FOIA & the FDA: TimelineFall 2007
Once the scope of our research was determined, a team of students traveled to FDA headquarters in Rockville, Md., to request documents from the reading room. The documents requested included a list of all FOIA requests made by journalists over the past 10 years. It took several weeks to process our request. The initial response came after 20 days.
After receiving a response, we sorted the list by names of journalists who were not affiliated with an organization or whose affiliation was a recognizable media group.
A separate team of students was hired to obtain contact information for the list of journalists we compiled. The students successfully dug up information on 180 journalists. Additionally, they were given one-time access to the e-mail addresses of all members of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
Our team spoke briefly with six journalists about their FOIA experiences with the FDA. Based on the information they provided, we compiled an online survey and sent it to the AHCJ members and the 180 journalists whose contact information we had obtained.
A new team of students picked up the project at this juncture, analyzing data based on the responses we had received after sending out hundreds of surveys.
We received 169 responses. In addition to data analysis, this team conducted additional interviews with journalists who responded to the survey to get further details on their FOIA experiences.
One student interviewed a Denials & Appeals officer at the FDA to get an idea of how the agency handles FOIA requests, while another student researched recent FOIA legislation.
We also interviewed a representative of Food & Water Watch, an organization whose mission it is to share information, already FOIAed, with journalists requesting the same or similar information.