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Making a Request Freedom of Information Act

This page will help you through the Navy's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request process.

Step 1: Preparing Your Request

No matter what form your request takes, you should follow the procedures below to submit a request. Requests may be electronic (e-mail) or letter and may be submitted by fax. A verbal request for a record will not be accepted, nor will questions in a FOIA request be answered. The FOIA is a record/document disclosure statute.

1. To begin, start by stating "This is a Freedom of Information Act request."

Then,

2. Describe the specific record(s)you are seeking with enough detail so that a knowledgeable official of the activity may locate the record with a reasonable amount of effort. Such detail should include descriptive information of the document(s) sought, date of document (if known), if unknown then the approximate time-frame to be searched or a description of the event/ incident, etc. Because most Navy records are not retained permanently, the more information you can provide, the better chance there is to determine if the records still exist and where they may be. The FOIA clearly states that records must exist at the time the request is submitted to be considered.

3. A requester must state a willingness to pay all fees or fees up to a specified amount, or provide justification to support a fee waiver or reduction of fee. Agreement to pay a fee is considered to include amounts up to $250, unless another greater or lesser amount is specified. Currently we charge search, review (for commercial requesters only), and duplication costs. Total costs will depend on the fee category your request falls under. (Requester fee categories and the fee schedule is provided at enclosure (3) of Secretary of the Navy Instruction 5720.42F). This document is in Portable Document Format (.pdf). In order to view, navigate, download, enter form data, and print this document, you MUST have the Adobe Acrobat Reader Internet plug-in installed in your browser. If the Reader plug-in is not already installed, you can download it from the Adobe site HERE.

4. Include your complete postal service address on your request, as FOIA responses are provided to you by return mail service.

5.  Here is a sample FOIA request letter in text format.

Step 2: Submitting Your Request

The next step in submitting a request is deciding where to send the request. Because Navy records are maintained in a decentralized system, you will get the fastest response by sending your request to the Department of the Navy component (activity/command) most likely to be holding the record(s) you seek.

Submitting Your Request to a Navy Activity

Please consult the Navy's Where To Send A Request web page for help in locating commands, obtaining addresses, or finding a command's website. Once you have located a command and have its address (postal, e-mail or fax), you may submit your request in writing to that command. Alternatively, you may submit your request to a command via a web-based FOIA request form, if that command has one available on its website.

If after consulting this list, you are not sure which activity may hold the records you seek, it is recommended you contact the Navy's FOIA Manager at (202) 685-6545/6546 for assistance.

Submitting A Request to the Headquarters of the Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic

If you believe the records you seek are held at the Headquarters of the Commander, Naval Surface Forces Atlantic (CNSL) or one of our subordinate commands/activities, you may use any of the following methods to submit a Freedom of Information Act request:

1. Submit a request IN WRITING to:

COMNAVSURFLANT
Attn: FOIA Coordinator (N01L)
1430 Mitscher Avenue
Norfolk, VA 23551-2494

2. Submit a written request via FAX:

You may send your request by FAX: 1-757-836-3254.

3.  Submit a request via email to:  cnsl_legal.fct@navy.mil

If the records you seek are not held by CNSL, we will attempt to forward your request to the Department of the Navy component(s) most likely to have the records meeting your description. You will be advised if your request is referred to another activity.

Step 3: Processing Your Request

The FOIA allows "any person" to seek access to "agency records." The Navy processes thousands of FOIA requests for a wide variety of information and only in about 10% of the cases is information denied.

You will receive a response to your request. Please keep in mind that the 20 working day time limit (excluding Saturdays, Sundays or legal holidays) begins when the activity/command holding the record(s) receives your request.

Due to shrinking budgets, downsizing, complexity of certain requests, the need for classification and legal review, coupled with the number of requests received for processing, some Navy activities may not be able to respond to your FOIA request within 20 working days. To ensure fair and equitable treatment, FOIA requests are placed in a multitrack "first-in, first out" queue. CNSL operates a three track system: one for simple requests, one for complex requests, and one for expedited requests. (For guidelines regarding expedited requests, see pages 18 and 19 of Secretary of the Navy Instruction 5720.42F.)

Withholding of Information

Our goal is to provide the most information we can to the public. However, in some instances information may be withheld from disclosure. The FOIA statute (5 U.S.C. 552) provides for the following exemptions of information (exemption number at end of item):

  • currently and properly classified in the interest of national defense or foreign policy; (b)(1)
  • related solely to internal personnel rules and practices, the release of which would allow circumvention of a statute or rule; (b)(2)
  • protected by a statute that specifically exempts the information; (b)(3)
  • trade secrets and commercial or financial information which was obtained from a private source which would cause substantial competitive harm to the source; (b)(4)
  • pre-decisional advice, opinions and recommendations, information of a speculative, tentative, or evaluative nature, inter- or intra-agency e-mail, memoranda or letters involving the deliberative process and that show a foreseeable harm to a government interest if released. Also, this exemption may apply to attorney-client privilege and attorney-work product; (b)(5)
  • personnel and medical information the release of which would result in a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy; (b)(6)
  • investigatory records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, which: (a) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings, (b) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication, (c) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, (d) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source, (e) would disclose investigative techniques, and/or (f) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual. (b)(7)

Step 4: Appeals

You may appeal the denial of information. Your letter of appeal must be postmarked within 60 calendar days of the date of the denial letter. At a minimum, an appeal letter should state the following information:

  • Why the denial may be in error, and
  • Reason(s) why your appeal should be granted.

You should include a copy of your original request and a copy of the response letter denying you information. It is recommended you clearly mark your letter and the envelope "Freedom of Information Act.