FOIA & the FDA: Q&A with an attorney about FOIA law

Table of Contents


Under pressure - FDA oversight, funding, effectiveness: A webcast of this panel at Health Journalism 2008 is available.

Working your way through the FDA: Julie Zawisza, assistant commissioner for public affairs at the FDA gave this presentation at Health Journalism 2008.

FDA's FOIA contacts

FDA public affairs list of who to contact about specific topics (PDF)

Handbook for requesting information and records from FDA

FDA newsroom

FDA Press Office contacts

FDA's regional public affairs specialists

Sign up for FDA e-mail alerts

FDA's Freedom of Information Annual Report - FY 2007

Douglas E. Lee
Partner, Ehrmann Gehlbach Badger & Lee.
First Amendment Law
Dixon, Illinois

Lee has been a legal correspondent for the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center since 1995. Lee has represented news media clients such as the Chicago Sun-Times, many Scripps Howard newspapers and broadcast stations and the Society of Professional Journalists in a variety of libel, privacy and freedom-of-information matters.

Q: Do you think the recent changes to the FOIA will affect response times?

A: That's certainly the goal to make the FOIA better and make the government more responsive. Most people who have done this for a while are probably somewhat skeptical that there's anything that will make agencies say 'yeah now we're really, really going to do a better job with this'.

Q: In your opinion, have response times been a problem thus far with FOIA requests?

A: I think that's always going to be a problem - if you're a reporter how often are you working on longer-term projects where you can just wait on the FOIA process indefinitely. There's still not a lot of respect for the drop-deadness of the time limits.

Q: Why do you think reporters haven't been more aggressive in getting the information they want from the FDA, even after they have sent multiple FOIA requests?

A: Lots of people don't want confrontation and don't have the time or energy to fuss with them.

Q: What would it take for government agencies to start processing FOIA requests more expeditiously?

A: I think the executive branch's willingness to comply with the law remains to be seen. I didn't read the amendments and say "OK, now we've got something that works." Most people don't care about it. What priority does responding to FOIA take? Probably lower on the list. If the public demanded it and candidates were talking about it all the time, suddenly it would be more important.