This act is by far one of the most forgot about clauses in our federal system. Enacted on July 4, 1966, and taking effect one year later, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions. A FOIA request can be made for any agency record.
The FOIA is a law that gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Under the FOIA, agencies must disclose any information that is requested – unless that information is protected from public disclosure. The FOIA also requires that agencies automatically disclose certain information, including frequently requested records. As Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court have all recognized, the FOIA is a vital part of our democracy.
It is the Executive Branch, led by the President, that is responsible for the administration of the FOIA across the government. The Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy oversees agency compliance with these directives and encourages all agencies to fully comply with both the letter and the spirit of the FOIA.
The general rule is that any person – citizen or not – can make a FOIA request. It’s easy to do so. There is no specific form that must be used to make a request. The request simply must be in writing, reasonably describe the information you seek, and comply with specific agency requirements. Most federal agencies now accept FOIA requests electronically, including by web form, e-mail or fax. If you want records on yourself, you will be required to provide proof of your identity in order to protect your privacy and to ensure that private information about you is not disclosed to someone else.
To get information under the FOIA, typically you must make a “FOIA request.” This is a written request in which you describe the information you want, and the format you want it in, in as much detail as possible. You should be aware that the FOIA does not require agencies to do research for you, analyze data, answer written questions, or create records in response to your request. Finally, you should know that the FOIA requires that federal agencies release certain information automatically, without the need for you to make a request. So, before you send in that FOIA request, it’s a good idea to look at an agency’s website first to see what’s already available.
Where do I send a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request?
Mail, fax, or email:
Tina Ballard, Executive Director
Committee for Purchase From People
Who Are Blind or Severely Disabled
1421 Jefferson Davis Highway
Jefferson Plaza 2, Suite 10800
Arlington, VA 22202-4302
Fax: (703) 603-0655