The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. (Part One of Two Part Series)
I once DID FOIA Research for the FDIC. The Agencies protect themselves and OFTEN the requests are poorly written- too specific or too general.
Once I had to go through 80 bankers boxes for documents with a specific named entity related to a particular property. I KNOW that the people involved in the transaction related to that property were part of the group that caused the initial massive loss by defaulting on a loan when it was found that the dirt excavated durin gtheir copper mining also help amounts of copper that were considered an environmental hazard. The Government SWORE that they woudl not sell a property back to those who caused the initial loss and bank failure. BUT the very narrow reguest meant that while - per my ethics- I could have flagged lots of docs out of those boxes- the narrow parameters meant there were NO docs applicable to the request. I was not allowed to communicate the issue. The ultimate Decision was made by an SES staffer who time and again indicated that I was being too lenient in my production. SO- they rig that too to protect their asses. IN this instance a $30+ million loss on the property was followed by sale back to the perpetrators of that loss for $3 million. All it took was time for technology for extraction to get better to make it worthwhile to clean up the "contaminated" dirt by product. Sad.
Unfortunately the Agency has total control over their documents and sometimes it can be like walking through a mine field to get the info that you need. Delays and excuses are built into the system and all it takes is one phone call from a politician and then an entirely different set of rules is implemented. After all, the agencies monies are enacted/or not enacted by those controlling our government. A form of blackmail..
To help "spell-craft" a better FOIA, here is the current information on Exemptions & Exclusions: https://www.dhs.gov/foia-exemptions
A lot of discretion seems afforded to agencies. Another reason why neutral, non-aggressive, verbiage in our requests is important (to not be seen as a "threat").