The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, establishes how an agency must administer its FOIA program. While the law contains a lot of useful information—from time limits to fee categories to redactions and more—it doesn’t provide the whole picture. If a FOIA requester needs practical, detailed information about how an agency’s FOIA program works, where should he or she turn?
The answer is simple: the agency’s FOIA regulations. FOIA requires agencies to publish FOIA regulations that:
- Provide specific guidance on fee issues, in line with the Office of Management and Budget’s guidelines;
- Indicate what component of the agency can properly receive a FOIA request;
- Specify how the agency will aggregate requests from the same requester or a group of requesters;
- Provide information on how an agency processes records on multiple tracks (for instance, a simple queue and a complex queue); and
- Detail how the agency will handle requests for expedited processing.
While these are the statutory standards for an agency’s FOIA regulations, most regulations contain lots of other helpful information as well such as addresses, telephone numbers, deadlines, and more. We at OGIS recommend that a requester consult an agency’s FOIA regulations when he or she has a question about a specific agency FOIA process. In fact, OGIS regularly consults agency FOIA regulations as part of fact finding when offering mediation services.
So if agency FOIA regulations are such a valuable source of information for FOIA requesters, where can you find them? Some agencies make their FOIA regulations easily available on their FOIA web sites (Interior, Commerce, EPA, nice job!). Other agencies might require a bit of searching or a visit to the Federal Register’s page. We encourage any agency to display a clear link to its FOIA regulations on its website; if your agency would like advice on how to do so, please contact OGIS and we’d be glad to brainstorm with you.