The Power of FOIA

Performing a Freedom of Information Act(FOIA) request is a confusing process that may lead to useless information. There is an art to performing a FOIA request because the more specific the request, the better the results. If you have ever used a search engine on the internet, then you understand that simply requesting “information on John Doe” will result in a tsunami of information that would take years to sift through. However, if you search with more specific information, you will get more specific results. has been dealing with FOIA requests for quite some time and would like to share some basic advice on filing a FOIA request.

Aren’t FOIA requests reserved for lawyers and federal agents?

Lucky, they are not. FOIA requests can be completed by any citizen of the United States of America. The request will be reviewed and answered by the Federal Agency that the request was made. If the inquiry is too broad, your FOIA request may be returned with little to no information. It is wise to consult with a knowledgeable FOIA request filer before filing your own FOIA request. This will save you time and money in the long run.

What is a FOIA request?

A FOIA request is a request for publicly available information from any federal agency. These requests can be made in a multitude of different forms(fax, mail, web-form). The information you provide and specificity of your request will affect the results of your FOIA request.

Aren’t FOIA requests reserved for lawyers and federal agents?

There is no fee to file a FOIA request. FOIA established four fee categories that agencies use to determine if fees will be charged:

  1. Commercial requesters may be charged fees for searching for records, reviewing the records, and photocopying them;
  2. New media, educational or noncommercial scientific institutions are charged for photocopying, after the first 100 pages;
  3. All other requesters (requestors who do not fall into any of the other three categories) are charged for photocopying after 100 pages and for time spent searching for records in excess of two hours.

In the event that fees are incurred beyond what you are entitled to for free, please indicate a specific amount that you are willing to pay. If you do not indicate another amount in FOIAonline, please be advised that some agency regulations provide that making a FOIA request represents an agreement to pay fees up to $25.
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FOIA requests have taken a forefront in the pursuit of federally available information. Often times, information would have taken months or even years to get into the public sphere. Thanks to the power of FOIA requests, publicly available information can be obtained by any U.S. citizen within a timely manner. Even though everyone has the ability to file a FOIA request, advises consulting a lawyer, private investigator, or other veteran FOIA requesters to figure out the best manner in which to phrase your request. Remember, FOIA requests depend heavily on how the request for information is framed. Many federal agencies will use ambiguous language as a way to end your request short.

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