Making FOI requests

Government agencies are typically the largest bid issuers in North America—and nearly all are governed by Freedom of Information (FOI) legislation. That means they are legally required to release responses to their RFPs and documentation on their award decisions.

Despite this, few bidders make use of FOI requests to evaluate their competitors’ offers—in most cases because they don’t know they can.

Canadian jurisdictions share a similar disclosure process. This post contains the basics to help you get started.

NOTE: We’ve used the province of Ontario for purposes of this post.  The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA) covers Ontario and its operating agencies. The Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) covers Ontario municipalities and their operating agencies. Each institution has a coordinator responsible for administering requests under the legislation. The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) administers the acts and adjudicates appeals.

Steps in making an FOI request in Ontario

  1. Identify the document you want. In the case of a bid response, you’ll need the RFP number, title and issue date and the name of the company whose response you want to access.
  2. Identify the institution that has the information you want—typically this is the entity that issued the RFP. Use this link to get a list of Ontario institutions covered by FOI and the FIPPA/MFIPPA coordinator at each institution. The coordinator can help with your request.
  3. Complete an Access Request Form or provide the equivalent information in a letter. Requests we’ve reviewed typically use broad language  (e.g. For competitor proposals, “all proposals submitted in response to RFP ______.” For the issuer’s scoring records,“all minutes, correspondence, reports and other records relating to the contract award.”).
  4. Submit your request with the processing fee.

How much does it cost?

FOI request fees are typically low, since accessibility is the goal. In Ontario, the filing fee is currently $5 per request. Processing fees depend on the actual cost to reproduce the required documents. If the processing fee is over $25, the requester receives an estimate. If the estimate is over $100 a deposit may be required.

How long does it take?

In Ontario, the coordinator must comply with your request within 30 days or explain why more time is needed.

Part of the process is advising the other party or parties of the request and its pending decision and giving them 30 days to object and eventually to appeal to the IPC. Overcoming an objection may add to the turnaround time—but the IPC typically dismisses objections to the release of proposals.

Exceptions: Although bid awards are public information, detailed costs and pricing schedules are usually considered private and not released. Also, proposals that contain details of proprietary technologies or other trade secrets may be redacted or not released.

Links to other jurisdictions

The following links will help you make requests outside Ontario:

Get started

If you’re serious about improving your win rate, reviewing successful proposals is a great place to start. FOI requests are neither difficult nor expensive, and there’s no evidence that FOI requests generate ill will or otherwise put future opportunities at risk.

Getting your competitors’ proposals is the first step. Next you’ll need to do a structured and unbiased comparison with the offers you submit.

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