Freedorn of Information Act R

kYhat is & Freedsffi! sf Inforunatilon & cr {F0lA} &equ*$tf

How Do
ith the seemingly
rurnpa;nt Freedom of

I lvlake One?
ny Slur K. Hanrsrrnr,o, ACP
which such records are not avillable to
the public. (See sidebar on page 42). The exceptions entail matters one might expect, such as those having to do with national security, per-

Information Act media requests made in the last several years, you might be surprised to learn that the Act was initially enacted it 1965 afi took effect on July 5, L957 . Due to the proliferation of electronic information during the 1990s, the Electronic

sonal information, and even those having to do with trade
secrets. You can see a complete list of the FOIA exemptions at 5 U.S.C. * 552, et seq. (See sidebar onpage 42).

Freedom

of

Information

Act

Amendments of 1995 expanded the

scope of the Act to include elec-

tronic records in its definitions, ar,d mandated the creation of "electronic reading rooms" for ,' the public, More recently, in :t..:'
2002, sweeping amendments followed by those ubiquitous media

0Rorrnnv Gtrrzuns Gnn Gnrr Acc=ss
The FOIA is seen as a way for ordinary citizens to gain
access to records they might not otherwise be able to see, and away for our governmental agencies to ostensibly operate transparently. In other words, the agencies are not supposed to have anything to hide from us, the very people for whom the federal agencies work, and therefore, we should be able to view their work under cefiaiq circumstances. Some records are even automatically disclosed under the FOIA, such as those frequently requested, as all three branches of our federal gov, ernment the Congress, the President and the

requests under

its guise have

again brought this Act out into the

collective American lexicon.

FReerou or

lurcnmnnor Acr
The Freedom of Information Act, cod-

ified at 5 U.S.C. * 552, also is extant in many forms pertaining to state and local records, and yes, even to some international records. Unless otherwise specified, this article deals with the federal Freedom of Information Act, hereinafter FOIA or the Act, and the federal agencies to which this particular statute applies.

- There are, however, nine notable exceptions lic.
38 Fnsnunny / Mancn 2012 e National Paralegal

The impetus behind the Act was to make federal agency records or portions of certain records available to the general pub-

Judiciary-recognize the need for transparent gover-

-

to the Act in

norship as avital aspect of our democracy.

Reporter@

Freedom of Inforrnation Act Re
The executive branch, headed by the President, is the entity that is responsible for the administration of the FOIA, while

the Office of Information Policy under the Department of Justice is charged with overseeing that agencies comply with
legitimate FOIA requests. The records of federal agencies included under the purview of the FOIA is wide ranging and covers paper documents as well as many other forms of media, including print, photo-

that organization. If not, a simple, sample letter requesting the information under the FOIA will suffice, but keep in mind that the F0IA with which most folks are familiar is a

federal law pertaining to federal agencies only, lf yow zttomey needs state or local information from a governmental zgency, it will be time to put on your paralegal sleuth cap and, to locate the correct channel for procuring such
information locally. A local letter requesting information under Texas' version of the FI0A, for example, might look like this, see beloy.
> continued on page 40 Sample TEXAS pUBLrc frrc INFORMATION rr\rnnn.-

graphic, and, as mentioned earlier, electronic records, so long as such records are in that particular agency's possession and control from which the FOIA is made. The FOIA applies to allfederal agencies,which means it does not applv to:
,$x*n

$*xrcr* Bm-rcu

.{fiD Fsnnrt&r,

Your

Name

AC? Request

fierxmx;q

1

Rerurn Address

letter

For records and more information from the federal courts, please visit: www.uscourts.gov or anyone can review federal litigation or bankruptcy

;;,; ^.

(busi6s5,

hours)

records at www.paceLgov. (Some minor surcharges may apply.)

.T;#il',i?Jlfi

en

r asen cv>

TEn LsersI,rTTlE Bruncs.rut fi*N$$qffiss If you wish to obtzin records and other information on the Congress, you may contact your local House Representative or Senator. Alternatively, you can visit ouu.house.goo,
wtrry. senate.gov, or www.congress.gov.

i#fimfffffi,:Ifl,l,,{,

$vags &q*vxaruMsxrs .rtD Cor:nrs For records and additional information on
your state or local agencies or their courts you should contact those entities directly, or look for their information online. States generally enact their own, similar version of the F0IA. For example, here in Texas our agencies follow what is called the

-

-

W
**F*f ;tt*,:r*l;,;:;:;;ilffi;ffi;

Texas Public Information !rA, Charpter 552 of Texas Government Code. This state Act proltdes a rrav for the pubtc to access to informarion in the custod-v of governmental
aSencres-

Ierlre A troursr
As paralegels, we are frequently called

upon to obtain federal, state and local documents in the possession and control

Wg
<Signafure>
Sample form found at www.foift.org/pialet Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas

of

some form of governmental entity. Most of the time, if the information is not akeady easily available, it is as sim-

ple as visiting that particular agency's website to find out how to make a FOIA request particular to

National Paralegal Reporter@ * FsnnuA.ny / MancH 2012 39

Freedorn of Information Act R
> continueil from page 39

uest
S#X,& &ffi{ffi*

You can simply tailor your local FOIA request letter to meet your own state's requirements, blut agah, in most cases you will find exact verbiage or forms by visiting that agency's website from which you seek FOIA documents.

$;$mx,s*siua,

. .
e

The FOIA: www.nfoic.org/freedom-infoma-

tion-act
Sample F0IA letter generator:

Wnnr rs rHe 0rnuns Aorunilr$rnATroilts FOIA Por.rcY?
One of President Barack Obama's campaign promises was transparency in government. In that spirit of open governing, the President and Attorney General Eric H Holdeq Jr., have explicitly directed federalagencies to apply a presumption of openness toward FOLA requests. Specifically, Attorney General Holder has asked agencies not to withhold information simply because it might technically fall under one of the Act's exemptions, and he encouraged an agency to use its own discretion generously when complying with requests for information. Presideni Obama promised to make this the most transparent government administration in American history and it is in this vein that the Department of Justice's 0ffice of InJormation Policy enthusiastically encourages compliance with the Act and its directives to make available to the public all information covered by the Act.

www.nfoic.rglsam-

ple-foiaJetters
F0IA letter generator and tracker for either federal

or

state agencies: www.rcfp.org/foialettetl

.
o

index.php Media law guide: www.nfoic.org/media-lawguide International FOIA law guide: www.nfoic.org/

. .

international -foi-laws Freedom of Information Act Request form

(Department

of

Homeland

Security):

nuv.uscis.gov/files/form/g -639.pd
FCC's Regulations Implementing the FOIA (47

C.F.R. $$ 0.441 .fc c. gov/ f oia/ cfr.

-html

0.470): www.transition

Grnrntc Snmplr F0lA Lrrrrn
Most sites I visited had some form or other of the following information to include in a generic sample FOIA request letter: 1. Some type of statement that the request is being made under the Freedom of Information Act, 5

Houl oo
agency

I Mnrr A FOIA REouEsr?

The first step t0 making a FOIA request is t0 determine which

is in control of the information you 0r your attorney needs. You can find a list of the different agencies to which FOIA requests can be made at www.foia.gov/reportmakerequest.html, plus you can determine which agency should be in the posses-

u.s.c. 9552.

2. A specific and detailed description
of the information you are requesting. Identify dates, authors, addresses, subjects, or titles of documents sought, You can also enclose copies or refer

you need at this

sion and control of the information

link,

Furthermore, each agency is a hyperlink of its own with spe-

cific instructions for making
such a request from that particular agency, Because each agency has its own particular instructlons for making a F0IA request, some agencies will have sample forms, while some agencies will have sample letters.

to

published accounts of

the information sought: for

example a newspaper or journal article, or a governmental report.

3.

Request a wariver of fees

if

For instance, should you wish to obtain information or records from the IRS (other than those to which opposing counsel's client consents and for which it signs authorizations), one can go to wvw.irs.gov/foia./articlel0,,id=2t1,443,00. html to find options of a sample letter, guidelines and a fee schedule. Conversely, one simply need Google* the appropriate agency from which one wishes to make a request, and add "FOIA request" or "how to make a FOIA request of

eligible; if not, include your firm's check for the information. (In almost all cases, therc are fee schedules associated with making a FOIA request, some nominal, and some
significant, depending on how many documents or how much information is being requested.) 4. Ptarkyour envelope with the letters FOIA Request, and send it to the proper address. I recommend sending the letter via certified mail, return receipt requested, so you will have a paper trail of your F0IA request.

_____."
Reporter@

40 Fesnunny / MlncH 2012 s National Paralegal

Freedom of Information Act

R"

uest

Elrcrnorrc Rrltluc

Hoom
by no means exhaustive, so check first to see if what you or your attorney need is abeady available publicly. If not, nowyou know exactly how to go about procuring the documents or infor-

Some information may be viewed in an agency's "electronic reading room," as mentioned previously. If this is an option, simply visit that particular agency's website and there will typically be some sort of electronic form to fill out, along with some way to pay the fee electronically. An example of an "electronic reading room" can be found at the U.S. Department of Transportation's Pipeline and Hazatdous Material's website, more commonly known as HAZMAI, which recognizes four categories of records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA): 1.. Final Opinions and Orders; Policy Statements; Staff Manuals and Instructions; and Frequently Requested Records Under FOIA. To be able to access this room, one must physically visit HAZMAI's "electronic reading room" in Washington, D.C. ( wr"w.phms a.dot,govtfoia/ e-

mation your attorney needs.
Sami K. Hartsfield, ACP is a paralegal and freelance writer based in Houston, Texas. She is a NALA Advanced Certified Paralegal, has earned six spe-

2. 3. 4.

cialty certifications since
2007, and is WestlawNext cer-

reading-room).
Other agencies, such as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, provide at least part of their "electronic reading rooms" via the Internet. If you are requesting FDIC information, visit www.fdic.govlabottlfteedom./readingroom.html to view PDFs related to your FOIA request(s). In other cases, you can make an online F0IA request, but must physically go to the agency's "electronic reading room." For instance, the Department of State provides an online electronic form to make your FOIA

tified. She has worked as a law firm webmaster, law firm social media marketer, and ghostwriter for personal injury law
firms. She holds a degree in paralegal studies with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor of science degree in political science. graduating summa cum laude. Hartsfield interned with Texas' 14th Court of Appeals under Chief Justice Adele Hedges, and completed the University of Houston Law Center's Summer 2008 Prelaw Institute with a 4.0. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, or email her at LegallyBlog@yahoo.com.

request (www.foia.state.gov/foiarcq/ foialetter.asp), but you will

to caLL202.251.8484to schedule a time to view the records in their public reading rooms. (You may also fax or mail your FOIA
have

request to the State Department.)

Aduance in Your Coreer!
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February / March 2012 4l

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