What is the FOIA?
The FOIA is a Federal law that establishes the public's right to request existing records from Federal government agencies.
Who can file a FOIA request?
Any "person" can file a FOIA request, including U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, organizations, universities, businesses, and state and local governments.
Who is subject to the FOIA and what type of information can be requested?
The FOIA's scope includes Federal Executive Branch Departments, agencies, and offices; Federal regulatory agencies, and Federal corporations. Congress, the Federal Courts, and parts of the Executive office of the President are not subject to the FOIA. State and local governments are likewise not subject to the Federal FOIA, but some states have their own equivalent access laws for state records. At the Office of the Secretary of Defense/Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff level, you may expect to find policy, planning and budgetary information for the DoD.
What is a record?
A record is the product(s) of data compilation, such as all books, papers, maps, and photographs, machine readable materials, inclusive of those in electronic form or format, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the United States Government under Federal law in connection with the transaction of public business and in Department of Defense possession and control at the time the FOIA request is made.
Can we ask questions under the FOIA?
The FOIA does not require Federal Agencies to answer questions, render opinions, or provide subjective evaluations. The FOIA pertains only to existing records and is not a research service that compiles information not already available and identifiable.
How do I file a FOIA request?
Label your request "Freedom of Information Act Request," preferably within the request letter and on the envelope, and address the request to the following address:
Defense Commissary Agency General Counsel
Attention FOIA Officer
1300 E Avenue
Fort Lee VA 23801-1800
Requests may also be sent via facsimile to FOIA Officer at (804) 734-8000, extension 4-8259 or via e-mail to FOIA@deca.mil.
Your letter should include your name, address, telephone number, and a statement of the records being sought, identified as specifically as possible. A request of specific information that is releasable to the public can be processed much more quickly than a request for "all information" on a particular subject. Generally, a record is reasonably described when the description contains sufficient file-related information (type of document, title, subject area, date of creation, originator, etc.); or the request contains enough event-related information (date and circumstances surrounding the event the record covers) to permit the conduct of an organized, non-random search. A more specific and limited request will cost less for search, review and duplication fees.
State your willingness to pay applicable fees.
Do I have to pay for a FOIA request?
The FOIA allows fees to be charged to certain types of requesters, but it also provides that waivers or reductions in fees be given if disclosing the information is in the public interest. Public interest is defined as information which significantly enhances the public's knowledge of the operations and activities of the DoD. The FOIA requires that requesters be placed into one of the categories below.
- Commercial. Requesters who seek information for a use or purpose that furthers their commercial, trade, or profit interest are considered commercial requesters. Commercial requesters pay all fees for search, review and duplication.
- Educational. Institutions of education, including preschools, elementary or secondary schools and institutions of higher learning, qualify as educational institutions. The records must be sought in furtherance of scholarly research. Educational requesters pay only duplication fees, unless it is determined that fees are waived or reduced in the public interest. The first 100 pages are provided at no cost.
- Non-Commercial Scientific. A non-commercial scientific institution is operated solely for conducting scientific research. The records must be sought in furtherance of scientific research. Like educational requesters, these requesters pay only duplication fees, unless it is determined that fees are waived or reduced in the public interest. The first 100 pages are provided at no cost.
- News Media. A representative of the news media is a person actively gathering news for an entity organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. News media pay only duplication fees, unless it is determined that fees are waived or reduced in the public interest. Again, the first 100 pages are provided at no cost.
- "Other" Requesters. Requesters who do not qualify in another category are considered "other" requesters, and normally make requests for agency records for their personal use. "Other" requesters receive two hours search, all review costs, and the first 100 pages at no cost.
All requesters should submit a willingness to pay fees regardless of the fee category, however, this does not mean you will be charged fees. Except for commercial requesters whose fees total more than $15, waivers are always considered. Fee waivers may be granted when disclosure of the records is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government. The following factors are weighed in making a fee waiver determination:
- The subject of the request.
- The informative value of the information to be disclosed.
- The contribution to an understanding of the subject by the general public likely to result from the disclosure.
- The significance of the contribution to public understanding.
- Disclosure of the information is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
- The ability of the requester to disseminate the information.
What are the reasons for not releasing a record?
There are seven reasons why an agency may not release a record when a request for the record is made under the FOIA. They are:
- The request is transferred to another DoD Component or Federal agency.
- The agency determines through knowledge of its files and reasonable search efforts that it neither controls or otherwise possesses the requested record.
- A record has not been described with sufficient detail to enable the agency to locate it by conducting a reasonable search.
- The requester has failed unreasonably to comply with procedural requirements, including payment of fees, imposed by this Regulation or DoD Component supplementing regulations.
- The request is withdrawn by the requester.
- The information requested is not a record within the meaning of the FOIA and the DoD Regulation.
- The record is denied in whole or part in accordance with procedures set forth in the FOIA and the DoD Regulation.
How long will it take for my request to be processed?
In fairness to all requesters, requests are processed in order by date of receipt and according to their complexity. Whenever possible, an initial determination to release or deny a record is made within 20 working days after receipt of the request by the official who is designated to respond.
E-mail FOIA requests to firstname.lastname@example.org