March 16 is Freedom of Information Day, a day during Sunshine Week which specifically celebrates the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the key role it plays in promoting good government. FOIA is of the utmost importance to Whistleblower Network News, both in the way it supports whistleblowers and their truth telling and in how it aids WNN’s original reporting.
FOIA was passed in 1966 and provides the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. Under FOIA, federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested by the public unless it falls under an exemption protecting personal privacy, national security, and other interests.
In 2020, WNN hosted a webinar on how to effectively use FOIA. The webinar features leading whistleblower lawyer Stephen M. Kohn, who is a founding partner of whistleblower law firm Kohn, Kohn and Colapinto as well as the Chairman of the Board of the National Whistleblower Center.
In the webinar, Kohn provides background information about the intent of FOIA and the way it has historically been used. He then describes the steps of the FOIA process in the simplest terms possible: First, write the best description of the documents you are requesting and make sure you are submitting your request to the correct government agency. Then, apply to have your FOIA request expedited and the fee waived. Kohn then goes into detail about each of the steps and demonstrates how to use language that provides a request with the best chance of success.
FOIA has been essential to WNN’s in-depth exclusive reporting. In February 2021, FOIA allowed WNN to obtain —and make publicly available for the first time — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s latest rules and regulations on whistleblower rewards. At that time, WNN also reported on a successful wildlife whistleblower reward case, the details of which were obtained under FOIA.
Also in 2021, documents that WNN obtained via a FOIA request revealed the shortcomings of the whistleblower protections in the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). Documents released by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) list every FIRREA settlement involving a whistleblower since 1989, when the law was first passed. The list includes a total of only six settlements.
In October 2021, Jason Foster of Empower Oversight wrote an op-ed for WNN detailing how newly uncovered documents show senior Veterans Affairs (VA) officials smearing a whistleblower to avoid Congressional oversight. The documents Foster details were obtained via a FOIA request. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) then referenced the WNN story in a letter to the VA.
WNN celebrates Freedom of Information Day and looks forward to continuing to utilize FOIA in future reporting.