The annual event. The one. The only. FOIA March Madness, 2019 Edition.

The annual event. The one. The only. FOIA March Madness, 2019 Edition.

It’s gametime.

Written by
Edited by JPat Brown

Party people! You like FOIA? Stickers? Not really, but have a minute?

Well, welcome! Welcome, welcome!

We’ve made it to mid-March 2019, MuckRockets. Back again and we’ve got madness in the forecast as far as the eye can scroll. FOIAficionados, aspiring and weathered alike, that means it’s time! Ready the rumbles! Pump the jams! The annual showdown of federal FOIA offices is here! Whoomp! There! It’s!

🚨🚨🚨 FOIA MARCH MADNESS 🚨🚨🚨

We’re submitting the same request to 64 Freedom of Information Act offices. You’re predicting the agencies that’ll respond most quickly. Humans, FOIA officer and beyond, will compete for the chance to become champion of the only FOIA faceoff in the world.

It’s exciting.

Let’s begin.

What is going on? What is FOIA?

Some important background:

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law allowing people to request the records of the government. It exists because democracy and of the people and for the people. It’s been around since 1966 and works to varying degrees, but there’s - you know - a lot of room for growth. The law says a request to a federal agency should be fulfilled within 20 days, but this doesn’t happen very consistently. Really, sometimes the whole thing just doesn’t go very well.

MuckRock is a non-profit news organization that assists individuals making FOIA and public record requests, provides a public archive of released materials, and reports on issues involving or illuminated by public records.

March Madness is an annual sporting event involving basketball and brackets and usually not FOIA.

How does this game work?

We’ve divided 64 federal agencies into four brackets strongly inspired by FOIA March Madness Twenty-Sixteen, itself informed by MuckRock statistics, Not Science, and How We Felt.

We’ve drafted a request for documents containing five basic data points about the agency’s operations:

  • the budget of the FOIA offices

  • the number of staff in the FOIA offices

  • the number of FOIA requesters assigned to each fee category

  • the number of fee waivers granted

  • the amount of fees collected on FOIA requests

Once it’s received the request, all the agency has to do is provide the materials in the amount of time stipulated by law: 20 days. Easy, easy.

What should I do?

Play along, FOIA Friends!

Select your winners - the agencies with the swiftest full responses - using this MuckRock Assignment. Submissions will be open until tip-off next Friday, March 22nd at 6pm EST.

Want to scout your picks before you make ‘em? You can find the history of FOIA March Madness and past winners on MuckRock Projects:

For your pre-game perusal, there are also MuckRock data available on each agency’s page and FOIA Officer reports, annual and quarterly, available from the Office of Information Policy.

What is there to be gained from this?

In addition to the gratification that comes with supporting a functional FOIA process and inspiring America’s records officers to even greater greatness, there are more prizes than ever for our public participants.

Just for playing:

Stickers!

You’ve got a surface. It probably needs a sticker. These ones are cool, and we’ll send them to you for free if you submit an entry.

For Our Winner from the Audience:

Pick the winning agency correctly (or, in case of a tie, pick the most correct bracket winners), and we’ll send you a MuckRock Swag Pack containing:

  • a drinking object

  • a wearing object

  • places to put your drinking objects

  • objects to pin your wearing objects

  • Stickers!

For our Side Bet Winners:

We’ve got three side wagers going on and something special for each individual that correctly (or “most” correctly) guesses one of the following:

  • the number of pages (cover letter and gobbledygook inclusive) released by our winning agency

  • the total number of released pages from all responding agencies 20 days into the contest

  • the first office to fully complete our special Department of Interior Exhibition Bracket request

We’ve sent each of the Department’s 13 FOIA offices a variation on our FOIA March Madness 2019 Main Tournament request. You’ve read this far, so you get to know that we’ve already submitted those requests here.

For the Agencies:

From us, nothing. However the Securities and Exchange Commission has previously been generous enough to offer to share with the future agency winners this DIY Grand Prize (they haven’t had to yet).

Anything else?

There’s plenty more to learn about FOIA, MuckRock, our projects, our reporting, and other ways you can support transparency in government.

Browse the site, sign up for our newsletter, and consider filing your own request.

That’s all, folks! Brackets are below, may the Madness commence!

(Adm)in It To Win It

(Common) Good Sport

The Protection (B)racket

Workers’ Comp(etition)