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Department of Commerce FOIA Website

FOIA Handbook/Guide


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)

Dear __________:

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:

Category Chargeable Service
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:

Response Time

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.

Expedited Processing

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

FOIA Policies

The Freedom of Information Act (5 USC 552)

Privacy Act of 1974 (and Amendments)

Electronic FOIA Amendments of 1996

FOIA Updates

Annual FOIA Report - 1998

Annual FOIA Report - 1999

Annual FOIA Report - 2000

Annual FOIA Report - 2001

Annual FOIA Report - 2002

Final Opinions

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

Records Management

Forms Management

Frequently Requested Records

Organization Chart

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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)

Department Online Libraries
Main and Law Libraries (located in HCHB)

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Library

National Institute of Standards and Technology Virtual Library

Federal Depository Libraries