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FOIA Questions and Answers

HISTORY:

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted in 1966, and it generally provides that any person has a right of access to federal agency records. This right of access is enforceable in court except for those records that are protected from disclosure by the nine exemptions to the FOIA.

The FOIA covers all records under the custody and control of the Federal Executive Branch.


WHAT INFORMATION IS AVAILABLE UNDER THE FOIA?

The FOIA provides access to agency records generated by that agency (or releasable portions of those records) except those protected from release by nine specific exemptions. The following are the nine FOIA exemptions and the information they cover:

  1. Classified national defense and foreign relations information;
  2. Internal agency personnel rules and practices;
  3. Material prohibited from disclosure by another law;
  4. Trade secrets and other confidential business information;
  5. Certain inter-agency, or intra-agency communications;
  6. Personnel, medical, and other files involving personal privacy;
  7. Certain records compiled for law enforcement purposes;
  8. Matters relating to the supervision of financial institutions; and
  9. Geological information on oil wells.

The FOIA does not apply to Congress or the courts, nor does it apply to records of state or local governments. However, nearly all state governments have their own FOIA-type statutes. You may request information about a state's law by writing the attorney general of the state.


WHAT ABOUT COSTS FOR RECORDS UNDER THE FOIA?

See the following charts for information on allowable fees established by the Department of the Interior.

Chart Showing Applicable Fees by Category for FOIA Requests

REQUESTER'S CATEGORY
SEARCH REVIEW DUPLICATION
Commercial Actual direct costs Actual direct costs Actual direct costs
Non-commercial (educational or
scientific institution or news media
No Charge No charge Actual direct costs1
All others Actual direct costs2
No charge Actual direct costs1

1 First 100 pages of paper copies or reasonable equivalent, such
as a microfiche containing the equivalent of 100 pages, are copied free.
2 First 2 hours of manual search time are free.

Chart Showing Fee Costs for FOIA Requests

SERVICE RATE
Photocopying: (Up to 8 1/2" X 14")
$ .13 per page
Photocopying: (Over 8 1/2" X 14")
Actual Direct Cost or Reproduction2
Computer Costs Actual Direct Cost1, 2
Certification $ .25 per certificate
Supplies and Other Materials Actual Direct Cost2
Documents Requiring Special Handling
Actual Direct Cost2
Other Than First-Class Postage
Mailing Charges are Added for Special Mailing

1 Depending on the requesters fee category, requesters entitled to the first 2 hours of manual search time for free, will not be charged for that equivalent.

2 Depending on the requesters fee category, requesters entitled to the first 100 pages of copies free, will not be charged for the equivalent of 100 pages at $ .13/page or $13.00.

FOIA STAFF SEARCH AND REVIEW FEES

Fee Schedule for requests rec’d Clerical
GS-6, Step 5*
Professional
GS-11, Step 7*
Managerial
GS-14, Step 2*
On/after 8/1/07

$5.35

$9.30 $13.50
On/after 8/1/06 $5.20 $9.05 $13.15
On/after 8/1/05 $5.00 $8.75 $12.70
10/1/04 – 7/31/05 $4.85 $8.45 $12.25
4/11/03 - 9/30/04 $4.65 $8.10 $11.70
1/12/03 - 4/10/03 $4.60 $8.00 $11.60
11/20/02 - 1/11/03 $4.45 $7.75 $11.25
Before 11/20/02 $2.30 $4.65 $4.65

*Fees charged per quarter hour.

Clerical = All employees at GS-7 and below.
Professional = All employees at GS-8 thru 12.
Managerial = All employees at GS-13 and above.


DO I QUALIFY FOR A FEE WAIVER?

When statutory fee waivers are approved copies of documents are sent to you without charge or at a reduced charge. Fee waivers are provided when disclosure is in the public interest because it: (a) Is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government (Does the record concern the operations or activities of the government? Is disclosure likely to contribute to the public understanding of these operations and activities? Will that contribution be significant?); and (b) is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.


WHEN CAN I APPEAL A BUREAU RESPONSE TO MY FOIA REQUEST?

You may file an appeal with the Department of the Interior FOIA Appeals Officer if: (a) A requested record is withheld; (b) a FOIA response delayed (responses are due within 20-working days or 30-working days when an extension is justified); (c) a fee waiver denied; or (d) a request has been denied for failure to describe requested records or for other procedural deficiency, or because requested records cannot be located.

Appeal language and the address to file your appeal will be provided in the response you receive from the Bureau.


HOW LONG WILL IT TAKE TO ANSWER MY REQUEST?

Federal agencies are required to answer your request for information within 20-working days of receipt of your request at the office responsible for the records (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and holidays). For FOIA requests received by EMail, the "receipt" date is considered the date the EMail message is opened by the Bureau responsible for the information.

Sometimes an agency may need more than 20-working days to find the records, examine them, possibly consult with other persons or agencies, and decide whether it will disclose the records requested. If so, the agency is required to inform you before the deadline. Agencies have the right to extend this period up to 10 more working days.


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