As a long-time Federal records management consultant, I have supported Freedom of Information Act request processing for many years. In all my time dealing with FOIA, I have never come across a request that I thought was written in a way that would prevent the government from interrupting it in a manner that would allow them to leave out some level of critical information relevant to the particular FOIA matter.
I found this very frustrating because I believe accountability and transparency are vital to the health of our Democracy, and the Freedom of Information Act is one of the very few ways we can ensure the American public has access to the Federal agency information that we are guaranteed by our Constitution.
As it happens, in March 2019, I had reason to file a FOIA request of my own, and it occurred to me that it might be a benefit to others if they saw how an experienced records manager would write a FOIA request.
So, I humbly present my (slightly redacted) FOIA request below.
But first, some quick background for context.
I was heavily recruited by IBM in the early months of 2015 with the explicit understanding that they wanted me to join the company to support the sales and marketing of a whole new line of innovative, next-generation Federal records management solutions (i.e., not DoD 5015.2-certifed applications). But I wasn’t at the company long before it was clear to me that they had no intention of letting me sell anything but their old, failed information lifecycle management products, which they had simply rebranded with the latest meaningless technology buzzwords. Lipstick on the proverbial pig.
Believing I had been misled (and knowing better than anybody the disastrous consequences of continued use of DoD 5015.2-certified records management applications), I refused to lie to IBM’s customers about the records management solutions they wanted me to sell. As a result, I was terminated by IBM less than a year after I had joined the company.
I was given three months after my termination to find a new position at IBM, and on the very last day, I managed to work my way onto an electronic records management project that IBM had with the FDA. (More on electronic records management at the FDA – and their COVID response – in future posts.)
To be clear, I never lied to anyone about IBM’s records management technologies while I was a consultant at the FDA, but I knew that no one inside the company was going to help me convince the government that their old DoD 5015.2-based solutions never worked, and were, in fact, the direct cause of some horrible tragedies, as well as a very real threat to our national security.
This is when I decided I had no choice but to go outside of IBM and submit a complaint to two Federal Inspectors General. The first complaint I submitted was to the Inspector General of the Department of Defense. The second complaint I submitted was to the Inspector General for the Intelligence Community, through the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Tragically, neither of these Inspectors General did anything to help me, despite warning them of inevitable future catastrophes – such as Federal data breaches and preventable loss of innocent lives.
When it became clear to me that the ICIG’s office had elected to ignore my warnings about Federal records management failures, I naturally wanted to know why. This is when I submitted this FOIA request:
I believe this is as good a FOIA request as a member of the American public can submit. It is certainly better than anything I’ve seen in my experience supporting Federal records management. And it may sound counterintuitive, but I believe the IGIC’s office has confirmed this because, instead of sending me the usual meaningless (and heavily redacted) records in response to this request, they have chosen to simply ignore it for more than three years.
But I am far from perfect, and as I continue to fight the global war on the records management discipline, it is possible that I will find myself submitting more FOIA requests in the future. If anyone reading this has a way to improve on my request above, I am happy to hear your thoughts and comments.