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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