Frequently Asked Questions
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
FOIA excerpts taken from: http://www.fs.fed.us/im/foia/referenceguide.htm
- What is FOIA and what is subject to FOIA?
- Can a FOIA request force you to do more work?
- What are FOIA response times?
- Is FOIA only federal or is also state?
1. What is FOIA and what is subject to FOIA?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) authorizes the release of “Agency Records” to public upon request.
“Agency Records” are defined records created or obtained by an agency and under agency control at the time of the FOIA request. This includes data, reports, maps, electronic records, letters, email messages, etc. It also includes sensitive data such as sensitive or threatened/endangered species and human subject data.
A FOIA request can be denied if the requested record falls into one of the nine exemption categories.
2. Can a FOIA request force you to do more work?
FOIA request can be made for any agency record. This does not mean, however, that the FS will disclose any record sought. There are statutory exemptions that authorize the withholding of information of a sensitive nature. When the FS does withhold information from you, it must specify which exemption of the FOIA permits the withholding. FOIA does not require agencies to do research, to analyze data, to answer written questions, or to create records in order to respond to a request.
3. What are FOIA response times?
Under the statute, all federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within twenty business days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. This period does not begin until the request is actually received by the FOIA Coordinator of the field office that maintains the records sought. An agency is not required to send out the releasable documents by the last business day; it can send you a letter informing you of its decision and then send out the documents within a reasonable time afterward.
4. Is FOIA only federal or is also state?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which can be found in Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, was enacted in 1966 and provides that any person has the right to request access to federal agency records or information. All agencies of the United States government are required to disclose records upon receiving a written request for them, except for those records that are protected from disclosure by the nine exemptions and three exclusions of the FOIA. This right of access is enforceable in court. The federal FOIA does not, however, provide access to records held by state or local government agencies, or by private businesses or individuals. All states have their own statutes governing public access to state and local records; state agencies should be consulted for further information about them.