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Freedom of Information Act

Reference Guide


The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, gives you the right to request access to federal agency records or information. All U.S. government agencies are required to disclose agency records to the public unless the records are protected by one or more of the FOIA's nine exemptions or three exclusions. The nine exemption categories that authorize government agencies to withhold information are:

    (1) classified information for national defense or foreign policy;
    (2) internal personnel rules and practices;
    (3) information that is exempt under other laws;
    (4) trade secrets and confidential business information;
    (5) inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters that are protected by legal privileges;
    (6) personnel and medical files;
    (7) law enforcement records or information;
    (8) information concerning bank supervision; and
    (9) geological and geophysical information.

The three exclusions are rarely used and pertain to particularly sensitive law enforcement and national security matters.

Access to Certain Records Without a FOIA Request

The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) makes certain records available without requiring a FOIA request. Such records include:

    (1) final opinions made by OPM in adjudication of cases;
    (2) OPM policy statements and interpretations adopted by OPM but not published in the Federal Register;
    (3) OPM administrative staff manuals and instructions that affect a member of the public;
    (4) copies of records disclosed in response to a FOIA request that have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests; and
    (5) OPM's Annual FOIA Report.

OPM's Freedom of Information Act Web page provides a link to OPM's Government Information Locator Service (GILS) site, which lists OPM's record locator systems. It also provides access to a list of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Contacts within OPM and a link to the U.S. Department of Justice FOIA and Privacy Act Web pages.

Where to Make a FOIA Request

Send your FOIA request directly to the OPM FOIA Requester Service Center at the following address:

U.S. Office of Personnel Management
FOIA Requester Service Center
1900 E Street, N.W.
Room 5415
Washington, D.C. 20415-7900

You may also submit your request to the OPM FOIA Requester Service Center by fax or email. The fax number is (202) 418-3251 and the email address is

If you send your FOIA request by mail, please remember to write "Attention: FOIA Request" on the front of your request envelope.

How to make a FOIA Request

You may make a FOIA request for any agency records; however, the records may be protected by one of the FOIA exemptions or exclusions. You must submit your FOIA request in writing and prominently note, "Freedom of Information Act Request" on the first page. Your FOIA request should describe the records sought in sufficient detail to enable the OPM office to locate the records with a reasonable amount of effort. Whenever possible, you should include specific information about each record sought, such as the date, number, title or name, author, recipient, and subject matter of the record.

Please be aware that the FOIA does not require OPM to do research for you, to analyze data, to answer written questions, or to create records in response to a request.

Time for Response

OPM has three methods for responding to your FOIA request. The methods, which have different response times, are regular processing, expedited processing, and extended response time processing.

Regular Processing

Once the appropriate OPM office receives your FOIA request, it will determine within twenty business days (excluding Saturday, Sundays, and legal public holidays) whether to disclose or deny the records sought.

Expedited Processing

You may be entitled to expedited processing of your FOIA request if you certify that you have a compelling need. A compelling need may be a threat to someone's life or physical safety. You may also have a compelling need if you are primarily engaged in disseminating information to the public and the information is urgently needed to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activity. The request for expedited processing must include your reasons why your request should be expedited. You should also certify that your reasons are true and correct. The appropriate office will notify you of its decision to expedite your request within ten days after receiving your request. If the OPM office decides to expedite your request, it will be processed as soon as practicable. If the office denies your request for expedited processing, you have the right to submit an appeal, which OPM will handle expeditiously.

Extended Response Time processing

Under the FOIA, OPM may extend the response time for an additional ten business days based upon unusual circumstances involved in the request, such as the volume of records sought.


An OPM office will furnish, without charge, reasonable quantities of material that it has available for free distribution to the public. Under the FOIA, OPM is permitted to charge certain fees for processing FOIA requests.

Fees may vary depending on the requester's category. Commercial requesters may be charged fees for searching, reviewing, and duplicating records. Noncommercial requesters, such as educational or scientific institutions and the news media, are only charged for the duplicating expenses, after the first 100 pages of copies. All other requesters who do not fall within either of these two categories are not charged for the review of the records, only for the search and duplication of the records. No charge is assessed for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of copies.

Fees less than $25.00

If the total fee for searching, reviewing, and duplicating is less than $25.00, no fee is assessed.

Fees between $25.00 and $250.00

If the estimated fees are between $25.00 and $250.00, OPM will not release the records unless you have agreed to pay all fees at the time of your request. If you do not include an acceptable agreement to pay the fees at the time of your request, OPM will promptly notify you of the estimated fees. Once you provide OPM with an agreement to pay all fees, OPM will release the records.

Fees over $250.00

If the estimated fees exceed $250.00, OPM may require you to pay the fees in advance.

Fee Waivers

OPM may waive fees, if the disclosure of the requested information contributes significantly to public's understanding of the operation or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

Initial Request Determination

Once the OPM office has processed your request and any fee issues have been resolved, the office will send you a written notice explaining its determination to disclose or deny records. If information is being withheld, OPM will specify the FOIA exemption that pertains to the denial. You will also be advised of your right to appeal any adverse determination. If pages of the requested information are withheld in their entirety, OPM will usually specify the number of pages being withheld or will make a reasonable effort to estimate the amount of withheld information.


When OPM denies records or a fee waiver, you may file an appeal in writing to:

U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Office of the General Counsel
1900 E Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20415-1300

If the denial is for information maintained by the Office of General Counsel, you may file an appeal to:

U.S. Office of Personnel Management
Deputy Director
1900 E Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20415-0001

An appeal should include a copy of the initial request, a copy of the letter denying the request, and a statement explaining why you disagree with OPM's decision. You should write, "Freedom of Information Act Appeal" on the front of the envelope and on the first page of the appeal letter.

Judicial Review

If your appeal has been decided and you still believe that OPM has not handled your FOIA request in accordance with the law, you may seek judicial review. Judicial review is a litigation process in which you challenge OPM's action in a lawsuit filed in Federal Court. You may file the suit in a Federal District Court in any of the following places: (1) where you reside; (2) where you have your principal place of business; (3) in the District of Columbia; or (4) where the records are located.