Luckily figuring out who to call for help with a FOIA is much less dangerous than fixing a phone line. (NARA Identifier 6439330)
The FOIA process can be confusing for requesters, especially those who are filing their first FOIA requests or who do not know much about how a particular agency functions. Unfortunately, figuring out who you should contact within an agency to clear up that confusion and assist with a request can be equally baffling.
FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons are here to help, but who you gonna call—and when? Agencies were required to set up FOIA Requester Service Centers and designate FOIA Public Liaisons when President George W. Bush issued Executive Order (EO) 13392, Improving Agency Disclosure of Information, in December 2005. The EO describes FOIA Requester Service Centers as the first stop for requesters to receive updates about their requests and information about the agency’s response. It also requires agencies to appoint one or more FOIA Public Liaisons who should serve as supervisory officials to whom requesters can raise concerns about the service they are provided by the Requester Service Center.
The OPEN Government Act of 2007 (the FOIA amendments that also created our office) added the role of FOIA Public Liaison to the statute, giving them responsibility for “assisting in reducing delays, increasing transparency and understanding of the status of requests, and assisting in the resolution of disputes.” As we have talked about on this blog before, the recently enacted FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 further expanded the role of agency FOIA Public Liaisons (and OGIS) in helping requesters navigate the FOIA process.
If you have questions about your FOIA request (such as its status), it makes sense to first contact agency’s FOIA Requester Service Center. If the Requester Service Center cannot answer your question, or if you need assistance narrowing a request or understanding an agency’s response, you should reach out to the FOIA Public Liaison.
You may find the contact information for the agency’s Requester Service Center and FOIA Public Liaison in its response to your request or on the “Contacts” section of FOIA.gov, a website maintained by the Department of Justice. You can also find it on the agency’s FOIA webpage (in most cases, an agency includes a link to its FOIA webpage at the bottom of the homepage).
Of course, if you ever have trouble reaching someone at an agency who can assist you with your FOIA request, we are happy to help! For the quickest response, call us at 202-741-5770 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.