA requests that are granted and the constant federal backlog, it is increasingly important for journalists to submit follow-up letters and appeals to denied requests in order to get access to the information they are legally entitled to. iFOIA has the potential to make that process more manageable.