Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Reference Guide

FOIA Background

The FOIA (5 U.S.C. § 552) was enacted in 1966, took effect on July 4, 1967 and is intended to make all existing federal government records available to the public unless they are protected from disclosure by any of the nine FOIA exemptions or release of the information would cause a specific harm. Any person, except a fugitive from the law, has a right to request access to federal agency records. FOIA provides two levels of administrative review, initial and appellate. Upon the exhaustion of administrative remedies, a requester may seek judicial review.

Definition of Records

A record is a data compilation, such as books, papers, maps, and photographs, machine readable, electronic format, or other documents regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States government and in their possession and control at the time a FOIA request is received. In response to requests, the FOIA does not require agencies to create records, conduct investigations, render opinions, provide subjective evaluations, answer questions, or develop information.

Agencies that are Subject to the FOIA

The FOIA applies to records created by or in the possession of executive branch agencies including:

  • Cabinet agencies;
  • Military brances;
  • Government controlled corporations;
  • Independent regulatory agencies;
  • Other executive branch offices; and
  • Commissions.

Entities not subject to the FOIA

The FOIA does not apply to records created by or in the possession of the following entities:

  • Executive Office of the President;
  • Any elected official of the U.S. government (i.e.,Congress);
  • Officers of the federal Judiciary branch (i.e.,judges);
  • Private citizens;
  • Private companies or associations;
  • Government contractors;
  • Government grant holders; and
  • State or local governments.