Freedom of Information Act
The Office of Open Government (OOG) is tasked by the Board of Ethics and Government Accountability (BEGA) to advocate for a fair FOIA process for both requestors and District government agencies. The OOG is an independent office under BEGA to which anyone – requestor or agency – may come for assistance with any aspect of the FOIA process.
What is FOIA?
It is the public policy of the District of Columbia that all persons are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them. Enacted in 1973, the District’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was designed to “pierce the veil of administrative secrecy and to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny.” The Act gives any person the right to request a document in any form prepared, owned, used, in the possession of and retained by a public body. (View the full statute: DC Official Code §§2-531 through 538). When FOIA requests are submitted, agencies are required to make a reasonable search for records. District government agencies are required to report annually to the Secretary of the District of Columbia and the Council of the District of Columbia FOIA disclosure activities for the previous fiscal year. View FOIA reports.
What documents are exempt from disclosure?
There are certain categories of documents which public bodies are prohibited from disclosing. If your request for documents falls into one of the 14 enumerated categories of exemptions (DC Official Code §2-534), your FOIA request may be denied.
How do I file a FOIA request?
Anyone may submit a FOIA request. There is no central FOIA office in the District government. Each public body responds to requests for its own records. To submit a request, you should determine which public body is likely to maintain the records you are seeking and submit a request to the FOIA Officer of that public body. A FOIA request may be submitted orally or in writing and may be mailed, faxed or emailed. Oral requests may be honored, but the agency has the right to request that it be submitted in writing. You may also submit a FOIA request online via the D.C. Government FOIA portal.
When submitting your request, please mark the outside of the envelope or the subject line of the fax or email: "Freedom of Information Act Request" or "FOIA Request." Include a daytime telephone number, email address or mailing address in your request letter so that the FOIA Officer may contact you if necessary.
Describe the record(s) you are seeking as clearly and precisely as possible. In your description, please be as specific as possible with regard to names, dates, places, events, subjects, and other pertinent details that will help the public body to identify the records. The more specific you are about the records you are seeking, the more likely the public body will be able to locate those records. If your request is vague or too broad, we may ask you to be more specific, and this may delay the processing of your request.
How long do agencies have to respond to FOIA requests?
Fifteen (15) business days. When the request generates a large volume of documents, agencies may invoke a 10 business day extension, and inform the requestor of the extension.
Will I be charged for filing a FOIA request?
There is no initial fee for submitting a FOIA request. However, a public body may charge fees for searching, reviewing, and reproducing records as provided in 1 DCMR §408. You may include in your request letter a specific statement limiting the amount of fees you are willing to pay. Please be aware that you may have to pay search and/or review fees even if the search does not locate any responsive records or if records are located but are withheld as exempt. You may request a waiver or reduction of fees in your request letter. You must include a statement describing how the requested records will be used to benefit the general public. If the public body determines that a waiver or fee reduction is in the public interest, i.e., furnishing the records primarily benefits the general public, a waiver or reduction may be granted. (DC Official Code § 2-532(b)).
How do I file an appeal?
You may file an administrative appeal or seek judicial review if you are dissatisfied with a public body's response to your request. Administrative appeals are submitted to the Mayor. If you submitted your FOIA request via the Freedom of Information Act Public Access Website, you may submit the appeal by logging on to your account via FOIAXpress. If you submitted your request directly to a District Government agency, your appeal must be in writing and must include a copy of the original request as well as a copy of the public body's written denial letter issued to you, if any. In addition, the appeal must include a written statement of the arguments, circumstances, or reasons in support of the information sought by your request. The appeal letter must include "Freedom of Information Act Appeal" or "FOIA Appeal" in the subject line of the letter and marked on the outside of the envelope. You may direct a written appeal to email@example.com or:
The Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004
A copy of the appeal must be provided to the public body whose denial you are appealing. The appeal must be addressed to the public body's FOIA Officer.