How To File for Information
All Executive Branch agencies of the Federal Government are covered under the Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA). (Not judicial agencies, not Congress, and not state or local agencies.) This act requires agencies to provide information within certain guidelines. Most states also have some sort of law that allows you to ask for information or documents from state agencies as well. Many documents are available in whole or in part.
It’s fairly easy to file a FOIA with the Federal Government. First you need to know what to ask for, described so that a person can locate it, and the Department or agency that is likely to have the documents. Then you need to find out the right place to send the request. In a search, type in the name of the department or agency and the word FOIA: that should help you find the right place to send your request. Another way is to go to FOIA.gov, then click on the top right side link that says: FOIA Contacts. Then go toward the bottom of the page and click on this link:
View the full list of agencies for information on how to make a FOIA request
That has a pretty complete list of agencies, Departments and parts of agencies and Departments.
Once you have that it’s just a matter of formulating your request and sending it in. In most cases you can email your request, in a few you will have to mail it to them.
Formulating your request is pretty simple but several things need to be included. First of course is where they are to send the information you want. Next is who your sending your request to. Then the request itself.
The Request itself should contain as much information as you can give them so they can search for what you want. For instance, you want the records of Diversion reports made to the DEA, then you would submit something like:
I request any and all records/reports made to the DEA concerning Controlled Substance Diversion in the years 2012-2014
It’s important to limit the scope of your request to something manageable. They can charge you for searching and also for the records themselves so you want to limit it and make it easy for them. Also tell them what type of request this is: Commercial, News Media, or all other requesters. Individual noncommercial requesters fall into the “all other requesters” fee category.
Commercial requesters pay for the costs of review time, searching time and duplication. News Media requesters pay only for duplication costs in excess of 100 pages. All other requesters pay for search time more than 2 hours and duplication costs more than 100 pages.
You can ask for a waiver of fees, but agencies are reluctant to grant such waivers. To get a fee waiver you need to explain the reasons why the release of the records is in the public interest and will significantly inform the public of the activities of government and that your request is not for commercial purposes. You need to provide a detailed explanation. Asking for a fee waiver can give them a reason to reject your request, so you may not wish to do that.
I typically end the letter with the following:
“This request is for news reporting purposes and should be placed into the media fee category representatives of the news media for fee assessment purposes. I agree to pay up to $25 for applicable fees, if necessary. Please notify me if fees are expected to exceed that amount.
I prefer to have materials in an electronic format if possible.
Thank you for your assistance.
And of course send the letter.
It’s not that hard, and you will discover information you never thought existed.
** This is not legal advice, and we are not responsible for any FOIA’s filed, or fees assessed by following these instructions they are merely a guide to help you find information.