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What is FOIA?

The U.S. Freedom of Information Act (FOIA, for short) allows the public the right to request access to government records.

Under FOIA, government agencies are required to disclose requested information unless it falls under one of nine exemptions that protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

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How does the process work?

1. Identify an agency

You (the requester) want information, but aren’t sure where to look. There are 100 agencies subject to the FOIA and, within these agencies, multiple FOIA offices, all of which process requests for their own records. openFOIA helps you find the right FOIA office to contact with your request. There are two ways you can find this information: First, using the search bar, you can search for FOIA contact information by agency name or by keyword. Second, you can browse a list of all federal agencies.

2. Do your research

When you know which agency or office you want to contact, visit its website. Pay extra attention to its FOIA Library or Reading Room (linked on the openFOIA listing) to see what information is already available online. It’s possible that the information you want is already publicly available. If that’s the case, you won’t need to make a FOIA request.

3. Submit a request

If the information you want isn’t publicly available, you’ll need to submit a FOIA request to the agency. Each agency has specific requirements about how to make a FOIA request. Before you submit your request, review the agency’s requirements, which are provided on the agency’s FOIA website. You can access each agency’s FOIA website from the openFOIA listing.

4. Receive a response

Once the agency receives your request, the FOIA office will begin processing it. Processing times vary based on each request’s complexity and the number of records you’ve requested. Though each request is different, you can view the median processing times for simple and complex requests for each agency on its openFOIA listing. You will also find contact information for the agency’s FOIA Requester Service Center, where you can direct questions about your request. To learn more about the FOIA, visit