Frequently Asked Questions
1. Who can file a FOIA request?
Any "person" can file a FOIA request, including U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, organizations, universities, businesses, and state and local governments.
2. Who is subject to the FOIA and what type of information can be requested?
The FOIAs scope includes Federal Executive Branch Departments, agencies, and offices, Federal regulatory agencies, and Federal corporations. Congress, the Federal Courts, and parts of the Executive Office of the President are not subject to the FOIA. State and local governments are likewise not subject to the Federal FOIA, but some states have their own equivalent access laws for state documents.
3. What is a document?
A document is the product of data compilation, such as books, papers, maps, photographs, and machine readable materials, including those in electronic form or format, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the U.S. Government under Federal law in connection with the transaction of public business and in the agency's possession and control at the time the FOIA request is made. Documents submitted voluntarily to the U.S. Government (for example brochures) and documents specifically exempted by separate law (for example, contract proposals) are not subject to the FOIA. Finally, agencies are not required to go outside the government (for example, to a contractor) to obtain a copy of requested documents not in the agency's possession and control at the date the request is made.
4. Can I ask questions under the FOIA?
The FOIA does not require Federal agencies to answer questions, render opinions, or provide subjective evaluations. Requesters must ask for existing documents, such as those mentioned above.
5. What is the relationship between the FOIA and Privacy Act?
You may request documents under the FOIA and/or Privacy Acts through this office. Privacy Act requests are typically more narrow and focus on an individual's personal documents from a system of records (for example, personnel files). This office will assume that FOIA requests for such documents are also made under the Privacy Act.
6. Can I appeal a denial?
Yes. If your request is initially denied in whole or in part under one or more of the above exemptions or denied for some other reason, you will be advised of your appeal rights and the proper procedures for submitting the appeal, which must be postmarked within 60 calendar days of the date of the denial letter. You may also appeal any determination you consider to be adverse (for example the inability of the command to find your document). As with appeals of denied information, an appeal of an adverse determination also must be postmarked within 60 calendar days of the date of the letter advising you of the adverse determination.
7. How long will it take for my request to be processed?
Requests are processed in order by date of receipt and according to their complexity. These are called easy and hard queuing tracks. Whenever possible, an initial determination to release or deny a record is made within 20 working days after receipt of the request by the official who is designated to respond. However, due to the thousands of requests received annually, the agency may need additional time to answer your request. Under certain conditions, expedited access may be granted if there is a compelling need, such as a threat to life and safety, if a person engaged in disseminating information has an urgency to inform the public on actual or alleged Federal Government activity, an imminent loss of substantial due process rights, or a humanitarian need.
8. Do I have to pay for a FOIA request?
FOIA allows fees to be charged to certain types of requesters (usually at $44 per hour and $.15 per page for copies), but it also provides that waivers or reductions in fees be given if disclosing the information is in the public interest. Public interest is defined as information which significantly enhances the publics knowledge of the operations and activities of the Federal Government. FOIA requires that requesters be placed into one of the below categories:
Commercial. Requesters who seek information for a use or purpose that furthers their commercial, trade, or profit interest are considered commercial requesters. Commercial requesters pay all fees for search, review and duplication.
Educational. Institutions of education, including preschools, elementary or secondary schools and institutions of higher learning, qualify as educational institutions. The records must be sought in furtherance of scholarly research. Educational requesters pay only duplication fees, unless it is determined that fees are waived or reduced in the public interest. The first 100 pages are provided at no cost.
Non-Commercial Scientific. A non-commercial scientific institution is operated solely for conducting scientific research. The records must be sought in furtherance of scientific research. Like educational requesters, these requesters pay only duplication fees, unless it is determined that fees are waived or reduced in the public interest. The first 100 pages are provided at no cost.
News Media. A representative of the news media is a person actively gathering news for an entity organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. News media pay only duplication fees, unless it is determined that fees are waived or reduced in the public interest. Again, the first 100 pages are provided at no cost.
"Other" Requesters. Requesters who do not qualify in another category are considered "other" requesters, and normally make requests for agency records for their personal use. "Other" requesters receive two hours search, all review costs, and the first 100 pages at no cost and all requesters should submit a willingness to pay fees regardless of the fee category; however, this does not mean you will be charged fees. The following factors are weighed in making a fee waiver determination:
- The informative value of the information to be disclosed.
- The significance of the contribution to public understanding.
- Disclosure of the information is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
9. What are the reasons for not releasing a record?
Reasons for not releasing a record include:
- A reasonable search of files failed to identify responsive records.
- The requests were transferred to another DoD Component, or to another Federal Agency.
- The request was withdrawn by the requester.
- The requester was unwilling to pay fees associated with a request; the requester is past due in the payment of fees from a previous FOIA request; or the requester disagrees with the fee estimate.
- A record has not been described with sufficient particularity to enable the DoD Component to locate it by conducting a reasonable search.
- The requester has failed to comply with procedural requirements, other than fee-related, imposed by DoD 5400.7-R or DoD Component supplementing regulations.
- The information requested is not a record within the meaning of the FOIA and this Regulation.
- The request is a duplicate request (e.g. a requester asks for the same information more than once). This includes identical requests received via different means (e.g. electronic mail, facsimile, mail, courier) at the same or different times.
- Any other reason a requester does not comply with published rules other than those outlined above.
- The record is denied in whole or in part in accordance with procedures set forth in the FOIA.
10. What are the FOIA exemptions?
Records (or portions of records) will be disclosed unless that disclosure harms an interest protected by a FOIA exemption.
The nine FOIA exemptions are cited in the Act as 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(1) through (b)(9):
- (b)(1)records currently and properly classified in the interest of national security;
- (b)(2)records related solely to internal personnel rules and practices, which if released would allow circumvention of an agency function;
- (b)(3)records protected by another law that specifically exempts the information from public release;
- (b)(4)trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a private source which would cause substantial competitive harm to the source if disclosed;
- (b)(5)internal records that are deliberative in nature and are part of the decision making process that contain opinions and recommendations;
- (b)(6)records which if released, would result in a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
- (b)(7)investigatory records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes;
- (b)(8)records for the use of any agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions; and
- (b)(9)records containing geological and geophysical information (including maps) concerning wells.