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Use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for Market Research

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 U.S.C. 552), passed into law on 04-July-1967, can be an invaluable research tool for Federal Government contracting. FOIA applies to all Federal agencies in the Government's Executive Branch, including cabinet departments, military departments, Government corporations, Government-controlled corporations, and independent regulatory agencies--in other words, virtually all of the Government agencies who procure goods and services.

FOIA permits the dissemination of records as long as they do not fall under any of the following excluded categories:

  • Data authorized to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy

  • Records related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency

  • Data specifically exempt from disclosure by statute

  • Trade secrets and commercial or financial information received in confidence

  • Inter-agency or intra-agency correspondence that would not be available legally to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency

  • Personnel and medical files and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy

  • Records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes (such as investigative records)

  • Data contained in or related to examination, operation, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions

  • Geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells
Useful data that does not fall under the above restrictions may include the following:
  • Types (goods/services) and amounts of contracts awarded by a specific agency within a specified period

  • Name of an incumbent contractor and pricing data for a specified contract or opportunity

  • Current copy of a specified contract, including any amendments

  • Copies or listing of any Contract Discrepancy Reports (CDRs) issued for an identified contract
Generally speaking, FOIA requests must be responded to within 20 working days, excluding weekends and holidays, although the Government may be granted a longer response time in light of an extensive request or other contributing factors. It is also important to remember the Government may require financial compensation as reimbursement for "reasonable standard charges for document search, duplication, and review." The Goverment may also choose to fulfill a request at no charge.

When submitting your FOIA request, make sure you include the following:

  • Clearly address your correspondence, including the outer envelope, to the FOIA Officer

  • Identify specifically the document(s) you're requesting (e.g., "Please provide the award, start, and completion dates; cost by contract line item; and the contractor company's name and address for Contract ABC-123.")

  • Format by which you desire the information (i.e., Can you accept information electronically, or must you receive a paper copy? If you are able and willing to accept data in an electronic format, can it be e-mailed to you, or should it be sent on a CD? What electronic formats will be acceptable: Word? WordPerfect? Adobe? Excel? Access?)

  • State your willingness to reimburse the Government for reasonable costs (e.g., "If it is anticipated that fees for providing the identified information to me will exceed $XX.xx, please contact me before fulfilling this request."

  • Clearly identify your name, your company's name and address, contact numbers (telephone and facsimile), and e-mail address.
Use FOIA to obtain useful information and help grow your business.

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