How to Make an FOIA Request

Resource Government
October 22, 2012 — 1,183 views  
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How to Make an FOIA Request

If you want to access information held by the federal government, it may be easier than you think. Thanks to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), you and the rest of the public have a right to get a copy of many federal documents. There are a few steps to follow if you want to make a FOIA request.

The Law

The Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1966 and took effect in July 1967. It states that everyone has the right to access all federal records except those protected by certain allowable exemptions or law enforcement exclusions.

How to File the Request

1. Determine which federal agency holds the document or information you want. Go to the agency’s website and look at what type of records the agency keeps. If you are still unsure you have the correct agency, call and ask if it has the document.

2. Write out your FOIA request. There is no particular form required. Instead, just write out your request with as much detail as you can. Specify what specific information you want, giving its title if possible and the date it was created if appropriate. You have to do the research yourself to confirm that the document exists and is maintained by the agency. 

3. Find out how the specific agency requires FOIAs to be submitted. Most will accept them by email, by fax or via their websites.

4. Submit your request.

How Long to Wait

The Freedom of Information Act sets the standard time for processing a request as one month. However, sometimes a request can take longer, especially if it is complicated or the agency has a backlog. If this happens, the agency will notify you in writing. 

If You Need Help

If you are notified that the agency needs an extension and you want to modify your request or find out more about processing it, ask to speak to the agency’s FOIA public liaison.

There are also several organizations that help the public pursue Freedom of Information requests. For example, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press website offers an easy-to-use FOIA letter generator as well as information about navigating the process.

If Your Request Is Denied

If the agency denies your request, it must state which of the allowable exemptions pertain to the document you are seeking. If you still want to pursue the matter, appeal it.


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