Freedom of Information Act Request Filed for Speedo Documentation

Column by Steven V. Selthoffer, Swimming World European Correspondent

LANGLEY, Virginia, January 28. A Freedom of Information Act Request was filed at the NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Langley, Va., seeking all information related to the development of the Speedo Fastskin LZR Racer swimsuit and any "next generation" of swimsuits in the "design and testing pipeline phase" of development.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted in 1966 – Title 5 U.S.C. § 552 of the U.S. Government Law and provides that any person has the right of access to Federal Agency records, except to the extent that such records are protected from release by a FOIA exemption.

The FOIA Request was completed according to NASA standards, procedures and rules, and was submitted in writing late November 2008.

The telephone conversation and follow-up correspondence with Cheryl Cleghorn, LaRC FOIA Officer was very helpful and informative on the time line and process of the request: "Speedo will be notified via letter informing them that a FOIA request has been filed. The letter instructs Speedo to review the responsive information with any objections to the release of the information. Speedo is given 10 business days to respond. Any objections must be supported by any particular FOIA exemptions."

Speedo should be applauded for its innovation and contribution to the sport for more than 75 years. Speedo's team has always been at the forefront and cutting edge in swimming and aquatics. Speed and brains are in their DNA.

However, questions are arising globally, concerning all manufacturers and their use of new materials, the integration and design of those materials, and in video evidence, from the new suits the manufacturers have developed, that may have inadvertent and unforeseen effects, due to a lack of robust analysis and a strong, comprehensive independent testing program by FINA, as established in other sports.

During the past year, there were 108 world records set in swimming, with the state of the sport often being described as "in turmoil" and "in mayhem." Currently, some athletes are wearing a combination of two and three FINA-approved suits with no independent testing for certification of FINA's rule compliance on buoyancy, or other factors.

In January 2009, the NASA Langley Research Center's FOIA Office confirmed that the FOIA request form was accepted and the Request is proceeding in compliance with the law. Like the rest of NASA, the service provided by NASA's Langley FOIA Office is first rate.

"The call for responsive documents was sent to the appropriate offices at NASA Langley. Responsive information has been submitted to NASA Langley's FOIA Office. We are in the process of reviewing the information submitted. This review will help us determine which documents are actually responsive to the request and which ones must also be reviewed by Speedo. If we have information determined to be releasable prior to the FINA meeting, we will certainly forward it to you as determined to be releasable and not hold the information until all documents have been through the FOIA review process."

Independent Testing is Vital
The FOIA Request was made for the "good of the sport" in the best interests of the manufacturers, the sponsors, coaches and athletes in order to help establish a best-methods, best-practices, best-in-class solution, for a complete and comprehensive, independent testing framework and program for FINA.

The FOIA Request asked for all information including, but, not limited to: a) the body of sciences discussed b) the principles incorporated c) topics discussed d) recommendations made (for next generation suits/fabrics).

Informally, assistance by U.S. Navy experts and employed civilian personnel was given as to what information to ask for, and what to test for, during telephone conversations with the U.S. Navy Ship, Engineering and Analysis Technology Center, West Bethesda, Md., the NAVSEA Warfare Center, Carderoc Division, Md., and the Langley Research Center itself, in Virginia.

The FOIA Request asked for all communication materials including, but, not limited to: "e-mails, correspondence related to: buoyancy, USA Swimming, Speedo, Olympics, compression, air film, stream lining, friction, reducing friction, drag, reducing drag, ships, underwater next generation, resistance, new materials, speed, Speedo, Speedo USA, world records, long course records, testing, lightness, etc."

The information received by the FOIA Request from the NASA Langley Research Center and Speedo will be used, cascaded and disseminated free of charge throughout the FINA, LEN, Australia and USA Swimming family, and presented to FINA at the Feb. 20 meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland

The purpose is for the stakeholders and experts to understand a) all of the related and relative areas of science, b) all of the dynamics of the application of these new fabric(s) combinations and technologies, c) to understand the needed testing environment and procedures, d) and to measure their pre-determined effects and inadvertent effects in use, in order to formulate a strong, robust and comprehensive independent testing governing framework with the, i) appropriate checks and balances, ii) with the identified bodies of science, and iii) for the common testing criteria and procedures agreed upon and enacted for the sport of aquatics.

First Step Toward Independent Testing Program
The FOIA Request information to be provided is necessary in order to have an extensive and leading independent testing program. Other sports and their independent-testing programs, demand all related information and the equipment in question, to be tested, before any authorization for use in the sports is permitted, such as with the USGA (golf), USTA (tennis), NBA (basketball), FIFA (football/soccer) for the benefit of the manufacturers, sponsors and the integrity of the sport.

Now, by establishing a world-class independent testing program, FINA could establish a best-in-class solution and model for all other Olympic sports across the sport spectrum. In addition, the constellation of NASA Research Centers would make an ideal choice as the global, independent-testing center for all other equipment and apparel for the winter and summer Olympic sport federations.

It is in the best interest of the sport if Speedo and NASA LaRC act without delay to facilitate the release of the information for review and examination prior to the upcoming Feb. 20, meeting in Lausanne. Such transparency and cooperation would be viewed favorably by all parties and stakeholders in question.

Speedo's cooperation in the letter and spirit of the FOIA Request and the sport, will be greatly appreciated among the FINA and Olympic Family, and manufacturers, and will help set new standards of cooperation and sportsmanship helping to establish new best methods and best practices for the sport.