The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was signed into law in 1966 and provides any person the right to access government records and documents. All federal agencies must comply with FOIA, though there are nine exemptions to the type of information that can be disclosed. Without getting too technical, all you really need to know is that you can’t access documents that must be kept secret in the interest of national security or personnel files and/or personal and medical records of federal employees (a violation of their personal privacy). There are a few basic things to know about how to file a FOIA request, which we’ll cover here.

Get started Start Your Freedom of Information Request Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

The First Steps

Knowing how to file a FOIA request can be extremely useful if you’re involved in certain historical or statistical projects. The first thing to know is that there is no specific FOIA form that you have to fill out—you basically just need to contact the agency with a written request. Your request should clearly state the nature of the information you’re seeking and comply with the federal and agency requirements for FOIA. Be aware that FOIA only gives you access to information. The given agency will not help you analyze data, do research, or answer questions for you.

Typically, it takes a federal agency roughly a month to respond to a FOIA request, but it could take longer depending on the nature of information and the current backlog of requests. You can be granted expedited processing under special circumstances, but this is extremely rare. The FOIA website provides in-depth information about FOIA, as well as links to every agency’s FOIA department. Most have web forms that could be considered the closest thing to an actual FOIA form but letters, emails, and fax requests are also readily accepted.

Get started Start Your Freedom of Information Request Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.

Get started Start Your Freedom of Information Request Answer a few questions. We'll take care of the rest.