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Faxing the FOIA Requests (And More!) for the Archive’s 2009 Audit.

March 15, 2010

A FOIA Requester's Best Friend.

Faxing ninety federal agencies in a single business day is not an easy feat.  But to ensure fair conditions for all the agencies included in the Archive’s audit, that’s what had to be done.  By the close of business on 15 September 2009 –despite paper cuts, paper jams, and fax machine mishaps– I had done it, all the requests were sent.  Looking back, the first day of the audit was one of the most frantic.

Finding the contact information for FOIA officers proved to be fairly easy.  Each agency is required by law to clearly post their “FOIA contact info” on their website.  Most of the time, the fax numbers were correct and the requests went through successfully.

Then the waiting game began.  Usually (but not always) agencies sent a one page “acknowledgment letter” telling the Archive that they had received our request and were “working on it.”  After that, the agencies sent their final responses.  Sometimes this took mere days, but as the audit shows, it can sometimes take as long as seventeen years for an agency to respond to a request.  We’re still waiting to hear back from a total of nineteen agencies (listed in our Audit on page eleven).  Waiting for agency responses to trickle in was more than a bit like the college admissions process.

Then, with the data in front of us, our Audit team began our analysis.  Keeping track of raw data and trends required a lot of time in Excel.  With more than a little help from my younger brother, Eric, I soon became pretty nifty working with formulas.  Then, we spent lots of time poring through each other’s spreadsheets, checking and rechecking our data.  I think the whole team’s eyesight has deteriorated a bit.

Finally, we began writing.  And after rounds and rounds of brainstorms, drafts, comments, edits, copy edits, and formatting, we put our finished product on our website on Sunday.  I’m sure you’ll find the results both interesting and important.

I’m already looking forward to faxing next year’s Audit requests.

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