Freedom of Information Act & Privacy Act, U.S. Department of Commerce

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U.S. Department of Commerce
FOIA Reference 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.

Where to Request Records

If you know which Commerce Bureau maintains the records you are seeking, you can request the information directly from that Bureau's FOIA/Privacy Act staff. Otherwise, send your request to; pr by postal service to: Department of Commerce, Departmental Freedom of Information Act Officer, Office of Management and Organization, 1401 Constitution Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C. 20230. Please mark the envelope "Freedom of Information Act Request."

How to File a FOIA Request

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.

FOIA requests must be in writing. Please include a mailing address, a daytime telephone number so we may contact you if necessary, and keep a copy of your request; you may need to refer to it for 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 you think justifies 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:


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)

The Department of Commerce, under 15 C.F.R. 4.11(c)(1) and (c)(2), applies the following "Fee Schedule."



(i) Manual Search

Actual salary rate of employee involved, plus 16 percent of salary rate.

(ii) Computerized search

Actual direct cost, including operator time.

(iii) Duplication of records:
(A) Paper copy reproduction

$.16 per page

(iii) Duplication of records:
(B) Other reproduction (e.g., computer disk or printout, microfilm, microfiche, or microform).

Actual direct cost, including operator time.

(iii) Duplication of records:
(iv) Review of records (including redaction)

Actual salary rate of employee conducting review, plus 16 percent of salary rate.

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 commercial interest of the requester. 15 CFR § 4.11 (k)

For additional information on FOIA FEES go to: Sec 4.11 Fees (link to Government Printing Office website)

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 have the right to appeal a denial or partial denial of the FOIA request.  An appeal must be received within 30 calendar days of the date of the response letter by the Assistant General Counsel for Administration (Office), Room 5898-C, U.S. Department of Commerce, 14th and Constitution Avenue, N.W. Washington, D.C.  20230.  Your appeal may also be sent by e-mail to or by facsimile (fax) to 202-482-2552.  The appeal must include a copy of the original request, the response to the request and a statement of the reason why withheld records should be made available and why denial of the records was in error.  The submission (including e-mail and fax submissions) is not complete without the required attachments.  The appeal letter, the envelope, the e-mail subject line, and the fax cover sheet should be clearly marked "Freedom of Information Act Appeal."  The e-mail, fax machine, and Office are monitored only on working days during normal business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday).  FOIA appeals posted to the e-mail box, fax machine or Office after normal business hours will be deemed received on the next normal business day.

The Department of Commerce's Assistant General Counsel will make a determination on your appeal within 20 business days.