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FOIA Facts: Sources for FOIA Training

By Scott A. Hodes, Published on November 16, 2008

I recently wrote in my blog about FOIA training opportunities. Someone wanted to know where they can get training in the Chicago area. A follow up comment asked why big training companies don’t offer FOIA training as a business.

My answer was, and continues to be a resounding I don't know. There are a few sources of FOIA training; however most of them are not free and they don’t seem to be as plentiful as they were a few years ago.

I have done training for two private organizations, Lorman and TheCapitol.net. Both of these took place in the Washington D.C. area. In the past, Lorman has put on training in various regions on FOIA and whatever state access law or laws are covered by the region the training was centered in. I'm not sure if they have any FOIA training scheduled in the future.

The American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP) presents a number of training seminars. Most are in the D.C. area, but next March (2009) there is a program scheduled in Las Vegas. They have also done a number of training programs in Florida and other locations around the country.

The Department of Justice provides training through the Department of Justice's National Advocacy Center in Columbia, South Carolina. Upcoming courses can be found here. DOJ used to provide these courses in other sites around the country and in Washington, D.C. as well and any upcoming training should be listed on that site.

The USDA Graduate School offers FOIA classes. While the classes are in D.C., it appears they have distance learning. You can see their class schedule here.

Editor's Note: "FOIA TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES, FISCAL YEAR 2009 - The Department of Justice’s Office of Information and Privacy, in conjunction with the Department’s Office of Legal Education, will be offering five different training programs on the Freedom of Information Act for this upcoming fiscal year, one of which is a new program entitled “FOIA Litigation Seminar.” The schedule for Fiscal Year 2009 is available here."

The real reason there isn’t much training offered outside of these entities is there isn’t that much demand, there is a lack of people with the expertise to teach and training has become much more expensive. While there are millions of FOIA requests made each year [Editor's note: "Almost 22 million FOIA requests were received in 2007, an increase of almost 2% over last year. The 25 departments and agencies that handle the bulk of the third-party information requests, however, received 63,000 fewer requests than 2006 — but processed only 2,100 more." Source - Secrecy Report Card 2008], the FOIA community is relatively small — and a law firm or business that makes two or three requests a year isn’t going to spend lots of money sending someone to a training that can cost from $500 to $1,000. The majority of people at FOIA training are government employees, and while they have a demand for the training, they are limited in the amount they can spend on training — thus cutting into the overall demand.

There also aren’t that many people who can teach FOIA. The government and ASAP can use their employees or members. However, private companies must find someone and then pay them for their time. It’s not that easy to find, especially the broad areas of FOIA that people want to learn about (such as administrative process, the exemptions, or litigation). I had to find a team to teach on one occasion and it wasn’t an easy process.

Finally, these days budgets are shrinking both in the government and private companies. Thus, the amount of money available isn’t likely to attract more FOIA training. Unfortunately, it’s the opposite.

One bright side of all of this might be the use of technology to assist in training. Webinars, distance learning and other internet related training may increase over time and allow those seeking training opportunities to learn on their own schedules. Hopefully, those entering FOIA will get the training they need to be successful in both making and processing FOIA requests.