Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Frequently Asked Questions about FOIA

What is a FOIA Request?

A FOIA request can be used to request federal agency records for which access is currently restricted due to the presence of security-classified or other sensitive information. When you make a FOIA request, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will conduct a line-by-line review of restricted records to determine if any information can be released.


Do I need to make a FOIA request? 

Because of their age, most records in the National Archives' archival holdings are unrestricted and are available for research without filing a FOIA request. If you are unsure whether the records you seek are restricted, we suggest you submit a research inquiry first, to determine what records NARA holds on your research topic. You may also want to search the National Archives Catalog or History Hub to see if information on your topic is already available online. If you locate a record of interest in the catalog and the Access Restriction(s) are listed as “Restricted - Partly” or “Restricted - Fully,” you may need to file a FOIA request.


Where should I send my FOIA requests for archival records at NARA?

Requests should be sent in writing by mail, email, or fax, and must indicate that you are filing a FOIA request. You may send your request to:

Special Access and FOIA Program

National Archives at College Park 

8601 Adelphi Road, Room 5500

College Park, MD 20740-6001


Fax: 301-837-1864



What can I request under the FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act provides any person with the right to obtain access to government information in executive branch agency records. However, certain  information is protected from disclosure under FOIA’s nine statutory exemptions. NARA’s FOIA guidance can be found in NARA 1602, Access to Records Requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). 

There are two main types of records at NARA for which you may need to file a FOIA request:

Operational Records that NARA creates or receives in carrying out its mission and responsibilities as an executive branch agency. File a FOIA request for NARA Operational Records 

Archival Records of executive branch agencies that have been transferred to the legal and physical custody of NARA. Most archival records are unrestricted and do not require a FOIA request, but some do have access restrictions, and you can make a FOIA request for those records. 

Records may be restricted for a number of reasons. For example, records may include national-security classified information or personally identifiable information (PII) such as Social Security Numbers. You may use the FOIA to request access to restricted archival records that are in NARA’s holdings.

If you submit a request for a research topic, but do not identify specific records, your request may be sent to one of NARA’s archival reference units and assigned to staff to conduct a search for responsive records. 

For additional information on where to submit requests for different types of NARA records see Where to Make a FOIA Request within NARA.


How do I request Federal Bureau of Information (FBI) case files at NARA?

If you have not done so already, you may wish to submit a FOIA request to the FBI for a search of their indexes for files relating to your subject before you submit a FOIA request to NARA. Information about how to submit a FOIA request with the FBI is available on the FBI website at: Requesting FBI Records.


What are the FOIA requirements?

The purpose of the FOIA is to provide access to specific documents or records; it does not obligate federal agencies to conduct in-depth research, analyze data, answer research questions, or create records in order to respond to a request. Requesters are required to reasonably describe the records they seek by providing as much information as possible including the originating agency; series; dates of records; subject, title, author, recipient; case, file, or reference number(s). If you do not provide enough information to conduct a search, we may not be able to process your request. 


When will I receive a response to my FOIA request? 

NARA will make every effort to respond to your request within the statutory time limit of 20 working days. If we are not able to process your request within 20 working days, we will inform you in writing that we received your request and provide you with a FOIA tracking number as well as additional information, which may include the estimated volume of records potentially responsive to your request and an approximate timeframe for processing.

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 years to respond to some complex requests. 

For more information see NARA’s General Response Times to FOIA requests


Can my FOIA request be processed faster?

  • Under certain conditions you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis. The National Archives will expedite a FOIA request 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.
  • To request expedited processing, you must submit a statement explaining why your request should be expedited under one of the above criteria. 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. If you are denied expedited processing, you can file an administrative appeal of NARA’s decision. 

For additional information see the NARA’s FOIA Reference Guide section on Expedited Processing


Are there any fees for FOIA requests for archival records?

NARA does not charge search or review fees for FOIA requests for archival records in its custody. You will only be charged the actual costs of copying either by ordering a reproduction or making self-service copies at the facility where the records are located. Fees are listed at 36 C.F.R. Part 1258.


What can I expect after the FOIA review is complete?

Once NARA has completed processing your request, we will send you a written response that will include the following information:

  • Your assigned FOIA tracking number
  • A detailed summary of the records that were reviewed, including:  
    • The number of pages released in full, released in part, or withheld (or the  estimated volume for large requests).
    • If information is withheld under one or more of the nine exemptions to the FOIA, a list of which exemptions were applied.
  • How to access the records. 
  • Information on how to file an appeal, if applicable.


If I am dissatisfied with the response, what are my  options?

If you are dissatisfied with the response to your FOIA request, you may contact one of NARA’s FOIA Public Liaisons for assistance. A list and contact information is available on our website at NARA Freedom of Information Act Service Centers and Public Liaisons.

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) offers mediation services to resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and Federal agencies as a non-exclusive alternative to administrative appeals. Using OGIS’ services does not affect your right to pursue an administrative appeal. 

If you are dissatisfied with our response to your FOIA request, you have the option to file an administrative appeal and a separate office within the agency will independently review our actions. See FOIA Appeals for more information on how to file an administrative appeal. 


What if I still have questions?

If you still have questions regarding the processing of FOIA requests at NARA, you can contact us at:

Special Access and FOIA Program

National Archives at College Park 

8601 Adelphi Road, Room 5500

College Park, MD 20740-6001


Phone: 301-837-3190

Fax: 301-837-1864