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The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 5 U.S.C. Sec. 552 was enacted in 1966 so that any individual or organization would have access to government records, unless the records are protected by one of nine FOIA Exemptions, or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions. FOIA does not apply to records held by Congress, Federal Courts, state and local governments, private businesses, schools, private organizations, or private individuals.
The Electronic Freedom of Information Act of 1996 established a fourth category of
reading room records by requiring that each agency make available to the public reading
room records available electronically and be regarded as "electronic reading room". As
stated in the FOIA, a "FOIA Reading Room" must be made available to the public and contain
three categories of records (1) final opinions and orders (2) specific policy statements
and (3) certain administrative staff manuals. In
addition to the three categories, agencies must make available records that have been
deemed to be of public interest, based on frequent request for the records or a
determination by the agency that there is potential interest for the records.
Where To Make a FOIA Request
The Department of Commerce has a decentralized FOIA function, where units within each Bureau have FOIA websites, which is available on DOC Bureau FOIA Contacts. If you know the Bureau where your records may be found, you can go directly to that website. Each website provides information regarding the function of the Bureau to further assist you in locating the records you are requesting.
Each Federal Agency is required to have a FOIA website and is responsible for responding to requests specifically for that agency. Click here for a list of Principal FOIA Contacts at Federal Agencies. In addition, a list of all Federal Agencies and their Administrations and Bureaus can be found at Government on the www: United States of America.
Additional resources for information on the Freedom of Information Act can be found in:
(1) U.S. Department of Justice and the General Services Administration developed a question and answer guide for the Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act (dated November 1996) titled "Your Right to Federal Records."
(2) Information is provided by the Committee on Government Reform of the House of Representatives. "A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records."
How to Make a FOIA Request
When submitting your request by mail, please mark the envelope "FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT REQUEST." If you are making your request by e-mail please include a mailing address and a daytime telephone number so we can contact you if necessary. A FOIA request can be made for any agency record that is not publicly available. Describe as best as possible the records you are requesting. In your description include information such as the date and place the records were created, the file descriptions, subject matter, persons involved, and other pertinent details that will help identify the records. Please be aware that the FOIA does not require agencies to answer questions, or to create records to respond to a request.
Note: Keep a copy of your request. You may need to refer to it in further correspondence with the agency.
Sample FOIA Request Letter
Freedom of Information Act Request
Agency Head or FOIA Officer
Name of agency or agency component
Address (see discussion above on whom to contact)
Under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I am requesting copies of [identify the records as clearly and specifically as possible].
If there are any fees for searching or copying the records, please let me know before you fill my request. [Or, please supply the records without informing me of the cost if the fees do not exceed $______, which I agree to pay.]
If you deny all or any part of this request, please cite each specific exemption to think justify your withholding of information. Notify me of appeal procedures available under the law. Optional: If you have any questions about handling this request, you may telephone me at ___________ (home phone) or at ___________ (office phone).
A fee is not charged if the charges for
processing the request are less than or equal to the cost of routine collection and
processing of the fee. Therefore, if the total of charges due for processing a request is
$20 or less, no fee will be charged. If the estimated fee for search or duplication
charges exceed $25 the requester shall be notified, unless the requester has stated in the
FOIA request an amount sufficient to cover the estimated fees. The following is a chart of
the four specific categories and chargeable fees:
|1. Commercial Use Requesters||Search, Review and Duplication|
|2. Educational and Non-commercial Scientific Institutions Requesters||Duplication (excluding the cost of the first 100 pages)|
|3. Representative of the News Media||Duplication (excluding the cost of the first 100 pages)|
|4. All Other Requesters||Search and Duplication (excluding the cost of the first 2 hours of search and 100 pages)|
Waiver or Reduction of Fees
Documents shall be furnished without charge, or at reduced charges if disclosure of the
information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to
public understanding of the operations or activities of the government, and is not
primarily in the operations or activities of the government, and is not primarily in the
commercial interest of the requester. 15 CFR § 4.9 (c)
For additional information on FOIA FEES go to: www.rdc.noaa.gov/~FOIA/49-rev.htm
Under FOIA, you have a right to a response within twenty business days excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays. The period begins on the day the request is actually received by the FOIA office which maintains the records requested. DOC makes every effort to meet this time frame, however, under certain circumstances, this period may be extended up to 30 business days. Agencies are allowed an additional ten business days when: (1) they need to collect responsive records from field offices; (2) the request involves a "voluminous" amount of records which must be located, compiled, and reviewed; or (3) if an agency must consult with another agency which has a substantial interest in the responsive document. When an extension is needed, the requester may be notified and offered the opportunity to modify or limit their request.
The court has sanctioned a practice of generally handling backlogged FOIA requests on a
"first-in, first out" basis. The electronic FOIA amendments authorizes agencies
to promulgate regulations providing for "multitrack processing" of their FOIA
requests. The Department of Commerce has a decentralized FOIA system, and each
Bureau/Administration may use two or more processing tracks to distinguish between simple
and more complex requests. This will be based on the number of pages involved, some other
measure of the amount of work and/or time needed to process the request, and whether the
request qualifies for expedited processing as described below.
You may be entitled to an expedited response of less than 20 days. A FOIA request may receive "expedited" treatment in cases where there is a threat to someone's life or physical safety; the requestor is primarily engaged in disseminating information and has established that the request is urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity; or where an individual will suffer the loss of substantial due process rights if the records are not processed on an expedited basis.
You may file an administrative appeal for various reasons, including: if you believe the determination of your request is incorrect; if records responsive to your request are withheld; has not been timely determined; you were denied an expedited processing of your request; denied a fee waiver; dispute that a record does not exist; or that a record is not readily reproducible in the form requested.
You have 30 (thirty) calendar days after the date of the written denial or, if there has been mo determination, on the applicable time limit to file the appeal. The appeal should include a copy of the original request, the initial denial, if any, and an explanation of the reasons why the records requested should be made available and why the initial denial, if any, was in error. The appeal letter and envelope should be marked "Freedom of Information Appeal" and the letter of appeal should include the request number assigned to your initial request. You should send your appeal letter to :
Assistant General Counsel for Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce
14th Street and Constitution Avenue, NW Room H5875
Washington, DC 20230
The Department of Commerce's Assistant General Counsel will make a determination on your appeal within 20 business days.
Electronic Reading Room
The Freedom of Information Act (5 USC 552)
Privacy Act of 1974 (and Amendments)
Electronic FOIA Amendments of 1996
Annual FOIA Report - 1998
Annual FOIA Report - 1999
Annual FOIA Report - 2000
Annual FOIA Report -
Annual FOIA Report - 2002
Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Administration
Office of General Counsel
Department of Commerce Policy Statement
Department Organization Orders (DOO's)
Department of Commerce Administrative Staff Manuals
Department Administrative Orders (DAO's)
Records and Forms
Frequently Requested Records
DOC Person Finder
DOC Field Location Handbook
DOC Bankcard Listing
Energy Task Force
Major Information Systems
Government Information Locator Service (GILS) - GILS records identify public information resources within the Federal Government, describe the information available in these resources, and assist in obtaining the information. http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/gils/index.html
National Technical Information Service (NTIS) - NTIS is the central source for U.S. Government scientific, technical, and business information. It is known as the government's central source for the sale of scientific, technical, engineering, and related business information produced by or for the U.S. government and complementary material from international sources. www.ntis.gov/search.html
Stat-USA Internet - Stat-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, is the site for the U.S. business, economic and trade community, providing authoritative information from the Federal government. http://www.stat-usa.gov/
U.S. Superintendent of Documents - All documents at the U.S. Superintendent of Documents are shelved by government organization and not by subject matter. The documents include information about U.S. Government laws, regulations, statistics, maps, and bibliographies. http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html
Federal Register - The Federal Register
is the official daily publication for Rules, Proposed Rules, and Notices of Federal
agencies and organizations, as well as Executive Orders and other Presidential Documents. www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs/aces/aces140.html
Department of Commerce Selected Publications
Commerce Business Daily
· ExportAmerica -- A federal source for your global business needs. Source: BXA
· Bureau of Economic Analysis and Census Economic Indicators Release Schedule for 2000
· Survey of Current Business and Other BEA Publications Source: BEA
· Census Bureau Publications
· Journal of Research of the National Institute of Standards and TechnologySource: NIST
· NIST Recent General Publications
· NIST TechniPubs
· U.S. Industry & Trade Outlook®® -- Essential for market researchers, account executives, analysts, and economists Source: ITA
· Falling Through the Net: Defining the Digital Divide - July 1999 Source: NTIA
· The Emerging Digital Economy II - June 1999 (a PDF document)
Main and Law Libraries (located in HCHB)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Library
National Institute of Standards and Technology Virtual Library
Federal Depository Libraries