Transparency and the FOIA Request

By Kristy Varda posted 04-24-2017 11:41

  

Every profession has its own acronyms and language.  In ours we have "FOIAble"  As members of the public society and as taxpayers having documents or information that can be obtained via polite request or formal FOIA requests is a part of our daily lives and in most instances understandable.  In fact, as procurement professionals sometimes even we need to FOIA someone to get information in order to complete our work. 

Transparency can be both good and bad.  So the reason for this subject is the irresponsible, uninformed, not the full story FOIA request.  The ones that are just to data gather without true knowledge of what they are obtaining.  While I am not going to specifically call out any companies today, there have been rumblings by those of us in procurement regarding companies that send us FOIA requests just to gather numbers etc. and then they try to get us to buy the information they have gathered to "help you do a better job at procuring goods and services."  But do they really help?  I don't know because we cannot afford the fees for the information and have to do good old fashioned research to find the best opportunities etc.

A listing of all the POs that were issued in the last 3 months, with line item detail, dollar value, the vendor purchased from, vendor address and point of contact is a common request.  Does that request give you a true representation of the scope of the project that items were ordered for?  Does it give you the means in which that good or service was procured (competitive solicitation, quick quote, sole source, emergency)? How can you price compare when you do not know if you are comparing apples to apples?  Furthermore why should we have to pay for the information that was ours to begin with? 

Also let's take a moment to recognize that this company may be submitting a FOIA request to a department that has been doing more with less and less and responding to these requests takes time away from work that the tax payers rely on. Yes I understand the value in gathering information and offering it to all to help ensure that the tax payers' monies are being spent wisely, however at what expense is this gathering method taking on these same monies? Public employees historically make less than their private sector counterparts so why should they give up their work/life balance to make someone else money just to respond to this request and then have to work longer hours to complete their assigned work?

Now let's also talk about the legislations that have been looming to require postings of spend in line item detail to public websites.  Many times this legislation is being pushed by the companies that tout their "helping" our profession and showing transparency.  Once again let's think about what is actually being posted without the real story behind the spend.  How is the public to know that a certain line item of spend was due to an emergency and thus the amount spent was higher than it would normally have been?  How from such postings is the common citizen to know that procurement and the end users worked for months on a procurement process to ensure that they met all the legal requirements of the government, ensured the safety of the citizens they represent and negotiated the best deal they could get at the time of the award?  In many cases the tax payers must know that "You get what you pay for" and always looking for the cheapest deal is not always in the best long term interest of the constituency.

While I will continue to work hard for my taxpayers, as a taxpayer companies that make money off of the government just to tell the government they are doing it wrong or not the way they would do it frustrate me.  I would ask that the people working in these companies come walk a mile in our shoes before making such requests, and listen to what happens on the front lines before deciding that we could do better if we just did it their way.

My two cents for today.  Peace, Love, and Mindfulness to you All.

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05-23-2017 12:38

Kristy, thank you for sharing your frustrations on FOIA.   I knew that we weren't the only entity receiving the quarterly p.o. report request  from companies that demand our information under FOIA and then try to sell it back to us and anyone they can make money on from our "free" data.   I believe everyone forgot that FOIA was originally created to inform citizens about how their government was operating when passing laws and spending money.   What FOIA has turned into is government doing all or most of the "free market research" for companies so they can better prepare themselves against their competitors for future bid and RFP opportunities. Let me be clear that not all FOIA requests are commercial, but a majority of them come from vendors and  fall under the definition of a commercial FOIA request.