Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Frequently Asked Questions about FOIA

Getting Started

The National Archives and Records Administration has posted a great deal of information in its catalog.  Before making a FOIA request for historical records, you may first want to search our catalog.  In addition, you may find Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) records released by the Special Access/FOIA office in response to FOIA requests on our web page here:  https://www.archives.gov/research/foia/digitized-fbi-files.

You should also keep in mind that each federal agency handles or processes its own records in response to FOIA requests. There is no central office in the government that processes FOIA requests for all federal departments and agencies. Therefore, before sending a request to the National Archives and Records Administration you should determine whether this agency is likely to have the records you are seeking.

Where should I send my requests?

Requests should be sent in writing indicating that you are filing a FOIA request by mail, email, or fax to the following address:

Special Access/FOIA
National Archival at College Park
Room 5500
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Fax: 301-837-1864
Email: specialaccess_foia@nara.gov

What can I request?

A FOIA request can be made for any agency archival record. However, you should be aware that the FOIA does not require agencies to do research for you, to analyze data, to answer written questions, or create records in response to a request.

What happens after I submit my request and how long will it take before I get a response?

Once you have submitted your FOIA request to the National Archives, the agency ordinarily will send you a letter acknowledging the request and assigning it a case number.

The time it takes to respond to each request varies depending on the complexity of the request itself and the backlog of requests already pending at the component. In some circumstances, the component will be able to respond to the request within the standard time limit established by the FOIA, which is twenty working days. In other instances there might be a longer period of time needed before the request can be handled.

Can my request be processed faster?

Under certain conditions you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis. At the National Archives and Records Administration, there are four specific situation where a request will be expedited, which means that it handled as soon as practicable.

  • 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 a member of the news media 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 national security classified materials), we will so inform you and suggest that you seek expedited review from that agency. Because we cannot shorten the presidential notification period required by EO 13489, we generally will not expedite requests for Presidential records.

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 quickly as possible. You have the right to administratively appeal NARA’s decision not to grant you 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. Currently, NARA charges $0.80 per page for paper copies made by NARA staff. The minimum mail order fee is $20. You may review any open records free of charge in the research room at the facility where the records are located. You may make self-service copies of those records for $0.25 per page. Additional fees are listed at 36 C.F.R. Part 1258.

What can I expect in response to my request?

Once our office has processed your request, the component will send you a written response and will usually include all the documents that can be disclosed to you. The response letter will advise you on whether any information is being withheld pursuant to one or more of the nine exemptions to the FOIA. If pages of information have been withheld in full, the component ordinarily will specify the number of pages being withheld or make a reasonable effort to estimate the volume of the withheld information. Where a page of a record is being withheld in part, the withheld portions of the page will ordinarily be specifically marked the applicable exemptions.

Can I appeal the response to my request?

You may file an administrative appeal if you not satisfied with the National Archives’s initial response. 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 (e.g. non-PRA presidential records, donated historical materials, records of Congress, etc.)
  • 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 letter. Mark both your letter and envelope "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.

The National Archives will respond to your appeal within 20 working days of its receipt. 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:

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

Appeals of denials under FOIA of access to classified materials

Denials under FOIA of access to classified records are made by officials of the originating or responsible agency or by the National Archives under a written delegation of authority. You must appeal determinations that records remain classified to the agency with the original classification and declassification authority. The National Archives will provide you with the necessary appeal information.

If I am still dissatisfied, are there other options?

During the course of the administrative appeal process, you may seek assistance from the National Archives’ Washington D.C. FOIA Public Liaison (FPL), Britney Crawford (Acting). Contact information for the FOIA Public Liaison at the National Archives, Washington, DC area is as follows:

Accessioned Executive Branch Agency Records - Washington, DC Area
FOIA Public Liaison: Britney Crawford (Acting)
8601 Adelphi Road, Room 5500
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Telephone Number: 301-837-3190
E-mail address: DC.FOIA.LIAISON@NARA.GOV

Finally, 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. The contact information for OGIS is as follows:

Office of Government Information Services
National Archives and Records Administration
Room 2510
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
E-mail: ogis@nara.gov
Telephone: 202-741-5770
Facsimile: 202-741-5769
Toll-free: 1-877-684-6448

What if I still have questions?

If you still have questions regarding the processing of FOIA requests at the Nation Archives with the Special Access/FOIA unit, additional information can be found on our website at https://www.archives.gov/foia/ or by writing or calling us at the following address below:

Special Access/FOIA
National Archival at College Park
Room 5500
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Tel: 301-837-3190
Fax: 301-837-1864
Email: specialaccess_foia@nara.gov

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