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 at an agency’s website first to see what’s already available.
Is there a special form I have to use to make a FOIA request?
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. See the list of federal agencies for details about the methods of making a request at each agency and any specific requirements for seeking certain records.
What can I ask for under the FOIA?
A FOIA request can be made for any agency record. You can also specify the format in which you wish to receive the records. You should be aware that the FOIA does not require agencies to do research for you, to analyze data, to answer written questions, or to create records in response to a request.
How long will it take before I get a response?
The time it takes to respond to each request varies depending on the complexity of the request itself and the backlog of requests already pending at the agency. In some circumstances, the agency will be able to respond to the request within the standard time limit established by the FOIA – approximately one month. In other instances more time may be needed before the request can be completed. When an agency requires an extension of time, it will notify you in writing and provide you with an opportunity to modify or limit the scope of your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request. Under certain conditions, you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis. The websites for each agency can provide more information on this process.
When an agency needs an extension of time to respond to your request the component will notify you in writing and offer you the opportunity to modify or limit the scope of your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request. The agency’s FOIA Public Liaison can assist you with this.
Last Updated: 12/2010