Public Right, Private Privilege: Commercial Entities are Biggest FOIA Users

by | Jun 27, 2024 | FDA, FOIA, SEC

FOIAengine Reveals Trends Behind the Big Numbers at FDA, SEC  

This week we analyze the sources of Freedom of Information Act requests made during May to the Food and Drug Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission. This analysis provides a macro view of who is submitting the 20,000 plus requests made each year to the two agencies.

FOIAengine, the competitive-intelligence database that tracks FOIA requests in as close to real-time as their availability allows, organizes the entities who submit FOIA requests into ten categories: Commercial, Educational, Federal Government, Financial Institution, Law Firm, News Media, Non-Profit, Organization Not Identified, Other, and Local and State Government. The following charts show the number of requests to the FDA and the SEC for each of these categories.

Commercial Organizations were the source of the most FDA requests (473), while the SEC received the most requests (420) from Organizations Not Identified. The latter number reflects the SEC practice of not requiring requesters to identify their organizations. The FDA has a much lower number of Organizations Not Identified requesters (77).

Excluding requests for which organizations are not identified, Commercial Organizations account for the largest share of requests at both agencies (473 at the FDA and 255 at the SEC). This category consists primarily of private companies and other commercial organizations that do not fit into one of our other categories. 

Law Firm and News Media requests represent the next most frequent sources of FOIA requests, reflecting the importance of FOIA inquiries for both sectors. The FDA received more requests than the SEC for both categories (146 vs 37 for Law Firms and 118 vs 70 for News Media).

Financial Institutions, including investment firms and banks, accounted for a total of 30 requests, with the SEC receiving 21 and the FDA receiving 9. May was a slower month than usual for Financial Institution requests. Finance industry FOIA filings often have an outsized predictive value due to the nature of the inquiries.

Educational requests, usually from universities, represented a larger than usual share of total requests during May because of 50 requests made by one individual at Georgetown University.

Both the SEC and FDA receive a very large share of their requests from a small number of information aggregators or FOIA services companies, rather than from individual law firms, news media, financial, corporate and other organizations interested in specific companies or issues. The aggregators and FOIA service companies are reflected in our Commercial Organization category.

At the SEC, seven requesters accounted for 41 percent of total requests. These organizations and individuals include Teresa Yu (218 requests), Joe O’Donnell (73 requests), DealForma (69 requests), ktMINE (65 requests), Check Fund Manager LLC (47 requests), MuckRock News (42 requests), and Clarivate (38 requests). We were not able to identify the organizations represented by Teresa Yu and Joe O’Donnell.

At the FDA, four requesters accounted for 21 percent of total requests. These organizations include FOIA Professional Services (60 requests), Redica Systems (57 requests), Clarivate Analytics (France) SAS (46 requests), and FOIA Services (19 requests).

FOIAengine access now is available for all professional members of Investigative Reporters and Editors, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of journalism.  IRE is the world’s oldest and largest association of investigative journalists.  Following the federal government’s shutdown of last year, FOIAengine is the only source for the most comprehensive, fully searchable archive of FOIA requests across dozens of federal departments and agencies.   FOIAengine has more robust functionality and searching capabilities, and standardizes data from different agencies to make it easier to work with.  PoliScio Analytics is proud to be partnering with IRE to provide this valuable content to investigative reporters worldwide.    

To see all the requests mentioned in this story, log in or sign up to become a FOIAengine trial user.  

Next from FOIAengine: How Morgan & Morgan Uses FOIA to Investigate Weight-Loss Drugs

Randy E. Miller, co-creator of FOIAengine, is a Washington lawyer, publisher, and former government official. He has developed several online information products and was a partner at Hogan Lovells, where he founded the firm’s Brussels office and represented clients on international regulatory matters. Miller also has served as a White House trade lawyer, Senior Legal Adviser to the U.S. Mission to the World Trade Organization, policy director to Senator Bob Dole, and adjunct professor at Georgetown University. He is a graduate of Yale and Georgetown Law.  FOIAengine is a product of PoliScio Analytics (, a venture specializing in U.S. political and governmental research, co-founded by Miller and Washington journalist John A. Jenkins.  Learn more about FOIAengine hereSign up here to become a trial user of FOIAengine.

Write to Randy E. Miller at [email protected].