U.S. Government Information for Investigative Reporting: FOIA

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FOIA for Investigative Reporting

"Each federal agency is responsible for meeting its FOIA responsibilities for its own records. A list of Principal FOIA Contacts At Federal Agencies is available from this site. Likewise, each Department of Justice component is responsible for processing FOIA requests for the records that it maintains. Consult the DOJ FOIA Reference Guide and the List of Individual DOJ Components and FOIA Contacts if you plan to make a FOIA request to the Department of Justice. Before making a FOIA request, you should first browse About DOJ, Briefing Room, Reports & Publications of the main DOJ website, and each component’s FOIA Library (formally known as an “electronic Reading Room”, which is a part of each component’s FOIA website), which contain information already available to the public."

From http://www.foia.gov/foia-info.html


The following database provides examples of investigative reporting using FOIA:

FOIA Exemptions

The Freedom of Information Act, while providing a means to obtain U.S. federal records from 97 federal agencies subject to FOIA, has limitations. For example, FOIA applies to the executive branch (but not the White House.)  There are also exemptions applied to specific types of records. The U.S. Department of Justice provides the following visual to help illustrate the what is not covered by FOIA:


 These websites help to explain the exemptions:

FOIA Requests

Each agency handles FOIA request slightly differently, however, any agency that must comply to the FOIA also must provide access to information about making request and report back basic information about the requests.  These websites provide a portal to the different agencies FOIA information.

FOIA Reading Rooms

Most agencies provide information about FOIA requests and digital access requested records in a FOIA electronic "reading rooms" or "libraries".  There are several ways you can access these readings rooms which include:

1. Start from the portal FOIA.gov

2. Search in USA.gov for agency, locate the link to the agency's FOIA page and then look for the "reading room" or library


Below are examples of FOIA reading rooms: