Though the name of the Freedom Of Information Act might make it sound like one can just submit a request for government records and they will be released without hassle, in reality it’s a much more complicated process that can cost a lot of money and make even hardened investigators feel like giving up. That’s why the Center for Investigative Reporting has created the FOIA Machine.
Given that FOIA requests often involve multiple agencies, each with its own byzantine bureaucratic rules, many people go into the process unprepared for all the potential roadblocks and requirements needed to ultimately get the documents that have been requested.
Dubbed the “TurboTax for government records,” FOIA Machine — currently in Alpha testing — began as a way to simply track the response times to FOIA requests. Since then, it has developed into a service that seeks to streamline and automate much of the request process, “putting all of the steps, rules, exceptions and best practices in one place and allowing users to track requests on dashboards, receive alerts, share request blueprints and get social support and expertise from the FOIA Machine community.”
Even better, the FOIA Machine will be free. Of course, it costs money to create and maintain the service, so the CIR has launched a Kickstarter campaign to help raise funds.
So far, it’s received more than $12,000 of the $17,500 it needs. Every dollar pledged by Kickstarter users will be matched by the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri.
The system is currently being tested by 15 users, but hundreds have signed on for when it eventually opens to the public. But before it can serve all those people, the FOIA Machine needs a notification system to tell users when an agency responds to a request and to notify users when they need to follow up on outstanding requests, the ability for users to follow up with an agency outside of the FOIA Machine, the ability to share requests publicly, and several interface upgrades, along with ongoing costs for updating and maintaining the Machine.
Donations to the Kickstarter campaign start at $1, for which the contributor’s name will be listed on the FOIA Machine site.
In order to receive the funding, CIR needs to reach the $17,500 goal by Aug. 16.