Your Guide To Making An FOIA Request

The Freedom of Information Act allows people to submit a request to any federal agency to provide them with access to records. It is described as the law that allows citizens to stay informed about the government since federal agencies are required to release records requested under this Act unless the record is covered by the exemptions protecting interests such as national security, law enforcement, and personal privacy. 

The Freedom of Information Act also requires agencies to proactively upload certain categories of information online, including frequently requested records. The Supreme Court, Congress, and the President have all recognized that the Freedom of Information Act is a crucial part of democracy in the US. 

What is the FOIA Website?

FOIA.gov is the Freedom of Information Act’s website; a comprehensive government site that provides users with all information on the FOIA. One of the main features of the website is to provide a central resource that the public can use in order to better understand the Act, locate records that may not yet already be available online, and make requests for information that is not publicly available. In addition, the website also promotes agency accountability for the administration of the Freedom of Information Act by displaying graphs showing detailed statistics of Annual FOIA Reports in order for them to be compared by the agency and overtime.

Who Can Make an FOIA Request and How Do I Make One?

Generally, anybody can make an FOIA request, regardless of whether or not they are a U.S. Citizen. Firstly, before submitting your request, you should search online to determine if the information you are interested in is already publicly available. You can search and spend time looking through government records at sites like Public Records Reviews to see if the information you require is already available online. Public Records Reviews allows you to find Government records on any person by simply entering their details into the site. If the information that you want is not publicly available, you should submit an FOIA request to the agency’s FOIA Office. You should make the request in writing, which includes an online form or email.

Each federal agency handles its own requests and records, and there are currently 100 agencies subject to the Freedom of Information Act with several hundred office processing requests. You will receive the quickest response to your request if you address it directly to the FOIA office of the agency, or the component of the agency that you believe handles the records you are seeking. 

What Can I Ask For?

You can make an FOIA request for any agency record. You will also be able to specify the format that you would like to receive the records in, for example, whether you would prefer them to be printed or sent to you electronically. The Freedom of Information Act does not require agencies to make new records, answer questions, conduct research, or analyze data when responding to requests. 

Is There a Fee?

Generally speaking, if the information that you require is publicly available, you will be able to get it for free. However, in some instances, if you make an FOIA request, certain types of fees may be charged. There is no fee required to submit a request, however, the agency can charge for the time that it takes to search for the records requested and their duplication. Typically, there will be no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 duplicated pages. You may include a statement in your request letter to let the agency know your fee budget. If an agency estimates that you will be charged more than $25, they will notify you and give you an opportunity to narrow your request in order to reduce the fees before continuing. Once you have agreed to pay a fee for a records search, bear in mind that you may be required to pay the fee even if the search does not locate any records that can be released. 

How Long Does It Take?

Typically, agencies will process requests in the order that they are received. As a result, the time that it takes to respond to a request can vary depending on the complexity of the request itself and the number of requests that the agency is currently dealing with. If you want to find out more about the status of your request or find out if there are any steps that you can take in order to speed up your response, the best thing to do is contact the agency’s FOIA Requester Service Centre who will be able to help. 

The Freedom of Information Act allows anybody to find certain information that is made publicly available online or request it from the relevant federal agency.

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