FOIA & the FDA: Food and Water Watch
The researchers interviewed Tony Corbo of the Food and Water Watch to find out more about the role his group plays in helping the media receive information it needs that it may not get from the FDA.
Tony Corbo | 202.683.2449
Food and Water Watch's Purpose: Doing research for journalists is not a service we provide, but when issues arise that we have already FOIA'd, we will share that information. We FOIA the USDA (weekly)-so, much more frequently than we FOIA the FDA. We may only FOIA the FDA 3-4 times a year.
Stay on Them: One thing you have to do when dealing with government agencies is to stay on them. For example, Corbo FOIA'd the FDA last year for inspection recalls in 2006. The response rate was good until Congress got involved. The Democratic Congress increased oversight, so Food & Water Watch's request took the wayside. The USDA tends to operate better. The USDA reached out to food groups a few years ago; they meet monthly; it's possible to "bark" at them if information takes too long to acquire.
Quick Tips: If you send requests to the central FOIA office, it may take longer to process your request. At times, it may be useful to call the center's main office and ask to speak with a FOIA person. Send the FOIA request to both the center and the main office. [i.e. Center= Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition]. The main office still needs a copy.
Specifics: Attach any actual news articles; narrow the time frame they have to do their search-- If you look for 30 years of documents, that will certainly slow their process; Think of anything you can do to help them narrow the search for you.