Freedom of Information Act

What is FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a law which gives you the right to access information from our federal government. It is a law that keeps citizens in the know about their government.

The FOIA was enacted on July 4, 1966, and took effect one year later. FOIA provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions. A FOIA request can be made for any agency record. Before making a FOIA request to a federal agency, determine which agency is likely to have the records you are seeking. Each agency will have a website which will contain information about the type of records that the agency maintains.
The FOIA also requires that agencies automatically disclose certain information, including frequently requested records. As Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court have all recognized, the FOIA is a vital part of our democracy.

It is the Executive Branch, led by the President, that is responsible for the administration of the FOIA across the government. The Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy oversees agency compliance with these directives and encourages all agencies to fully comply with both the letter and the spirit of the FOIA.

What is the Administration’s FOIA Policy?

President Obama and Attorney General Holder have directed agencies to apply a presumption of openness in responding to FOIA requests. The Attorney General specifically called on agencies not to withhold information just because it technically falls within an exemption and he also encouraged agencies to make discretionary releases of records. The Attorney General emphasized that the President has called on agencies to work in a spirit of cooperation with FOIA requesters. The Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice oversees agency compliance with these directives and encourages all agencies to fully comply with both the letter and the spirit of the FOIA. President Obama has pledged to make this the most transparent Administration in history.

The information CFEG has provided in this section was obtained from Visitors to our website can learn more about FOIA by visiting

How to make a FOIA Request?

To obtain information under the FOIA, a “FOIA request” must be made. This is a written request in which you describe the information you want, and the format you want it in, in as much detail as possible. Please be aware that the FOIA does not require agencies to do research for you, analyze data, answer written questions, or create records in response to your request. Sometimes agencies will charge a fee to research their records to obtain the information you are requesting. Also, FOIA requires that federal agencies release certain information automatically, without the need to make a request. Before sending in a FOIA request, take a look at the agency’s website. The information you need may be contained on the agency’s website.

CFEG has provided sample FOIA requests for your review and use. Remember though, there is no specific form that must be used to make a FOIA request. The request simply must be in writing, reasonably describe the information you are seeking to obtain, and comply with specific agency requirements. Most federal agencies now accept FOIA requests electronically, including by web form, e-mail or fax.

Committee For Efficient Government (CFEG) sent a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA) to the IRS on April 1, 2015. CFEG sought data pertaining to the number of taxpayers affected and injured by ID Theft Tax Refund Fraud, among other documents. After initiating a FOIA suit the IRS recently responded to this FOIA request producing the following chart. The chart provides that in 2004 there were only 2,008 taxpayers affected/injured by ID Theft Tax Refund Fraud. As of 2015 1,519,298 taxpayers were injured/affected by ID Theft Tax Refund Fraud. This data came from the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS. This data is conclusive evidence that the ID Theft Tax Refund Fraud has dramatically worsened since 2004.

How long will it take before I get a response?

The time it takes to respond to each request will vary depending on the complexity of your request and the number of requests already pending at the agency. In some circumstances, the agency will be able to respond to your FOIA request within the standard time limit established by the FOIA – approximately one month. If an agency needs an extension of time, it will notify you in writing and provide you with an opportunity to modify or limit the scope of your request.