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Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request - Frequently Asked Questions


What is an FOIA request?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which was enacted in 1966, provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information. All agencies of the executive branch of the U.S. government are required to disclose records upon receiving a written request for them, except for those records (or portions of them) that are protected from disclosure by the nine exemptions and three exclusions of the FOIA.

Note: The FOIA does not, however, provide access to records held by state or local government agencies, or by private businesses or individuals. All states have their own statutes governing public access to state and local government records; state agencies should be consulted for further information about them.

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Can I access certain records without an FOIA request?

All agencies are required by statute to make certain types of records created by the agency on or after November 1, 1996, available electronically. If you have access to the Web, you will not need to make a FOIA request to access these records. These records include:

  • Final opinions and orders made in the adjudication of cases
  • Final statements of policy and interpretations which have not been published in the Federal Register
  • Administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect members of the public
  • Copies of records that have been the subject of a FOIA request and that also are the subject of sufficient public interest or curiosity that the agency believes that other persons are likely to request (or already have requested) them; and
  • The agency's annual FOIA report – which includes such information as the number of FOIA requests received by the agency, the amount of time taken to process requests, the total amount of fees collected by the agency, information regarding the backlog of pending requests, and other information about the agency's handling of FOIA requests.
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