FOIA Request (Freedom of Information Act)

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers

6. What information should I include in my FOIA Request?

In making your request you should be as specific as possible with regard to names, dates, places, events, subjects, etc. In addition, if you want records about a court case, you should provide the title of the case, the court in which the case was filed, and the nature of the case. If known, you should include any file designations or descriptions for the records that you want. You do not have to give a requested record’s name or title, but the more specific you are about the records or types of records that you want; the more likely it will be that the Department of Homeland Security will be able to locate those records.

7. What happens after the Department of Homeland Security component receives my FOIA request?

When a Department of Homeland Security component receives your FOIA request, it ordinarily will send you a letter acknowledging the request and assigning it an initial request number. If you do not provide the necessary information, the component will advise you of what additional information is required before further processing your request.

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8. What is the processing time for an FOIA request?

Under the statute, all federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. This time period does not begin until the request is actually received by the FOIA office of the Department of Homeland Security component that maintains the records sought. An agency is not required to send out the releasable documents by the last business day; it can send you a letter informing you of its decision and then send you the documents within a reasonable time afterward.

Under the FOIA, a component may extend the response time for an additional ten business days when:

  1. The component needs to collect responsive records from field offices
  2. The request involves a ‘voluminous’ amount of records that must be located, compiled, and reviewed; or
  3. The component needs to consult with another agency or other components of the Department of Homeland Security that have a substantial interest in the responsive information

Note: When such a time extension is needed, the component may notify you of this in writing and offer you the opportunity to modify or limit your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request.

9. What happens when a determination on my FOIA request is not made within the applicable time period?

When a determination on your request is not made within the applicable time period and you have not agreed to a different response timetable, you may file a suit in federal court to pursue a response. If, however, the court concludes that you have unreasonably refused to limit your request or to accept an alternate timetable for response, the court may find that the component’s failure to comply within the statutory time period is justified. The court may excuse the lack of a timely response if the component demonstrates that it has a backlog of requests that were received before yours, that it processes its requests on a first-come/first-served basis, and that it is making reasonable progress in reducing its backlog of pending FOIA requests. In such cases, the court may postpone its consideration of your lawsuit until the agency reaches your request in its processing backlog.

10. Can I get my FOIA requests processed on an expedited basis?

Under certain conditions you may be entitled to have your requests processed on an expedited basis. However, you should realize that whenever a FOIA request is expedited for a particular requester, taking that action results in an additional delay for previous requesters who have been waiting for a response. Therefore, in an effort to treat all requesters equitably, the Department of Homeland Security ordinarily will process a FOIA request ahead of others only in cases in which there will be a threat to someone’s life or physical safety, or where an individual will suffer the loss of substantial due process rights if the records are not processed on an expedited bases. In most cases, a request will not be expedited merely on the basis that the requester is facing a court deadline in a judicial proceeding.