Before making a FOIA request, you should first try to obtain information by quicker, less formal means. You can access many records without going throught the formal FOIA request process. The easiest way to access some records is via the Internet, through the Federal Register or agencies’ online reading rooms.
FOIA requires agencies to publish the following information in the Federal Register:
- Descriptions of the agency's organizational structure and the addresses of offices where the public may obtain information
- General descriptions of the agency's operation
- FOIA procedures and descriptions of forms
- Substantive rules of general applicability and general policy statements
Reading rooms are typically accessible from the agency’s website. For more information on reading rooms, refer to the legal guide’s section on Finding and Getting the Records You Seek. Agencies also maintain physical reading rooms, which could be useful if you are able to visit their offices.
If the information is not available online, you can try simply asking for it. Agencies are required to make the following records available for public inspection and copying without a formal FOIA request:
- final opinions made in the adjudication of cases
- unpublished policy statements and agency interpretations
- staff manuals that affect the public
- copies of records released in response to previous FOIA requests that are of sufficient interest to the public that they will likely be the subject of additional requests
- a general index of released records determined to have been or likely be the subject of additional requests
Explain what records you’re seeking and that you’re prepared to file an official request if necessary. A record-keeper familiar with FOIA might honor a request made in-person or via telephone, saving both you and the agency time and (possibly) money. If that doesn’t work, you can try speaking to the agency’s FOIA officer.
If you cannot access the records through these informal means, you then will need to file a formal FOIA request. Click on one of the links below to get started: