Legal Resources Freedom of Information Act Guide
When the FOIA office receives your FOIA request you will receive a letter acknowledging receipt of your request and your initial request number.
- However, if your request requires additional identifying information, the FOIA office will not process your request, but it will advise you of what additional information is required; and
- Under law, all federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days of its actual receipt by the FOIA office, excluding weekends and legal holidays.
Processing Your FOIA Request
- Our Multi-track Processing System
When a completed request is received, it is placed into one of three tracks for processing:
- Track 1 - records that are readily identifiable and previously cleared for release (includes those capable of multiple requests and placed in the Public Reference Room);
- Track 2 - records that are readily identifiable, or are not voluminous, and require limited review; or
- Track 3 - complex and/or voluminous records requiring a significant search and/or review.
Each track is processed on a first in, first out basis. Requesters are permitted to modify their requests to obtain processing on a faster track.
We make every effort to respond to FOIA requests as promptly as possible, but sometimes it's impossible to do so within the specified time period. Under FOIA, the Commission may extend the response time for an additional 10 business days when:
- The FOIA office needs to collect responsive records from another office within the agency or a field office;
- The request involves a "voluminous" amount of records which must be located, compiled, and reviewed (some requests require line-by-line review of hundreds of pages of documents); or
- The Commission must consult with another agency which has a substantial
interest in the
responsive material or among two or more other components of the Commission.
There are other reasons for a FOIA request delay:
- Due to a backlog of previously received requests that are awaiting processing; and/or
- It is necessary to prepare a requester's rights notification When a determination on your request is not made within the deadline described above and you have not agreed to a different response deadline, you may file suit in federal court to obtain a response.
However, if the court concludes that you have unreasonably refused to limit your request or to accept an alternate timetable for response, the court may find that the Commission's failure to comply within the statutory time period is justified.
- Expedited Processing
Visit our Help Section to learn How-to file an Expedited Process Request. Under certain conditions, you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis. However, this results in an additional delay for previous requesters. Therefore, in an effort to treat all requesters equitably, the Commission will expedite a FOIA request only under extreme circumstances such as:
- There will be a threat to someone's life or physical safety; or
- Where an individual will suffer the loss of substantial due process rights if the records are not processed on an expedited basis.
FOIA requests will not be expedited simply because the requester is facing a court deadline in some other judicial proceeding or merely because the requester is a representative of the news media.
In both criminal prosecutions and civil litigation there is a process known as "discovery," which gives the parties certain rights to obtain relevant information apart from FOIA. These discovery rights are usually sufficient to protect the requester's due process rights. However, in administrative proceedings that do not include a discovery-like process, expedited access may be granted when time is of the essence.
As for FOIA requests made by the news media, FOIA requires that requests be processed on an expedited basis if made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information to the public and the information is urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity. Similarly, the Commission also expedites requests when the subject is of widespread and exceptional media interest and the information sought involves possible questions about the government's integrity which affect public confidence.