On December 14, Whistleblower Network News (WNN) hosted a webinar on how to effectively use the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The webinar featured 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. Over the course of his career Kohn has filed thousands of FOIA requests, and litigated many more. During the webinar, Kohn covered the most essential aspects of FOIA, starting with the principles and history behind it.
Kohn began with some background information about the intent of FOIA and the way it has historically been used. He detailed the passage of the law in 1966 and the things that held it back from being effective when it was first passed. Originally intended as a way for the public to access U.S. Executive Branch documents, the 1966 law was immediately mired with red tape and bureaucratic roadblocks. Kohn described the changes that the 1974 amendments had on the law, changing it into the current law that we know today.
Kohn then described the steps of the 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 went into detail about each of the steps and demonstrated how to use language that provides a request with the best chance of success.
The session was followed by a Q&A session dealing with a number of audience questions. Kohn responded to questions dealing with how to best direct FOIA requests to the correct agencies, bipartisanship of FOIA requests, who can file FOIA requests, and how to avoid bureaucratic obstacles. He also offered his personal tips and tricks for getting the information that you or your organization needs.