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 Publishing Office.


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Handbooks and Treatises

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

1. Guide to the Freedom of Information Act (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 on a rolling basis as significant new developments occur.

2. Federal Information Disclosure (2012-) James T. O'Reilly; available as Westlaw's FEDINFO database.

Covers not only the Freedom of Information Act, but also the Privacy 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.

3. FOIA Wiki. (Formerly Federal Open Government Guide (10th ed. 2009), Corinna J. Zarek, ed.)

This wiki is made available by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, with contributions from the FOIA Project, TRAC, MuckRock, the National Security Archive, FOIA Mapper, and Open the Government. It explains what materials are and are not available under FOIA, how to make a FOIA request, and how to appeal its denial.

4. Guidebook to the Freedom of Information and Privacy Acts (Current), edited by Cornish F. Hitchcock [Westlaw].

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. 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 (2012)

This House Report (H. Rep. 112-689) 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.