Years ago I had the honor of working with LTG Samuel Vaughan Wilson, who was the youngest of Merrill’s Marauders. After WWII, his career led him toward the intelligence arena, which later led him to making the observation that obtaining information is less about being James Bond and more about being Sherlock Holmes. The stories he shared were of Truth being out in the open, staring us in the face. (I wrote a bit on this in 2021, in the article “Less James Bond and More Sherlock Holmes“.)
This article will share some of my go-to places to obtain information. I’ll start with a few today and gradually update the list.
What FOIA Requests Have Already Been Submitted?
Save yourself time and money by letting others do the work first.
After FOIA’d information is released to the initial FOIA requester, the information is considered public. Hence, while the initial requester might incur a fee, subsequent requesters of the same information do not have to pay the initial fee that covers things like research and redaction of the records.
Some organizations, like U.S. Department of Education, post FOIA logs to their sites. This gives the public access to a list of what others are requesting, to include journalists, elected officials, other private citizens, and even school districts. After that, it’s a matter of submitting your own request.
For example, May 11, 2021, Fairfax County Public Schools’ Katherine Murphy submitted a FOIA request that, among other things, requested information about complaints made by parents. I wanted to know what USDOE provided FCPS in response, so I repeated the FOIA request. The initial letter announcing OCR’s investigation of FCPS was the one responsive record. Nothing else. FCPS had previously advised that OCR didn’t provide any responsive records, but FCPS’s FOIA officer has been wrong on a number of occasions, so USDOE’s answer confirmed FCPS’s account.
To obtain logs for other organizations, you’ll need to request the logs. You might be charged a fee for the logs, but you’ll save money by seeing what’s already been released. In addition to saving money, you might save time. FOIA officers have timelines to follow, but extensions seem to be best friends to many. If you request something already released, you might be able to obtain it earlier than a new request.
- USDOE, ED FOIA Logs
- I check this page daily. As of today, (February 27, 2023), June 2022 was USDOE’s last update. However, there are years of logs to explore and use to 1) see what’s of concern to others, 2) what’s happening in other areas, and 3) if there are trends in the requested material.
Pages to certain sites include “last modified” mentions somewhere on the page. Heading to the page and then scrolling to the last modified date is a matter of minutes, which is easier than scrolling through the data. Sometimes organizations publish dated—but still relevant—information, so it doesn’t work to rely on document dates and/or chronological listings.
For example, the U.S. Department of Education Differentiated Monitoring and Support page lists DMS letters, reports, subsequent follow up, and so on for states monitored. USDOE isn’t known for posting all information for all states when it is released, so looking for a 2023 date, as one example, won’t ensure visitors will find new documents. With USDOE, the most-recently added record in 2023 could be from 2020.
- USDOE, Differentiated Monitoring and Support page.
- I check this page daily. As of today, (February 27, 2023) February 21, 2023, is the most recent modified date listed. I live in Virginia, hence currently I’m looking out for any letters USDOE might issue as the three-year anniversary of its June 2020 DMS report on Virginia approaches. In the case of Texas, USDOE took action around the three-year anniversary of issuing a DMS report on Texas. The question to be answered: Will USDOE take the same course with Virginia?