This is Part 1 of a 6 Part Blog Series on “How to Make a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) Request“. Please stay tuned for the other blogs for the full picture!
Step 1: Decide If It Is Necessary To File a FOIA Request
Not all agency records require a written FOIA request. In 1996, Congress passed the Electronic Freedom of Information Act (“E-FOIA”). E-FOIA requires government agencies to have electronic FOIA “reading rooms” available online. The information you seek may be available online such as regulations, agency decisions and statements of policies, staff manuals (e.g., USDA Rural Development Handbooks), forms, and agency publications such as pamphlets, brochures, and books created after November 1, 1996. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(2). For example, the soil composition on your property is available from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (“NRCS”) online at http://www.nrcs.usda.gov. All previous records before November 1, 1996 are not required to be in electronic format; however, upon request to the agency, even these can be made available to you in electronic form.
This is an excerpt from my first book that I co-authored with Pat Dillon, an Iowa agriculture lawyer titled “Field Manual: Legal Guide for New York Farmers and Food Entrepreneurs” available on CreateSpace, Amazon, Kindle and iBooks. You can find out more about this book here.