Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

FOIA Reference Guide (2018)

I. Introduction

The Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA (5 U.S.C. 552, as amended), provides any person with the statutory right to request information from executive branch agencies of the U.S. Government. This right of access is subject to nine statutory FOIA exemptions, which provide agencies the authority to withhold records in whole or in part. FOIA requesters may appeal any such withholding, or other adverse decision, back to the agency, and may also file a lawsuit to seek redress in federal court. Before going to court, requesters are encouraged to contact the agency’s FOIA Public Liaison at any time for assistance, and to utilize mediation services offered by the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).

The goal of this Reference Guide is to outline the process for making a FOIA request for records of the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA or National Archives). Using this Guide will make it more likely that you will receive the information that you are seeking in the shortest amount of time possible. This Reference Guide also includes descriptions of the types of records maintained by different parts of NARA, some of which are readily available through means other than the FOIA.

The National Archives is the repository for the permanent records originated with all agencies of the U.S. government. We estimate that less than 5% of all the records that federal agencies create or receive in the course of conducting the business of the U.S. government are considered to have permanent value and are transferred to the National Archives for permanent preservation and access. We refer to these permanent records as “archival” records. Agencies generally do not transfer those permanent or archival records to NARA until the records are 20-30 years old. NARA also maintains Presidential records going back to President Hoover, which are transferred to NARA as soon as the President leaves office.

Like every other agency in the Executive branch, NARA itself also creates internal records generated by agency staff performing NARA's daily business operations that are subject to FOIA, which we refer to as “operational” records.

The FOIA does not apply to records of the Congress and legislative branch agencies, records of the federal courts and judicial branch agencies, records of the President while in office, donated presidential materials of Presidents Hoover through Carter, and the Nixon presidential materials governed by the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act of 1974. Transfer of these records to NARA does not make them subject to the FOIA. Further, the National Archives cannot respond to FOIA requests for records that are “on deposit” in our physical, but not legal, custody, such as agency federal records that are stored at NARA’s federal records centers; those records still belong to the creating agency, and you must make requests to that agency for their records. In addition, the FOIA does not apply to records of state or local government agencies, or records of private businesses or individuals. All states have their own statutes governing public access to state and local government records; state agencies should be consulted for further information about access to their records.

There is no central office in the U.S. government that processes FOIA requests for all federal agencies. Each agency responds to requests for its own records. Therefore, before sending a request to NARA, you should determine whether NARA is likely to have the records you are seeking. Each agency should have its own FOIA reference guide, so if the records you are interested in are kept by another agency, you may wish to request a copy of that agency’s guide. There is, however, a single website that allows you to file a FOIA request to most federal agencies: www.foia.gov.

As required by the FOIA, NARA has designated a Chief FOIA Officer – a high-level official who monitors FOIA implementation throughout the agency, recommends to the head of the agency such adjustments to practices and policies as may be necessary, and prepares reports on the agency’s performance in implementing the FOIA. The FOIA also requires all agencies to establish one or more FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons to assist FOIA requesters with inquiries about the FOIA process in general and their FOIA requests in particular.

The name and contact information of NARA’s Chief FOIA Officer; a listing of NARA’s FOIA Requester Service Center and NARA’s FOIA Public Liaison Officers can be found at: http://www.archives.gov/foia/contacts.html

NARA’s FOIA regulations, which are the formal rules for making FOIA requests and appeals to NARA, are set forth in the Code of Federal Regulations, at 36 C.F.R. Part 1250.

II. Access to Certain Records without Making a Formal FOIA Request

a. Electronic FOIA Reading Room

The FOIA requires that all agencies make certain types of records available electronically. You do not need to make a FOIA request to obtain these records, as they can be found in NARA’s Electronic FOIA reading room. These records include:

1. Final opinions and orders made in the adjudication of cases;
2. Final statements of policy and interpretations which have not been published in the Federal Register;
3. Administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect members of the public;
4. Copies of records that have been the subject of three or more FOIA requests or that are the subject of sufficient public interest that the agency believes that other persons are likely to request (or already have requested) them; and
5. The agency's annual FOIA Report and Chief FOIA Officer’s Report, which includes such information as the number of FOIA requests received by the agency, the amount of time taken to process requests, the total amount of fees collected by the agency, information regarding the backlog of pending requests, and other information about the agency's handling of FOIA requests.
6. Any other records the agency deems appropriate for proactive disclosure.

NARA’s Electronic FOIA reading room can be found here: https://www.archives.gov/foia/electronic-reading-room

b. National Archives Operational Records

The National Archives makes certain operational records available without filing a FOIA request, examples are noted below:

Requesters seeking paper copies of press releases or press kits should contact the Public Affairs and Communications Staff by phone at 202-357-5300 or by fax at 202-357-5999.

Copies of approved Federal agency records schedules can be downloaded or printed directly from the Records Control Schedule repository. Requesters seeking paper copies of Federal agency records schedules or copies of appraisal memoranda may do so by sending an e-mail to request.schedule@nara.gov, sending a  FAX to 301-837-3698, or mailing the request to the Office of the Chief Records Officer (AC), National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), 8601 Adelphi Road, College Park, MD 20740--6001. Your request should cite the control number, which appears in right hand column labeled "Number/Filename," and must provide a return mailing or email address. Those who desire appraisal reports should so indicate in their request. For  additional information, please e-mail us at records.management@nara.gov.

The Office of the Federal Register maintains a free Electronic Bulletin Board service for Public Law numbers, Federal Register finding aids, and list of documents for public inspection (202-275-0920 is the Bulletin Board number). The Office of the Federal  Register Home Page provides:

  • online text of the daily Federal Register from 1994 to the current issue
  • the full text of the Code of Federal Regulations
  • access to the List of Federal Register Documents Currently on Public Inspection
  • information about various Federal Register publications

Electronic editions of the Federal Register publications are available, free of charge, on GPO Access, a service of the U.S. Government Publishing Office.

To order or subscribe to printed editions of Federal Register publications, phone the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO) at 202-512-1800 or visit GPO’s online bookstore at: bookstore.gpo.gov.

c. Archival Records of Executive Branch Agencies Preserved by the National Archives

The National Archives acquires, preserves, and makes available for research records of permanent value created or received by federal agencies of all three branches of the Federal Government. Among those are records of the executive branch, which are subject to FOIA. Generally these accessioned archival records are at least 20-30 years old when they are transferred to the National Archives.

Because of their age or subject matter, most records in the National Archives' archival holdings are unrestricted and are available for research without filing a FOIA request. These include, for example:

  • genealogical and family history records, including military and civilian personnel records
  • records that do not contain any national security classified material or other information that may be withheld under a FOIA exemption
  • formerly classified records properly declassified under an Executive Order
  • records comprising the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection

For information about the various types of records available from the National Archives, you may wish to begin here: www.archives.gov/research. This page will link you to such resources as:

  • The National Archives Catalog contains the National Archives' nationwide holdings in the Washington, DC area, Regional Archives and Presidential Libraries. The online catalog allows you to perform a keyword, digitized image and location search. The catalog's advanced functionalities also allow you to search by organization, person, or topic.
  • The Access to Archival Databases (AAD) System gives you online access to electronic records that are highly structured, such as in databases. AAD contains material from more than 30 archival series of electronic records, which include over 350 data files totaling well over 50 million unique records. The series selected for AAD identify specific persons, geographic areas, organizations, or dates. Some of these series serve as indexes to accessioned archival records in non-electronic formats.
  • The Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States. The Guide provides descriptive information about federal records among the National Archives' holdings and is regularly updated to reflect new acquisitions.

NARA’s Digitization Partnerships – digitization partnerships present an opportunity for increased access to historical government information through the increased availability of information technology products and services. Information concerning NARA’s Digitization Partnerships can be found here: www.archives.gov/digitization/partnerships.html.

III. How to Make a FOIA Request

General Requirements:
You can file a FOIA request for any archival or operational record created or maintained by the National Archives. Once we start processing your request, we will then search for responsive records and release to you as much information as we can, except to the extent information is subject to any of the nine FOIA exemptions that authorize the withholding of information. When NARA does withhold information from you, we will specify which exemption of the FOIA permits the withholding. Please note that the FOIA does not require agencies to do research for you, to analyze data, to answer written questions, or to create records in order to respond to a request.

Although there are no special forms required to submit a FOIA request, you may be asked to provide certain information to assist us in identifying the records that are of interest to you. FOIA requests must be submitted in writing, either handwritten or typed, and they may be submitted online at www.foia.gov, or by email, mail, or fax. You may also submit requests for NARA operational records through FOIAonline.  When NARA receives your FOIA request, we will acknowledge receipt of your request and assign it a tracking number, which you may use to track the status of your request.

All FOIA requests must include a reasonable description of the records requested. In making your request, you should be as specific as possible with regard to names, titles, dates, places, events, subjects, recipients, or agency component(s) or offices likely to maintain records that are of interest to you. The more specific you are about the records or types of records that you want, the more likely it will be that NARA will be able to locate those records. Additionally, you should be aware that NARA will use the date upon which we begin searching for the records as the "cut-off" date for determining the records that are responsive to a FOIA request.

Below is guidance for common FOIA requests for NARA’s records:

Operational Records:

  • Contracts – please provide the current contract number, the original or current solicitation number, or the name of the contractor and the type of service provided.
  • FOIA Case Files – please provide the FOIA case tracking number.

Accessioned Archival Records:

  • Record Group
  • Series Title
  • File designations or descriptions
  • Copies of withdrawal sheets

Military Personnel Records:

If you are a veteran or next-of-kin of a deceased veteran, you may now use vetrecs.archives.gov to order a copy of your military records. For all others, your request is best made using a Standard Form 180. It includes complete instructions for preparing and submitting requests. The minimum information necessary to successfully locate military service records includes:

  • Veteran's complete name used while in service
  • Military service number or social security number
  • Branch of service
  • Dates of service
  • Date of birth

Civilian Personnel Records:

Civilian personnel records are normally transferred to the National Personnel Records Center, CPR within 120 days after an employee's separation from Federal employment. If less than 120 days have elapsed since separation, write to the last employing office. Include in your letter the following information pertaining to the record sought:

  • Full name used during Federal employment
  • Social Security Number
  • Date of birth
  • Name of employing agency and approximate dates of employment

For more information, see our website: https://www.archives.gov/personnel-records-center/civilian-non-archival

IV. Where to Make a FOIA Request within NARA

Where you submit your FOIA request depends on the type of NARA records you are requesting.  However, you may submit any FOIA request online at www.foia.gov.

  1. NARA Operational Records are records that NARA creates or receives in carrying out its mission and responsibilities as an executive branch agency (see 36 C.F.R. 1250.2(i)). To request access to operational records, or if you are uncertain as to where to send your request, you may submit your request in writing in any of the following ways: 

    By mail: 

    FOIA Officer
    National Archives and Records Administration
    8601 Adelphi Road, Room 3110
    College Park, MD 20740
    By Fax: (301) 837-0293

    By E-mail: foia@nara.gov

    Online:  FOIAonline or www.foia.gov

  2. Office of the Inspector General (OIG).  The OIG is an independent office within NARA that helps the Agency to more effectively and efficiently ensure ready access to essential evidence. To request OIG records, submit your request in writing to this address:

    Office of the Inspector General
    FOIA Request
    8601 Adelphi Road, Room 1300
    College Park, MD 20740
    Telephone: 301-837-3000
    FAX: 301-837-3197

  3.  Accessioned Archival Records held in the Washington, DC area.  NARA’s “Special Access and FOIA staff” logs and tracks all FOIA request for access to archival records of executive branch agencies held at the National Archives facilities in Washington, DC (Archives I) and College Park, MD (Archives II). If you are seeking access to these records you may submit your written request to:

    Special Access and FOIA Staff (RD-F)
    8601 Adelphi Road, Room 5500
    College Park, MD 20740
    Telephone: (301) 837-3190
    FAX (301) 837-1864
    E-mail: specialaccess_foia@nara.gov

  4. Accessioned Archival Records held in Field Locations. You may submit your written FOIA request to the Director of the National Archives field facility where the records are located at the applicable address below or on our website.
 

National Archives at Boston, MA
Frederick C. Murphy Federal Center
380 Trapelo Road
Waltham, Massachusetts 02452-6399
Telephone: (781) 663-0144
Fax: (781) 663-0154
E-mail: boston.archives@nara.gov

Web: http://www.archives.gov/boston

National Archives at Chicago, IL
7358 South Pulaski Road
Chicago, IL 60629-5898
Telephone: 773-948-9001
Fax: 773-948-9050
E-mail: chicago.archives@nara.gov
Web: http://www.archives.gov/chicago

National Archives at Seattle, WA
6125 Sand Point Way NE
Seattle, Washington, 98115-7999
Telephone: 206-336-5115
Fax: 206-336-5112
E-mail: seattle.archives@nara.gov
Web: http://www.archives.gov/seattle/

National Archives at Kansas City, MO
400 West Pershing Road
Kansas City, MO 64108
Telephone: 816-268-8000
Fax: 816-268-8038
E-mail: kansascity.archives@nara.gov
Web: http://www.archives.gov/kansas-city/

National Archives at San Francisco, CA
1000 Commodore Drive
San Bruno, California 94066-2350
Telephone: 650- 238-3501
Fax: 650- 238-3510
E-mail: sanbruno.archives@nara.gov
Web: http://www.archives.gov/san-francisco/

National Archives at New York, NY
1 Bowling Green, 3rd Floor
New York, NY 10004
Telephone: 1-866-840-1752 or 212-401-1620
Fax: 212-401-1638
E-mail: newyork.archives@nara.gov
Web: http://www.archives.gov/nyc/

National Archives at Denver, CO
17101 Huron Street
Broomfield, Colorado 80023
Telephone: 303- 604-4740
Fax: 303-604-4750
E-mail: denver.archives@nara.gov
Web: http://www.archives.gov/denver/

National Archives at Philadelphia, PA
14700 Townsend Road
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19154-1096
Telephone: 215-305-2044
Fax: 215-305-2038
E-mail: philadelphia.archives@nara.gov
Web: http://www.archives.gov/philadelphia

National Archives at Atlanta, GA
5780 Jonesboro Road
Morrow, Georgia 30260
Telephone: 770-968-2100
Fax: 770-968-2547
Email: atlanta.archives@nara.gov
Web: http://www.archives.gov/atlanta

National Archives at Fort Worth, TX
1400 John Burgess Drive
Fort Worth, Texas 76140
Telephone: 817-551-2051
Fax: 817-551-2034
E-mail: ftworth.archives@nara.gov
Web: http://www.archives.gov/fort-worth

National Archives at Riverside, CA
23123 Cajalco Road
Perris, California 92570-7298
Telephone: 951-956-2000
Fax: 951-956-2049
E-mail: riverside.archives@nara.gov
Web: http://www.archives.gov/riverside/

National Archives at St. Louis
1 Archives Drive
St. Louis, Missouri 63138
Telephone: 314-801-0800
Fax: 314-801-9195
E-mail: stlarr.archives@nara.gov
Web: https://www.archives.gov/st-louis
  1. Presidential records subject to the FOIA under the Presidential Records Act (PRA).  Under the PRA, the records of former presidents become subject to the FOIA five years after the end of the administration. The incumbent or former President may continue specific restrictions for up to twelve years, after which only statutory FOIA restrictions may be applied. Currently, only the records of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, William Jefferson Clinton, and George W. Bush are subject to the FOIA. The records of President Barack Obama will become subject to FOIA on January 20, 2022. You may submit your written request to the Presidential Library that maintains records that are of interest to you at the following address or on our website.
 

Ronald Reagan Presidential Library
40 Presidential Drive
Simi Valley, California 93065
Telephone: 800-410-8354 or 805-577-4000
Fax: 805-577-4074
Email: reagan.library@nara.gov
Web: http://www.reaganlibrary.archives.gov/

William J. Clinton Presidential Library
1200 President Clinton Avenue
Little Rock, AR 72201
Telephone: 501-374-4242
Fax: 501-244-2883President Clinton venue
E-mail: clinton.library@nara.gov
Web: http://www.clintonlibrary.gov/

George H. W. Bush Presidential Library
1000 George Bush Drive West
College Station, Texas 77845
Telephone: 979-691-4041
Fax: 979-691-4030 |
E-mail: library.bush@nara.gov
Web: http://bushlibrary.tamu.edu/

George W. Bush Presidential Library
2943 SMU Blvd.
Dallas, TX 75205
Telephone: 214-346-1557
Fax: 214-346-1558
E-mail: gwbush.library@nara.gov
Web: http://www.georgewbushlibrary.smu.edu/

Presidential records at Pre-PRA libraries (Hoover administration through Carter). The records at these Presidential Libraries are not subject to the FOIA, because they were donated to the National Archives by the former President, or, in the case of the Nixon records, because they are subject to a separate statute.  However, you may still make requests for these records. Please contact the appropriate Presidential Library for more information on access to their records at the following address or on our website.

Herbert Hoover Presidential Library
210 Parkside Drive
West Branch, IA 52358
Telephone: 319-643-5301

Fax: 319-643-6045

E-mail: hoover.library@nara.gov
Web: https://hoover.archives.gov/

Lyndon B. Johnson Presidential Library
2313 Red River Street
Austin, TX 78705
Telephone: 512-721-0212
Fax: 512-721-0169

E-mail: johnson.library@nara.gov
Web: www.lbjlibrary.org

Franklin D. Roosevelt Library
4079 Albany Post Rd.
Hyde Park, NY 12538
Telephone 845-486-7763 Fax: 845-486-1147
E-mail: Archives.FDR@nara.gov
Web: http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/

Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library
18001 Yorba Linda Blvd.
Yorba Linda, California 92886
Telephone: 714-983-9120
Fax: 714-983-9111
E-mail: Nixon@nara.gov
Web: http://www.nixonlibrary.gov/index.php

Harry S. Truman Library
500 West US Hwy 24
Independence, MO 64050
Telephone: 1-800-833-1225
Fax: 816-268-8295
E-mail: truman.library@nara.gov
Web: www.trumanlibrary.org

Gerald R. Ford Presidential Library
1000 Beal Avenue
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
(734) 205-0555
(734) 205-0571
E-mail: fordlibrary@nara.gov
Web: http://www.fordlibrarymuseum.gov/default.asp

Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library
200 S. E. 4th Street
P.O. Box 339
Abilene, KS 67410
Telephone: 1-877-RING-IKE or 785-263-6700
Fax: 785-263-6715
E-mail: eisenhower.library@nara.gov
Web: http://www.eisenhower.archives.gov/

Jimmy Carter Presidential Library
441 Freedom Parkway
Atlanta, Georgia 30307-1498
Telephone: 404-865-7100
Fax: 404-865-7102
E-mail: carter.library@nara.gov
Web: http://www.jimmycarterlibrary.gov/

John F. Kennedy Presidential Library
Columbia Point
Boston, MA 02125
Telephone: 1-866-JFK-1960 or 617-514-1629 Fax: 1-617-514-1600
E-mail: kennedy.library@nara.gov
Web: http://www.jfklibrary.org/

 

  1. Military Personnel Records. The National Personnel Records Center (NPRC-MPR) is the repository of millions of Official Military Personnel Files (OMPFs) and other health and medical records of discharged and deceased veterans of all services during the 20th century. NPRC-MPR also stores medical treatment records of retirees from all services, as well as records for dependent and other persons treated at naval medical facilities. You may submit your written request here:

    National Personnel Records Center
    Military Personnel Records
    1 Archives Drive
    St. Louis, MO 63138
    Telephone: 314-801-0800
    Fax: 314-801-9195

    You can check the status of a military service records request here:

    https://www.archives.gov/forms/st-louis/mpr-followup.html

    Web: http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/military-personnel/

  2. Civilian Personnel Records – The National Personnel Records Center, Civilian Personnel Records (NPRC-CPR) houses the Official Personnel Files (OPFs) and Employee Medical Folders (EMFs) of separated Federal civilian employees. CPR houses personnel documents that date back to the mid-nineteenth century, although the bulk of the collection covers the period from 1900 to present. The CPR also holds the medical records of military family members treated at Army, Air Force and Coast Guard medical facilities. You may submit your written request here:

    National Personnel Records Center, Annex
    Civilian Personnel Records
    1411 Boulder Boulevard
    Valmeyer, IL 62295
    Telephone: 314-801-9250
    Fax: 314-801-9269
    E-mail: cpr.center@nara.gov

    Web: http://www.archives.gov/st-louis/civilian-personnel/

    Affiliated Archives. A small amount of NARA’s accessioned archival records are maintained by other institutions.  You can request these records directly from these “affiliated archives,” which are listed on our website

V. Response Times

General

The FOIA requires that we make a determination regarding your request within 20 working days from when we receive it, excluding legal holidays. The clock starts on the day it is received by the NARA office that actually maintains the records, but no later than ten days after the request is first received by any NARA office that is designated to receive FOIA requests. We are allowed an additional ten working days if there are “unusual circumstances,” which include the need to:

  • search for, collect and review a voluminous amount of records which are part of a single request;
  • search for and collect the records from field facilities or other offices within NARA; or,
  • consult with another agency before releasing records.

NARA will make every effort to respond to your request within the statutory time limit.  If we are not able to respond within those 20 working days. we will inform you in writing that we received your request and provide you with an an estimated volume of records potentially responsive to your request (if reasonably discernable), the reason for delaying release, which track their request is in, and which place within that track (if reasonably discernable).

Please note that some NARA offices have significant FOIA backlogs and therefore very long queues before they can begin processing your request, particularly when the request is complex and involves a high volume of records.  It can take months, or sometimes even years, to respond to some complex requests.  Each NARA office might use multiple tracks to process FOIAs, thereby keeping the smaller requests from being trapped behind voluminous requests.  If an office uses such designations, you will be informed of the track that your request has been placed.

As required by the FOIA, NARA will assign an individual tracking number for each request that will take longer than 10 working days to answer. You may use this number to track the status of your request online at: https://www.archives.gov/foia/tracking.

NARA may toll (i.e., stop the clock on FOIA processing) your request if we need to obtain additional information that will assist us in processing your request and, as necessary, to clarify fee-related issues. There is no statutory limit on the number of times an agency may toll for the purpose of clarifying fee matters. Our receipt of your response ends the tolling period, and the time clock resumes.

If we are extending the deadline for more than 10 working days, we will ask if you would like to modify your request. If you do not, we will work with you to arrange an alternative time frame for review and release of the requested records.

Classified National Security Information

NARA has very limited authority to declassify classified national security information. When NARA receives a FOIA request for records that contain classified information, we must consult with those agencies that have Original Classification Authority in order to obtain a declassification decision on the requested records, except to the extent that the agencies have provided NARA with declassification guidance or NARA can make an initial determination that the information remains classified. NARA will send you an initial response to your FOIA request informing you of this consultation with the originating agency for declassification review. We will inform you of the final decision when a response is received from all agencies holding classified equities in the records.  Please note, because NARA cannot control how long it will take the equity holding agencies to respond, any request seeking records that require declassification review may take longer to process. 

Presidential Records

If you have requested presidential records subject to the Presidential Records Act (those belonging to administrations beginning with President Reagan), the PRA requires that we must provide notification to the incumbent and former Presidents (through their designated representatives) of our intent to release any responsive records, whether in whole or in part – these notifications are posted on our FOIA website. This notification gives the incumbent and former Presidents an opportunity to decide whether or not to invoke executive privilege over the records proposed for disclosure. The representatives have 60 working days to conduct their review (and can request one 30-working day extension). NARA will send an acknowledgement letter with your tracking number and information concerning the status of your request. You will receive a final response after the presidential notification process is complete.

Confidential Commercial Information

Executive Order 12600 requires agencies to contact submitters of confidential business or commercial information when a FOIA request is received for the submitted information. The National Archives will send you an initial response to your FOIA request informing you of our actions. The procedures governing the release of confidential commercial information are discussed in Appendix A. Except in exceptional circumstances, NARA will only contact the submitter if the records contain confidential commercial information that is less than 10 years old.

VI. Expedited Processing

Ordinarily, the National Archives will expedite a FOIA request only in the following cases:

  • where there will be a threat to someone's life or physical safety;
  • where an individual will suffer the loss of substantial due process rights if the records are not processed on an expedited basis;
  • if the request is made by an individual/organization primarily engaged in the dissemination of information who can prove the information is urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity; or,
  • when the subject is of widespread and exceptional media interest and the information sought involves possible questions about the government's integrity that affect public confidence.

NARA can only expedite requests, or segments of requests, for records over which we have complete control. If NARA must consult with another agency (as in the case of requests for classified national security information), we will so inform you.  Even if we expedite requests for presidential records, we cannot shorten the presidential notification period required by the PRA.

To request expedited processing, you must submit a statement explaining why your request should be expedited.  You must certify that this statement is true and correct to the best of your knowledge. All requests must be directed to the office or facility holding the records that are of interest to you. NARA will respond to your request for expedited processing within ten calendar days as required by law. If your request is granted, we will process your request as soon as practicable. You have the right to file an administrative appeal of NARA’s decision not to grant you expedited processing.

VII. Fees

There is no fee to file a FOIA request. By law, however, an agency is allowed to charge certain fees for processing a request. The fees charged by NARA depend on the types of records requested. As permitted by statute, the National Archives has two separate fee schedules.

a. Operational Records

The FOIA divides requesters into three categories for the purposes of assessing fees only (see 36 C.F.R. 1250.52):

  • Commercial requesters are charged fees for searching for records, processing the records, and reproductions.
  • Educational or noncommercial scientific institutions and news media representatives are charged only for reproductions after the first 100 pages.
  • Other requesters (those who do not fall into either of the above categories) are charged only search and reproduction fees.  The first two hours of search time and first 100 pages of copies are free.

Please let us know in your request letter if there is a maximum amount that you are willing to pay in fees. If you do not do so, the National Archives will assume that you are willing to pay fees up to $50. If estimated fees exceed this amount or the amount you specified in your letter, we will contact you with the total amount due before we process your request. NARA will not charge you any fees if the total costs are $10 or less.

In most cases you will not be required to pay anything until processing is completed. If you have failed to pay FOIA fees in the past, either to the National Archives or to any other agency, we will require you to pay your past-due bill before processing any additional requests. If we estimate that your fees will be greater than $250, the National Archives may require payment or a deposit before we begin processing your request.

If we determine that you (acting either alone or with others) are breaking down a single request into a series of requests in order to avoid or reduce fees, we may aggregate all these requests in calculating the fees.

The National Archives will charge the following fees in responding to requests for operational records.

  • Search Fees (the FOIA only allows agencies to charge search fees if we have complied with the statutory time limits):
    1. Manual Searching: $16 per hour (or fraction thereof) when the search is performed by a clerical or administrative employee; $33 per hour when a request is more complicated and the search is done by a professional employee .
    2. Computer Searching: Based on the actual cost to the National Archives of operating the computer and the salary of the operator, per the rates for manual searching.
  • Review Fees include charges for time spent examining documents deemed responsive to a request: $33 per hour (or fraction thereof). NARA does not charge review fees for time spent solving legal or policy issues regarding the application of FOIA exemptions.
  • Reproduction Fees
    1. You may view open documents free of charge in the reading room where the requested records are located. You may also make self-service copies for $0.25 per page.
    2. When NARA staff copies the records, the cost is $0.30 per page.
    3. For reproductions of electronic records: $16 per hour (for simple requests) or $33 per hour (for more complex requests). These costs include the direct costs of staff time for programming, computer operations, and printouts or electromagnetic media to reproduce electronic records.
    4. NARA charges the direct cost to the National Archives of the reproduction of any other media types. Specific charges will be provided upon request.

b. Archival Records

NARA does not charge search or review fees for FOIA requests for archival records.

The fee schedule for reproduction of archival records can be found on our website here, and is based on recovering the actual costs of making the copies: https://www.archives.gov/research/order/fees.  Fees for reproductions of archival records can be paid by check or money order made payable to the National Archives Trust Fund Board or by credit card. 

VIII. Fee Waivers

Archival records 

NARA does not grant fee waivers for archival records, because, in accordance with section 552(a)(4)(A)(vi) of the FOIA, NARA has a separate fee statute that applies to archival records and does not provide for fee waivers.  (Note, however, that fee waivers are granted for archival records that are a part of the John F. Kennedy Assassination Records Collection, because the 1992 statute governing this collection provides so.)  If you do not want to pay the fee, you may use your own equipment to make copies or scans in the research room.

Operational Records 

You may request a fee waiver for operational records.  We will only grant a fee waiver if the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest and not primarily in your commercial interest, based on the following factors:

  • Whether the records pertain to the operations and activities of the Federal Government.
  • Whether release will reveal any meaningful information about Federal Government activities that is not already publicly known.
  • Whether disclosure to you will advance the understanding of the general public on the issue.
  • Whether you have expertise in or a thorough understanding of these records.
  • Whether you are to disseminate this information to a broad spectrum of the public.
  • Whether disclosure will lead to a significantly greater understanding of the Government by the public.

We will generally not grant a fee waiver for individuals who are seeking records about themselves, because release will not likely increase of the public’s understanding of government operations and activities.

IX. Request Determinations, FOIA Exemptions, and PRA Restrictions 

When we have completed the search and review process in response to your request, we will inform you of our decision in writing. Our response will tell you how much material we found and the charges due, if any. If we are denying the release of any information in the records, we will estimate the amount of the withheld information, explain the reasons for the denial and which FOIA exemptions apply, and explain your right to appeal our decisions and to consult with a FOIA Public Liaison and seek assistance from the Office of Government Information Services.

NARA will deny a FOIA request in whole or in part only when we determine that information may be withheld under one or more of the nine FOIA exemptions, but only if we determine that disclosure would harm an interest protected by such exemption:

  • 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(1): Classified national security information.
  • 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(2): Information related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.
  • 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(3): Information specifically exempted from disclosure by statute.
  • 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(4): Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential.
  • 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5): Inter- or intra- agency memoranda protected by a privilege, such as the attorney work-product, attorney client, or deliberative process privileges, except that the deliberative process privilege shall not apply to records created 25 years or more before the date on which the records were requested.
  • 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(6): Personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
  • 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(7): Records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, to the extent that the production of these records could:
    • (b)(7)(A) could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings;
    • (b)(7)(B) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication;
    • (b)(7)(C) could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
    • (b)(7)(D) could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of and/or information provided by a confidential source;
    • (b)(7)(E) would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions; or,
    • (b)(7)(F) could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.
  • 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(8): Information relating to the supervision of financial institutions.
  • 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(9): Geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.

Most of these exemptions apply to only a few of the archival records in our custody. In addition, if only part of a record must be withheld, the National Archives will redact that specific information and provide access to the rest of the record.

Presidential records subject to the PRA may also be withheld under six PRA restrictions during the first twelve years after the end of an administration; however FOIA exemption 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5) does not apply to Presidential records:

  • 44 U.S.C. 2204(a)(1): Classified national security information.
  • 44 U.S.C. 2204(a)(2): Information relating to appointments to Federal office.
  • 44 U.S.C. 2204(a)(3): Information specifically exempted from disclosure by statute.
  • 44 U.S.C. 2204(a)(4): Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential.
  • 44 U.S.C. 2204(a)(5): Confidential communications requesting or submitting advice, between the President and his advisers, or between such advisers.

44 U.S.C. 2204(a)(6): Personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

X. FOIA Appeals

General Information

Under the FOIA, you may file an administrative appeal with NARA for any of the following decisions:

  • the refusal to release a record, either in whole or in part;
  • the determination that a record does not exist or cannot be found;
  • the determination that the record you sought was not subject to the FOIA;
  • the denial of a request for expedited processing; or
  • the denial of a fee waiver request.

All appeals must be made in writing and received within 90 calendar days of the date of the National Archives' denial. Mark both your letter and envelope or email “FOIA Appeal,” and include a copy of both your initial request and our denial. If you are raising a specific point in your appeal about withholdings, you may include copies of released documents. Your appeal should explain why we should reverse our initial decision. If we were unable to find the records you wanted, explain why you believe our search was inadequate. If we denied you access to records and told you that those records were not subject to FOIA, please explain why you believe the records are subject to FOIA. 

You may also seek assistance from a NARA FOIA Public Liaisonor dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)

The FOIA requires that we respond to your appeal within 20 working days of its receipt. However, we often have backlogs in our appeals queue.  If we reverse or modify our initial decision, we will inform you in writing and reprocess your request. If we do not change our initial decision, our response to you will explain the reasons for our decision, any FOIA exemptions that apply, and your right to seek judicial review of our decision.

Where to send appeals:

  • For denials from the Office of the Inspector General:

Archivist of the United States
(Attn: FOIA Appeal Staff), Room 4200
National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001

  • All other denials (including from Presidential Libraries subject to the FOIA):

Deputy Archivist of the United States
(Attn: FOIA Appeal Staff), Room 4200
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001

foia@nara.gov

XI. Judicial Review

If you believe that the National Archives has not handled your FOIA request in accordance with the law, you have the right to challenge the agency's action in a lawsuit filed in federal court. Ordinarily, you must first have filed an administrative appeal and received a response. However, you may file suit if we failed to respond to either your initial request or your appeal within the statutory time limits.

You may also contact the Office of Government Information Services(OGIS) as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation before filing a lawsuit. 

If you do bring a court action, you may file your suit in a federal district court in any of the following places:

  • where you reside;
  • where you have your principle place of business (if any);
  • in the District of Columbia; or
  • where the records are located if they are not located in the District of Columbia.

You have six years from the date of NARA’s final decision to file a lawsuit under the FOIA.

Appendix A—Responses to requests for confidential commercial information

General Information

If the National Archives receives a request for records that we believe contain confidential business and commercial information subject to FOIA exemption (b)(4), 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(4), and if that information is less than 10 years old, we will notify the original submitter (or their successor). NARA’s regulations (36 C.F.R. 1250.80) give submitters up to 10 working days to raise objections to release and to provide a detailed justification to support their position. If we do not receive a response, we assume that there are no objections to release.

The National Archives reviews and considers all objections to release received within the time limit. If, after our review, we decide to release the records, we will notify the submitter in writing. Our notice will include copies of the records we intend to release and explain our reasons for release. We will also inform the submitter that we intend to release the records 10 working days after the date of the notice unless the submitter obtains a U.S. District Court order prohibiting such disclosure.

Responding to a Notice

When responding to a notice, a submitter should:

  • highlight those portions of the requested document that would likely cause your business substantial competitive if released or
  • provide detailed information on why release would be harmful.

Some factors that could be addressed to help the National Archives evaluate an objection to release are:

  • the general custom or usage of the information in question;
  • the number and situation of the persons who have access to the information;
  • the measures used to protect the information from disclosure;
  • the type and degree of risk of financial injury that release would cause you; or
  • the length of time the information should be kept confidential.

What the National Archives Generally Releases:

  • Information that is known though custom or usage in a trade, business, or profession;
  • Information that any reasonably educated person would know;
  • Self-evident statements or a review of the general state-of-the-art;
  • Successful bids, amounts actually paid by the Government under a contract, and cost and pricing data incorporated into a contractual document such as line item prices, contract award prices, and modifications (unless a submitter makes a legally sound argument in favor of their withholding); or
  • Explanatory material and headings associated with costs and pricing.

What We Generally Withhold:

  • Detailed technical and costs proposals submitted in response to a solicitation for bids (automatically withheld under an Exemption (b)(3) statute);
  • Unique ideas, methods, or processes (trade secrets);
  • Equipment, materials, processes, or systems that are patented, copyrighted, or contains a restricted legend; or
  • Cost and pricing data that is not already generally known as a part of your regular business practices or incorporated by reference into a contract.
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