Access to Records from the Federal Government

If you are seeking records held by the United States government, you will need to become familiar with the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), which was enacted in 1966. FOIA provides access to the public records of all departments, agencies, and offices of the Executive Branch of the federal government, including the Executive Office of the President. FOIA does not cover the sitting President, Congress, or the federal judiciary. For information on accessing information from these sources, see the Access to Presidential Records, Access to Congress, and Access to Courts and Court Records sections of this guide, respectively.

FOIA requires federal agencies to:

  1. Provide access to their records and information, barring certain exceptions;
  2. Suffer penalties for refusing to release covered information;
  3. Appoint a FOI officer charged with responding to information requests; and
  4. Publish agency regulations and policy statements, including their rules for handling FOIA information requests, in the Federal Register.

The heart of FOIA is a "FOIA request": a written notice to the FOIA officer of a federal agency stating which records you are seeking. You should be forewarned, however, that although FOIA is a powerful tool for getting government information, it involves a rather complicated set of procedures. Before you file a request, you should spend some time reviewing each of the sections listed below. Click on one of the following sections to get started:

Subject Area: