Frequently Asked Questions
Table of Contents
About FOIA and FOIAonline
- What is the FOIA?
- What is FOIAonline?
- Who are the participating agencies in FOIAonline?
- Will the FOIA libraries (reading rooms) of participating agencies still exist once an agency begins participating in FOIAonline?
- Does FOIAonline comply with section 508?
- What is the difference between FOIAonline and FOIA.gov?
- Do I have to pay to file a request?
- What can I do in FOIAonline?
- What can I find on FOIAonline?
- Is FOIAonline limited to the agencies in the agency pull-down menus on the site?
- What are the advantages of registering with FOIAonline?
- How am I notified when records are available?
- How long will the records be available for review?
- Do the reports generated from FOIAonline differ from the federal Agencies/Departments Annual FOIA Reports submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice?
- What type of information might agencies choose not to post?
- What do the different phases' bubbles mean (Submitted, Evaluation, Assignment, Processing, Closed)?
How do I...?
Creating a request
- Request a fee waiver?
- Request expedited processing?
- Include documents or files or other information with my FOIA request?
- Know if my request was submitted?
- Track the progress of my request?
- Amend my request once it has been submitted?
- Communicate with agency staff?
- Make a request on behalf of someone else?
- Search for records that may be responsive to another FOIA request?
- File an appeal?
- Contact you if I get an error message using FOIAonline?
- Make a FOIA request to an agency that is not part of FOIAonline?
Personal Information and Privacy
- If I have an account on FOIAonline, what personal information do you share with the public?
- Can everyone see the records sent in response to my request?
About FOIA and FOIAonlineWhat is the FOIA?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the law that allows individuals to gain access to federal records. Some records may be withheld or partially withheld if the information falls under one, or more, of nine exemptions and three exclusions.
Learn more: FOIA.gov | U.S. Code section enacting FOIA (PDF) | Information on nine exemptions and three exclusions.
What is FOIAonline?
FOIAonline allows you to:
- request information under FOIA from participating FOIAonline agencies,
- track the status of your requests,
- file appeals (registered users only), and
- search for other people's requests, appeals and responsive records.
Read our user guide (PDF).
Who are the participating agencies in FOIAonline?
Agencies participating as of October 1, 2012:
- Environmental Protection Agency;
- National Archives and Records Administration, Office of General Counsel;
- Department of Commerce (except the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office);
- Merit Systems Protection Board; and
- Federal Labor Relations Authority.
Additions as of October 1, 2013:
- U.S. Customs and Border Protection; and
- Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.
Additions as of February 1, 2014:
- Department of the Navy (including Navy and Marine Corps).
Additions as of October 1, 2014:
- General Services Administration
- Small Business Administration
Addition as of October 15, 2014:
- U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (Only accepting requests for records that DO NOT contain Personally Identifiable Information (PII). Requests for records containing PII must be submitted directly with USCIS using the methods described on our How to File a FOIA/PA Request page.)
Addition as of February 17, 2015:
- Federal Communication Commission
Please note: At this time, only certain portions of these participating agencies (e.g. NARA) have implemented FOIAonline.
Will the FOIA libraries (reading rooms) of participating agencies still exist once an agency begins participating in FOIAonline?
Yes. FOIAonline offers partners the ability to post responsive documents. Posted records are then available for the public.
Does FOIAonline comply with section 508?
FOIAonline conforms to section 508 requirements. Each participating agency is responsible for ensuring documents posted are section 508 compliant.
What is the difference between FOIAonline and FOIA.gov?
FOIAonline is a multi-agency web-application that enables the public to submit FOIA requests to participating agencies, track the progress of an agency’s response to a request, search for information previously made available, and generate up-to-the-minute reports on FOIA processing. FOIAonline also is a multi-agency workflow system and repository that enables partner agencies to receive, manage, track, and respond to FOIA requests, generate reports including the annual FOIA report that is submitted to the Department of Justice, communicate with requestors, and manage their FOIA case files as electronic records.
FOIA.gov is a government-wide FOIA resource and a flagship initiative of the Department of Justice’s Open Government plan. On this website, the public will have access to all the FOIA data collected by the Department of Justice and will be able to view the data graphically and generate reports. Additionally, the website contains information to educate the public about how the FOIA works, spotlights significant FOIA releases and explains how to make FOIA requests to federal agencies.
Do I have to pay to file a request?
There is no fee to file a FOIA request. FOIA established four fee categories that agencies use to determine if fees will be charged: (1) commercial requesters may be charged fees for searching for records, reviewing the records, and photocopying them; (2) news media, educational or noncommercial scientific institutions are charged for photocopying, after the first 100 pages; (3) (4) all other requesters (requesters who do not fall into any of the other three categories) are charged for photocopying after 100 pages and for time spent searching for records in excess of two hours. In the event that fees are incurred beyond what you are entitled to for free, please indicate a specific amount that you are willing to pay. If you do not indicate another amount in FOIAonline, please be advised that some agency regulations provide that making a FOIA request represents an agreement to pay fees up to $25 (See Agency specific regulations from the links on the main page).
Using FOIAonlineWhat can I do in FOIAonline?
You can file a request, run reports, and search for records (note that information you can search varies by agency). A registered user can also file appeals using FOIAonline.
What can I find on FOIAonline?
The information you can search varies by agency according to their FOIA policies. You may search for requests, appeals and records released in response to a request. All agencies provide “day forward information”, i.e., information on requests and/or appeals received on or after October 1, 2012 when FOIAOnline was launched. If you wish to obtain information from participating agencies that is not available here, please contact the participating agency or submit a FOIA request through FOIAonline.
Is FOIAonline limited to the agencies listed in the agency pull-down menus on the site?
Yes, the pull-down menu listing agencies include all participating agencies.
What are the advantages of registering with FOIAonline?
Registered users will log onto FOIAonline and not have to re-enter contact information for each search. Registered users can also:
- Track the progress of each request,
- Communicate directly with the staff handling requests at all points in the process, and
- Receive records electronically, eliminating mailing fees and delivery delays.
How am I notified when records are available?
We will send you by email a link to the responsive records available through the FOIAonline system. We will send you multiple messages in the case of interim responses. If you have not registered and have not provided an email address to us, we will mail the response to the physical address you provided in your request.
How long will the records be available for review?
The records will be available for review for the length of the records retention schedule. Generally, all participating agencies in FOIAonline follow the same approved record schedules of two years for full grant responses, and six years for all other response.
Do the reports generated from FOIAonline differ from the federal Agencies/Departments Annual FOIA Reports submitted to the U.S. Department of Justice?
Yes - The Annual FOIA Report submitted and cleared by the Department of Justice is based on fiscal year reporting metrics for an entire reporting agency. The reports that can be generated by the public on FOIAonline may not include the full fiscal year reporting statistics or represent an entire agency’s FOIA activities. In some cases, only a portion of an agency may be using FOIAonline. Therefore, it is not possible to generate agency-wide totals for certain agencies that have not fully implemented FOIA.
What type of information might agencies choose not to post?
FOIAonline provides participating agencies with the ability to post responsive documents for public access. Agencies may determine that certain responsive documents should not be released to the general public because they contain sensitive information (e.g., personal identifiable information), and therefore, the agency does not make it available on FOIAonline. Requesters may also ask that their records be provided through an alternative means, and the responding agency may make the determination that posting on FOIAonline would be of limited benefit. There may be other reasons why an agency chooses to not make a particular release available through FOIAonline such as the availability of resources. Records that are being withheld by an agency pursuant to a FOIA exemption are also not available in FOIAonline.
What do the different phases' bubbles mean (Submitted, Evaluation, Assignment, Processing, Closed)?
How do I...?
Creating a requestRequest a fee waiver?
Select "yes" in the fee waiver section of the "Create a request" page to make a request. To grant the waiver, a participating agency may require additional information based on that agency's regulations.
Request expedited processing?
Select "yes" in the expedited processing section of the "Create a request" page to make a request.
Include documents or files or other information with my FOIA request?
You can add a description of your request in the "Description" field of the "Create a request" page. Descriptions are limited to 2,000 characters. You can also attach documents and files in any format. Lengthy descriptions should be uploaded as an attachment when you submit your request.
Know if my request was submitted?
Once you have successfully submitted your request, you will receive an instant confirmation message with a tracking number and the status of your request within FOIAonline.
Track the progress of my request?
You can track your request by searching on the request number that we provide in your confirmation notice. If you have registered, you will be provided with a view your requests once you log onto FOIAonline. Click on the desired request number for additional details.
OtherAmend my request once it has been submitted?
If you have registered (created an account), you can amend your request through the online system. If you have not registered, you must contact the agency directly, independent of the online system.
Communicate with agency staff?
Registered users can receive correspondence directly from the processing agency through the system and respond accordingly. If you have not registered, you must contact the agency directly, independent of the online system
Make a request on behalf of someone else?
If you have registered, you can use the organization field in the contact section of the "Create Account" page to designate the client name. You should also include the person's name in the description of the request.
Search for records that may be responsive to another FOIA request?
Select the Search function to review previously released records. Records that you are interested in may have already been released.
File an appeal?
Only a registered user may file an appeal through FOIAonline. Use the "Appeal this FOIA Request" button on the left side of the Request Details screen. A user who has not registered must follow the agency's instructions on how to file an appeal available on each individual agency’s website.
Contact you if I get an error message using FOIAonline?
Contact the FOIAonline Help Desk by phone at 855-246-FOIA(3642) (9:00am – 5:00pm ET, M-F) or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Make a FOIA request to an agency that is not part of FOIAonline?
You may make a request to any federal agency. Each agency has their own instructions for submitting requests. These are available from each agency's FOIA web page, which are generally linked directly from their agency's home page. These instructions and links have also been collected and are available on FOIA.gov.
Personal Information and PrivacyIf I have an account on FOIAonline, what personal information do you share with the public?
We do not share any personal information with the public other than your name. However, we may share personal information you have typed in the "Description" field of the "Create a request" page if that information is not considered Personally Identifiable Information. This information is reviewed by the processing agency and a decision is made whether to display it to the public or not based on what is provided or if the agency has a policy not to share it generally.
Can everyone see the records sent in response to my request?
An agency must choose whether or not to release records on a document-by-document basis. Agencies may decide to make all records you have requested available to the public. They might also release records that contain sensitive information directly to you but not make them available to the public.