As a datahound, I often would like access to data. Ideally, relevant data are available through published reports, websites, or publicly available databases such as NIH RePORTER. However, in many cases, such data are not available. Fortunately, Congress passed and President Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966. FOIA allows citizens to request record from any executive branch agency. The government much supply these records subject to a series of exceptions including national security, personnel records, many pre-decisional memoranda, and several other categories.
A FOIA request must be relatively specific regarding the information requested. Importantly, FOIA applies only to records that already exist. A citizen cannot request (through FOIA) that an agency conduct an analysis that is has not already been done, but can request materials related if s/he knows that they exist.
Each agency has its own FOIA process. For example, information about the NIH FOIA process including how to file a request can be found here. I first used the FOIA process in an attempt to obtain information about the decision by the NIH Director and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to dissolve the National Center for Research Resources. In this case, the process was quite slow and frustrating. More recently, I use FOIA to obtain information about the age distribution of NIH New and Early Stage Investigators. In this case, the process was more rapid (although still took a couple of months to get the data) and I received almost all of what I requested.
My most recent FOIA request relates to the discussions of a potential emeritus award from NIH. Conversations with colleagues at the Experimental Biology meeting indicated that some NIH staff members had indicated that the responses to the NIH Request for Information (RFI) had been more positive that those to the Rock Talk post on the subject (which were almost uniformly negative). I have requested the responses to this RFI. Time will tell what I receive and what these records reveal about the respondent's thoughts are about this possible award.
Update: The initial response is below: