A strong public policy proposal requires the writer to understand the full extent of the government's current involvement in the issues. The advent of the internet and the adaptations made by agencies like the Government Publishing Office have made government information easier than ever to retrieve, but sometimes the data you need will not be readily available.
Requesting information directly from a government agency can take time; always be certain to exhaust other avenues before making a FOIA request. You can locate information about the backlog any particular agency has by going to the "Data" section of the FOIA website.
1. Make certain the agency you are looking at is the one that gathers the information. Agencies often work jointly or have overlapping interests. If you cannot locate data with one agency, be sure to check similar groups to ensure your are making a request from the agency that actually bears the responsibility for collecting the data.
2. ASK FIRST. Often, the formality of a FOIA request is not necessary; agency employees are usually willing to send along spreadsheets and reports prepared in the course of their work when students and researchers show an interest. Formal FOIA requests go through procedures that create backlogs and extra paperwork for employees and simple requests can often be handled without the formal procedures.
3. BE DETAILED AND CONCISE in your requests. If you do make a formal request, be specific and detailed in your forms. Take the time to type your request. Research the exemptions and exclusions that are specific to the agency your are requesting from.
The CRS is a government "think tank" tasked with producing reports for members of Congress on all aspects of the government and current worldwide events. They do not make their reports public, but many of these reports are available through various websites and databases, such as ProQuest Congressional, Bloomberg Law, Federation of American Scientists, and the U.S. Department of State.