What Do You Really Know About the Freedom of Information Act?
Vol.5 Issue 8
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is everyone’s responsibility.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is everyone’s responsibility, but what exactly is the Freedom of Information Act? You may have heard about the Freedom of Information Act and the culture of government openness and transparency, but what is a FOIA request for information and what should I do if I am asked to provide information? Or what should I say if I am asked about the FAA’s FOIA program?

Simply put, the FOIA is a disclosure statute that requires federal government agencies to release agency records requested by members of the public. A member of the public can also be a federal employee; however, a FOIA request is not the same thing as a federal office looking for information from another federal office to do their daily jobs. Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act has provided the public with the right to request access to records from any federal agency, and is a United States federal law that, upon written request, grants the public access to information possessed by government agencies. Anyone can request information, including U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, organizations, associations and universities, and all agency records that were created or obtained by a federal agency can be requested.

At some point in your government career, you may be called upon to respond to a request for records. If you suspect the request may be a FOIA request, you should promptly consult with a FOIA expert or your local FOIA point of contact before releasing any information or responding to the FOIA requester. Even though agencies are required to publish instructions on how to make a FOIA request and most FOIA requests will be routed through the proper channels, sometimes members of the public do not know how to submit a FOIA request, and may merely choose an office where they think the records are maintained. This is typically how a request for information may mistakenly land on your desk. For legal reasons, it’s best to forward any requests and let the FOIA subject matter expert communicate directly with the requester. Agencies are required to route/forward any misdirected requests to the proper office, but do not panic. If this scenario happens and you receive a request for records, or if you receive instructions from a FOIA point of contact to process a request for records, the main points to keep in mind are (1) make sure you always coordinate the FOIA effort through a FOIA subject matter expert to ensure a proper response and (2) know that we are obligated by law to respond to FOIA requests within a tight timeline; so be timely in your response. If a requester feels that a request has been tampered with or delayed, he/she can file a lawsuit.

If you’re interested in learning more about FOIA, training is available on eLMS, including FOIA for Federal Employees (course# 30160054: 1 hr. - Highlights ways that federal employees can assist their agency in the administration of the law); Department of Justice FOIA Executive Briefing (course# 30160047: 15 min. - Short video from DoJ Director of the Office of Information Policy for agency senior executives, offers a general overview of the FOIA and the importance of their agency's FOIA program).

For more questions about FOIA you may contact the AMC FOIA Program Manager Edward Drake or Dedra Goodman with the FAA FOIA Program Management Office, AFN-400. Although the Office of Information Policy at the Department of Justice is responsible for providing government-wide guidance on the FOIA, AFN-400 is responsible for the FAA portion of the program and develops national policies, guidance, and procedures to conduct the FAA’s national FOIA program.

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