FOIA Glossary and Help

Administrative FOIA Appeal – An independent review of the initial determination made in response to a FOIA request. Requesters who are dissatisfied with the response made on their initial request have a statutory right to appeal that initial determination to an office within the agency which will then conduct an independent review.

Annual FOIA Report – A report required to be filed each year with the Department of Justice by all federal agencies detailing the agency’s administration of the FOIA. Annual FOIA Reports contained detailed statistics on the number of FOIA requests and appeals received, processed, and pending at each agency.

Annual FOIA Report Handbook A comprehensive handbook published by the Department of Justice that includes all of the legal, procedural, and technical requirements concerning agency Annual FOIA Reports. The Handbook contains definitions for the various reporting metrics found on FOIA.gov.

Backlog – The number of requests or administrative appeals that are pending beyond the statutory time period for a response. Play FOIA.gov Video: Help - Backlog

Certification of Identity –To ensure that one person’s records are not inadvertently disclosed to another person, individuals requesting records on themselves are asked to certify their identity by signing a sworn statement certifying that they are who they say they are.

Chief FOIA Officer – A designated high-level official within each agency who has overall responsibility for the agency’s compliance with the FOIA.

Chief FOIA Officer Report – A report required to be filed with the Department of Justice which details each agency’s progress in improving transparency and compliance with the FOIA.

Complex Request – Complex requests typically seek a high volume of material or require additional steps to process such as the need to search for records in multiple locations.

Component – For agencies that process requests on a decentralized basis, a "component" is an entity, also sometimes referred to as an Office, Division, Bureau, Center, or Directorate, within the agency that processes FOIA requests.

Consultation – When an agency locates a record that contains information of interest to another agency, it will ask for the views of that other agency on the disclosablity of the records before any final determination is made. This process is called a “consultation.” Play FOIA.gov Video: Help - Consultation

Decentralized Agencies or Decentralized FOIA Process – When an agency is separated into components or offices and those individual components handle FOIA requests for their own records, the FOIA process is called “decentralized.” Most large federal agencies have a decentralized FOIA process, where requesters send their requests directly to the component or office of the agency that maintains the records they seek, and that component handles the request.

Discretionary Disclosure – Information that the agency releases even though it could have been withheld under one of the FOIA’s exemptions.  Attorney General Holder’s 2009 FOIA Guidelines encourage agencies to release information as a matter of discretion when there is no foreseeable harm in disclosure.

Equivalent Full-Time FOIA Employees – An "equivalent full-time FOIA employee" is created by adding together the percentages of time dedicated to FOIA duties by employees performing less than full-time FOIA work.

Exemptions - Congress established nine categories of information that are not required to be released in response to a FOIA request because release would be harmful to a government or private interest. These categories are called "exemptions" from disclosures.

Exemption 3 Statute – A federal statute that provides protection from disclosure for certain information.

Expedited Processing – In certain limited situations, FOIA requesters can ask that their request be processed ahead of other pending requests. This is called expedited processing. The standards for expedited processing are set out in the FOIA and in the regulations of each federal agency.

Fee Waiver – You may request a fee waiver when making your request. Under the FOIA, fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. Requests for fee waivers from individuals who are seeking records pertaining to themselves usually do not meet this standard. In addition, a requester's inability to pay fees is not a legal basis for granting a fee waiver.

FOIA – Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency.  It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

The FOIA also requires agencies to proactively post online certain categories of 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.

FOIA.gov – FOIA.gov serves as the government’s comprehensive FOIA website for all information on the FOIA.   Among many other features, FOIA.gov provides a central resource for the public to understand the FOIA, to locate records that are already available online, and to learn how to make a request for information that is not yet publicly available.  FOIA.gov also promotes agency accountability for the administration of the FOIA by graphically displaying the detailed statistics contained in Annual FOIA Reports, so that they can be compared by agency and over time.

FOIA Contact The name, address and phone number at each agency or office where you can make a FOIA request

FOIA Library – A page (sometimes called an "electronic Reading Room”), typically on the agency’s FOIA website, where certain categories of records are proactively disclosed.  These FOIA Libraries contain both operational documents about the agency as well as records that have been frequently requested under the FOIA..

FOIA Public Liaison The agency FOIA Public Liaison is an official who supervises the FOIA Requester Service Center.

FOIA Request – A request submitted to a federal agency asking for agency records on any topic. A FOIA request can generally be made by any person and to any federal agency.

FOIA Requester Service Center – The primary contact at each agency where you can call and ask questions about the FOIA process or your pending FOIA request

Frequently Requested Records – Records released in response to a FOIA request that the agency determines have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records.

Full Denial – When an agency cannot release any records in response to a FOIA request, because, for example, the requested information is exempt from disclosure in its entirety or no records responsive to the request could be located.

Full Grant – When an agency is able to disclose all records in full in response to a FOIA request.

Full-Time FOIA Employees – The number of staff at a department or agency who work on FOIA full time in their positions.

Multi-Track Processing – A system that divides in-coming FOIA requests according to their complexity so that simple requests requiring relatively minimal review are placed in one processing track and more complex requests are placed in one or more other tracks. Requests granted expedited processing are placed in yet another track. Requests in each track are processed on a first in/first out basis.

Office of Government Information Services – The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), which opened in early September 2009, offers mediation services to resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and agencies as an alternative to litigation.  OGIS also reviews agency FOIA compliance, policies, and procedures and makes recommendations for improvement.  The Office is a part of the National Archives and Records Administration, and was created by Congress as part of the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which amended the FOIA.

Partial Grant/Partial Denial – When an agency is able to disclose portions of the records in response to a FOIA request, but must deny other portions of the request.

Pending Request or Pending Appeal – A FOIA request or administrative appeal for which an agency has not yet taken final action in all respects. This statistic is different from the number of backlogged requests or appeals, because it captures anything that is open at a given time including requests that are well within the statutory response time. Play FOIA.gov Video: How are FOIA requests categorized?

Perfected Request – A FOIA request which reasonably describes the records sought and is made in accordance with the agency's regulations.

Proactive Disclosures – Records made publicly available by agencies without waiting for a specific FOIA request. Agencies now post on their websites a vast amount of material concerning their functions and mission. The FOIA itself requires agencies to make available certain categories of information, including final opinions and orders, specific policy statements, certain administrative staff manuals and frequently requested records.

Processed Request or Processed Appeal – The number of requests or appeals where the agency has completed its work and sent a final response to the requester. Play FOIA.gov Video: How are FOIA requests categorized?

Received Request or Received Appeal – A FOIA request or administrative appeal that an agency has received within a fiscal year. Play FOIA.gov Video: How are FOIA requests categorized?

Referral – When an agency locates a record that originated with, or is of otherwise primary interest to another agency, it will forward that record to the other agency to process the record and to provide the final determination directly to the requester. This process is called a “referral.”

Simple Request – A FOIA request that an agency anticipates will involve a small volume of material or which will be able to be processed relatively quickly.

Total Number of Full-Time FOIA Staff – The total number of staff at a department or agency who work on FOIA when adding together the number of Full-Time FOIA Employees and Equivalent Full-Time FOIA Employees.

 

Return to Top