While the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was intended to make it easier for the public to access information about the activities of the U.S. government, successfully filing a FOIA request can feel like a full-time job. Navigating the exceptions in the law, and the bureaucrats who aren’t always inclined to release documents, certainly requires some effort.
The FOIA Machine is intended to help. A joint effort of the Center for Investigative Reporting, the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Knight Foundation, the Machine has been in the works since 2012 (I posted about it last July and was late to the party). Not only does the machine have useful information on agency contacts and procedures for filing a FOIA request, it keeps a record of requests filed via the Machine. This would make it easier to find out if information has already been released, saving agencies and potential requesters time and resources.
While you can sign up for an account (required if you intend to file a request using the Machine), the developers are rolling out the system in an invitation-only beta process. As the system demonstrates its stability and robustness, additional people will be invited to use the system and put it through its paces.
I’m undecided about whether to sign up for a beta invitation. While I have some science policy questions that might benefit from some FOIA actions, a better focus for now would be to survey the requests on file to see what is out there of interest. Should I find anything and mention it here, I’ll make a point to credit the FOIA Machine.