Executive Branch government agencies generate and manage a wealth of information and documents, many of which are unreleased. Though the Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. §552) has undergone multiple revisions since it was signed into law in 1967, it remains a vehicle for obtaining at least some information/documents from some Executive Branch agencies.
How can a person obtain information/documents from an Executive Branch government agency under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?
First, you must choose the correct agency. FOIA does not apply to the Judicial or Legislative branches of federal government, or to any state/local agencies, legislatures or courts. State/local agencies, legislatures and courts have their own laws and procedures, so you must obtain their information by contacting them for their rules and procedures. Within the federal government, the main agencies subject to the FOIA read like a laundry list and most agencies also have sub-agencies or offices. A list of the agencies subject to FOIA can be accessed here: http://www.foia.gov/report-makerequest.html
Second, click on the applicable agency, then designate the “office” that you wish to contact. This second link will tell you exactly where and how you may send an FOIA request. Many agencies accept FOIA requests in writing, via e-mail, on an agency web site or by fax.
Third, contact the agency’s FOIA public liaison. Each agency is supposed to have an FOIA public liaison to assist you.
Fourth, compose your request, being specific about the information/documents you’re seeking, the format in which you wish to receive them, and your personal information so the records can be sent to you at the correct address. This portion is your work, not the agency’s, because an agency is not required to do any research for you, or analyze data for you, or answer written questions or create records for you. There is no particular form you must use; however, some agencies provide a sample form via their web sites to ensure that your request is accurate and complete.
Fifth, submit your request via snail mail, e-mail, web form or fax.
Sixth, wait. The FOIA’s standard response time is 1 month. If the agency requires more time, it will contact you and give you the opportunity to further limit your request or agree to a longer wait. The agency’s FOIA public liaison can also help you limit your request or agree to a longer wait.
DO’S AND DON’TS
DO find the correct federal agency for the information/documents you want, using the list of agencies accessed here:http://www.foia.gov/report-makerequest.html
DO find the “office” within that agency that you wish to contact through the secondary link.
DO contact that agency’s FOIA public liaison for assistance.
DO compose your request, being specific about the information/documents you’re seeking, the format in which you wish to receive them, and your personal information so the records can be sent to you at the correct address.
DON’T expect the agency to do any research for you, or analyze data for you, or answer written questions or create records for you.
DO submit your request via snail mail, e-mail, web form or fax.
DO expect to wait for approximately 1 month.
DO limit your request or agree to a longer wait if the agency is unable to comply with your request within 1 month.
Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.