The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is more than 50 years old and is used in a variety of contexts. The federal government states:
"The basic function of the Freedom of Information Act is to ensure informed citizens, vital to the functioning of a democratic society."
Agencies are bound by FOIA and their own state and local laws concerning open information.
Nevertheless, all public entities that issue RFPs (without exclusion) must disclose information subject to FOIA within 20 days, or provide a rationale that argues against the release of the pertinent information. You can protest any refusals and escalate the request made. More information is available on FOIA.gov.
Challenges with FOIA Requests
There are several challenges right from the start:
- All agencies have different procedures when it comes to FOIA requests. There is a serious lack of standardization in place.
- Many agencies will try and make you pay for the requested documentation (we have a way to avoid this though), sometimes charging one USD per page.
- Government employees detest the paperwork of completing a FOIA request.
- Requests have to sound authoritative enough to elicit a response.
- If you submit a request without first warning an agency you will do so, it may damage your relationship for future requests.
How we Leverage FOIA
The Knowledge Stack has gone through three versions of our request format to expedite answers. And we are constantly improving the template format to streamline filling our requests.
We primarily use FOIA requests for the following reasons:
- To acquire competitor pricing, better understand the market, and know the main actors involved.
- To understand the agency's willingness to cooperate with members of the public.
- To understand the thinking behind an NOA/NOI or award recommendation; note: we didn't say award. Only a council or governing body can officially approve an award.
Which FOIA Results Are Most Crucial?
The bid tabulation is the most important, followed by individual scoring sheets used by evaluators (sometimes these are even handwritten), then competitor pricing and narrative sections.
Agencies are getting better at releasing information, but it's an uphill battle at times. Our team will alert you when a FOIA request has been approved and when the requested contract information has been delivered to our designee.
Seeing what worked in the past is incredibly insightful for future bids. You will see big players that normally dominate B2B get absolutely crushed when it comes to competitive bidding. You will also see the lowest price win with pencil marks on administrative forms, or submissions from companies that aren't officially registered legal entities!