Although The Foia Was Founded
Although the FOIA was founded in order for federal government agency records to be made public, citizens must be informed on how to obtain these records. There are a number of ways records can be obtained. The FOIA website is a helpful resource in obtaining records as well as helping citizens find what is already publicly available.
When searching for records, citizens must first check to see if the information they are searching for can already be found on the agency’s website. A lot of information is already readily available to the public, and the FOIA even provides a list of public agencies where one can search what agencies have posted their information online. However, if the information you are seeking is not publicly available, you can submit a request to the agency’s FOIA office. Under the FOIA, a request for any record can be requested and received in a specific format, such as electronic or print. There is no specific form to fill out when making a request, but the request must be in writing and must describe what information is being requested. Now, most federal agencies accept public records requests by email and fax. Requesting a record may only take a little matter of time, but getting a response or receiving those record may take longer. The rate at which a request is responded to, depends on the type and difficulty of the request, the agency, and backlog of requests currently awaiting response. However, if the request is taking an unreasonable amount of time, the FOIA Requester Service Center helps answers citizens questions in regards to any additional steps that could be taken to get a quicker response.
Even though anyone can make an FOIA request, it is not always fulfilled easily. Studies even show that writing a letter that is threatening to sue if the information being requested is not given is more effective than writing a friendly or even neutral letter. When writing a letter, one should be as specific as possible with the information being requested, this saves time for the agency and the one making the request.
Another valuable part of making a request is the price. Although making a request maybe free of charge, receiving records may come at a cost. Agencies are allowed to charge the average person for the records being searched for or duplicated. However, specific FOIA provisions do allow news media organizations to obtain fee waivers, nonprofit organizations may also benefit from fee reductions. However, average users requesting records often end up just paying the fees, because requesting fee waiver delays the process of getting the records they are seeking.
Time and money may delay the process of obtaining records, agencies are required to respond to the FOIA requests in a relevant time. The Department of Justice states that “Under the law, all federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, unless there are unusual circumstances.” Writing and filing an appeal to the federal district court about an unreasonable delay may be beneficial to speeding up the process, or obtaining the record. According to The Law of Journalism and Mass Communication, in 2013, the U.S Court of Appeals stated that agencies must do more than simply delay access or the decision, they must indicate a time frame of when they will produce either the documents being requested or the exemptions that explain why the records will be withheld.
It is important to remember that certain records may not be attainable due to exemptions. Some records are proven to cause harm, therefore courts will allow agencies to withhold the record or parts of it, from the public. The agency is obligated to reply, but is not to comply with a request. If a record is being withheld, the agency must cite the exemption and that exemption must explain why the record qualifies to that specific exemption. If the agency can accurately prove that the record could cause harm, they are allowed to refuse to disclose whether they even have the that record, the reply is called the Glomar response.