Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests

Overview of FOIA

  • The rule: As a rule government documents are available to the public, including contracts that the government enters into with vendors and proposals that the government receives.
  • Exceptions: FOIA does not apply to/the products shared through FOIA may be redacted for:
    • Contracts that contain classified information are exempted from FOIA
    • The elements of a proposal or contract related to a business is sensitive information


  1. Insight into how the winner structured their solution:
    1. From the proposal: Even a heavily redacted proposal will give you a lot of insight into how the current winner proposed to address the governments need including:
      1. How they proposed to staff the work
      2. The products they are using and the specifications of those products
      3. Specific text in their proposal for key sections (e.g. the staff transition plan, how they wrote about their past performance, etc)
    2. From the award: When you submit a proposal you typically include a statement of work that the government can copy and paste into an award. So if you can get the award you may be able to see a detailed writeup of what the winner proposed to do
  2. Insight into what the government cares about: Since we are seeing the proposal and/or the award to the winner we can get a good sense for what the government was looking for (what the government found compelling) at least the last time the government bid this contract
  3. Pricing insight: The government is highly price sensitive, and the current winner may have done something clever to meet the government’s needs at a lower cost that you can copy

Making a FOIA request

  1. Time: The first thing to know is that FOIA’s take time to process, so if the RFP is less than 6 months away you probably won’t get the FOIA results in time to be helpful
  2. Cost: Generally you have to pay a fee based on the length of the document you are FOIA-ing
  3. Preparing the FOIA documents: The FOIA request is a pretty standard one page document. For a FOIA template see the materials section of this class
  4. Submitting the FOIA document: has a good application portal, or you can search for “FOIA” and the agency that let the contract’s name

Other resources (Individual contract checks)

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FOIA request template

Video Transcript(s):