Frequently Asked FOIA Questions

It has been 11 days and 8 business days since I filed my two FOIA requests to the appropriate government agencies. However, I have not yet received a response from either agency. Therefore, for this post, I have decided to examine and answer several frequently asked questions that I have explored throughout this process concerning the Freedom of Information Act and how to better understand the rights it grants to citizens.

Who can file a FOIA request?

Anyone! United States citizens, foreign nationals, associations, organizations and universities are all considered as any “person” in the FOIA.

Are there any government agencies that are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act?

Yes. Congress, federal courts, and the Executive Office, which includes the President and all of his immediate advisors, are NOT subject to the federal FOIA. In addition, private agencies are not subject to FOIA requests either. The agencies that fall under the FOIA are all federal, state and local public agencies.

What can type of information can citizens request?

There are nine categories of information that are not required to be released under the FOIA, because they could be harmful to government or private interests. These nine exemptions include:

1. national security information

2. internal personal rules and practices

3. information prohibited from disclosure under other laws

4. confidential business information like trade secrets and financial information

5. inter or intra agency communication that is protected by legal privileges

6. personal privacy

7. information compiled for law enforcement purposes that could interfere with enforcement proceedings, including right to fair trial and unwarranted invasion of personal privacy

8. financial institutions

9. geological information

How much does it cost to file a FOIA request?

There is no initial fee for filing a request. However, agencies can charge for certain types of fees acquired during the process of fulfilling the request, including the time it takes to search for the records and for copying those records. Agencies will generally notify the filer if the charges are projected to exceed $25 in order to allow the individual to narrow or revise the request.

How long do agencies have to respond to a FOIA request?

Under the FIOA, agencies have 20 business days to respond to a FIOA request.

What can I do if I am unsatisfied with the response to my FOIA request?

Individuals can file administrative appeals if the agency’s response to the FIOA request is unsatisfactory. Appeals can be effective in challenging excessive processing delays, fee waiver denials and unwarranted withholding of information.

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Tips for Writing and Filing a FOI Request

FIO Request confirmation from the City of Fort Worth department of Planning and Development.

FIO Request confirmation from the City of Fort Worth department of Planning and Development.

I filed both FOI requests today and have attached the submitted documents to this post in order for you to see my specific requests.

When filing a FOI request, it is important to remember several key tips…

1. Address the right department: When filing a FOI request, it is important to send the request to the right department in order to make sure you get the information you need from the appropriate people. Also, address the request to the individual person in charge of handling FOI requests in order to give the document a pointed message and show that you have researched your target department.

2. Be specific: Be specific in your requests. Highlight exactly what you need by spelling it out in sections and points in order to avoid an overwhelming mass of information flooding your inbox or being charged for information you might not necessarily need.

3. Include a note: At the end of the FOI request, include a note asking to be notified of possible charges and requesting the release of the information as it becomes available and not as a whole. In some instances, pieces of the requested information may be more readily available than other portions. The department may choose to hold all of the documents until each piece is ready. However, such practices could take too long and leave you without the information you need. Therefore, include this note to ensure you are receiving information as it becomes available.

4. Thank them: Lastly, a polite thank you can go a long way.

Now that these two FOI requests have been filed, it is time to wait. I will check back in with updates to see how the process is going.

FOI Request for TCU Building Permit Requests

FOI Request to US Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of Texas