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Freedom of Information Act (Federal) Research Guide

This guide discusses how to use the federal Freedom of Information Act , 5 U.S.C. 552, to obtain records from federal government agencies when those records are not published in the Federal Register or distributed by the Government Printing Office.

Handbooks and Treatises

The books below provide additional advice on interpreting the federal Freedom of Information Act and/or drafting FOIA requests.

1. U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Government Reform, A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records (2005)

This House Report (H. Rep. 109-226) explains the process of making a FOIA request, how agencies must respond, and how to file administrative and judicial FOIA appeals if your request is not filled. Includes sample request and appeal letters.

2. Federal Open Government Guide (10th ed. 2009), Corinna J. Zarek, ed. (Formerly How to Use the Federal FOI Act by Rebecca Daugherty [KF5753 .H69 2004]).

This brief pamphlet is published by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. It explains what materials are and are not available under FOIA, how to make a FOIA request, and how to appeal its denial. Appendices include a sample FOIA request letter, sample FOIA appeal letter, and sample FOIA complaint. The site even includes an automated FOIA Letter Generator.

3. Federal Information Disclosure (3d ed. 2000-) James T. O'Reilly [KF5753 .O74 2000]; also available as Westlaw's FEDINFO database.

Kept up to date with pocket parts. Covers not only the Freedom of Information Act, but also thePrivacy Act and the Government in the Sunshine Act. Provides in-depth explanations of these acts with extensive citations to primary sources, including analysis of the legislative history of FOIA (chapters 2 and 3). An appendix includes the following forms, among others: simple disclosure request, request for disclosure in controversial cases, model appeal letter, sample FOIA complaint.

4. Guidebook to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts (2d ed. 1986-), compiled and edited by Justin D. Franklin and Robert F. Bouchard [KF5753 .B68 1986].

Looseleaf for updating. Provides detailed analysis of the federal Freedom of Information Act, with extensive citations to case law. Also provides appendices reprinting state freedom of information statutes from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

5. Freedom of Information and the Right to Know: The Origins of Applications of the FOIA. [KF5753 .F64 1999; also available online through eBrary].

This examination of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) traces the American origins of the belief that citizens of a democracy have a natural right to know about the workings of their government. The issue began in the colonies and came to a head in the 1950s when escalating government secrecy led the press to demand "open government." declaring that "the public business is the public's business," a series of crusading newspaper editors aroused public support for the Freedom of Information Act which was passed in 1966.

6. Freedom of Information Act Guide (FOIA-GUIDE), (Department of Justice)

The Justice Department Guide to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is an overview discussion of the FOIA's exemptions, its law enforcement record exclusions, and its most important procedural aspects. Prepared by the attorney and law clerk staff of the Office of Information and Privacy, it is updated and revised biennially (every two years).

On Westlaw, the FOIA-GUIDE database "contains the Justice Department's Freedom of Information Act Guide which addresses the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552. An overview prepared by the Office of Information and Privacy and the Office of Management and Budget of the provisions of the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, is included. A Citizen's Guide to the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 by the House Committee on Government Operations is also included." (Database description is from Westlaw's scope note.) User I.D. and password required for log-in to Westlaw.