The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is the Federal law that provides access to federal agency records, except for certain types of records protected from disclosure under the Act. The law applies only to agency records in existence at the time of a FOIA request. Click here for text of the FOIA , found at title 5 of the U.S. Code, section 552 (5 U.S.C. § 552).
This handbook is a basic outline of FOIA provisions generally, and as implemented by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC). More detailed information on requirements and procedures followed by OSC in processing FOIA requests can be found in the agency’s regulations. Click here for text of OSC’s FOIA regulation, found at title 5 of the Code of Federal Regulations, part 1820 (5 C.F.R. Part 1820).
Any U.S. citizen, foreign national, foreign government, state government, partnership, corporation, or association may make a FOIA request. Agencies are not required to process FOIA requests made by fugitives from justice or by an agency acting on behalf of a fugitive.
Requests for records of a Federal agency made by a Federal employee acting in his/her official capacity are not treated as FOIA requests. Instead, such requests are processed as requests made under the Privacy Act (5 U.S.C. § 552a).
Requests must be submitted in writing either by regular mail, by facsimile, or by e-mail. If sent by regular mail, your letter should clearly be marked "FOIA Request," and should be addressed to:
U.S. Office of Special Counsel
1730 M St., N.W. (Suite 218)
Washington, DC 20036-4505
or by Fax to (202) 254-3711,
or by E-mail to: FOIArequest@osc.gov
If sent by facsimile, the cover sheet should clearly be marked "FOIA Request," and should be sent to: (202) 254-3711.
Whether sent by mail or by fax, your FOIA request will not be considered to have been received by OSC until it reaches the agency’s FOIA Officer.
You should also be aware that making a FOIA request will be considered to be an agreement by you to pay all fees chargeable under the FOIA, up to and including $25.00, unless you ask for and receive a waiver of fees. (See question 10.)
Yes. You can obtain many OSC forms, publications, press releases, reports, and other records directly through our web site, at "Forms", "Reading Room", and "Press Releases". Links to frequently requested and other records and information are provided below:
Complaint and disclosure forms
The Role of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel (booklet)
Political Activity and the Federal Employee (booklet)
Political Activity and the Federal Employee (2-page information sheet)
Political Activity and the State and Local Employee (booklet)
Political Activity and the State and Local Employee (2-page information sheet)
Micro-purchase credit card information
OSC contract opportunities
OSC FOIA regulation (5 C.F.R. Part 1820)
There are certain steps you can take to assist OSC in responding more quickly to your request. To help OSC process your request more efficiently:
OSC uses a multi-track system to manage its caseload of FOIA requests. This means that FOIA requests are generally processed by OSC in the order they were received, based on their complexity.
FOIA requests requiring little or no search, review, or analysis are categorized as “simple” requests. These are processed immediately, in order of receipt.
FOIA requests for records requiring search, review, or analysis are categorized as “complex” requests. OSC's FOIA Officer acknowledges complex requests as soon as they are received with a letter indicating where the request stands in the line of pending requests.
Complex requests are further categorized by the level of effort (search, review, and/or analysis) anticipated in processing the request. Requests that involve the entire contents of a case file, or that require extensive search, review, and analysis are placed in the “Complex A” processing track. Those requiring comparatively less effort (such as requests for copies of correspondence previously exchanged between the requester and OSC, or for specifically identified documents) are placed in the “Complex B” processing track. Complex requests in each track are processed on a first-in/first-out basis, with the simpler track receiving first priority.
At present, many requests are processed within the 20-working day timetable established by the FOIA. Typically, complex requests are processed as soon as possible thereafter.
Yes. A requester may obtain status information by contacting the FOIA Officer by regular mail or fax (see question 3), or by calling (202) 254-3716.
Requests and appeals will be taken out of order and given expedited treatment whenever OSC has established to its satisfaction that:
(a) failure to obtain requested records on an expedited basis could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual; or
(b) with respect to a request made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information, an urgency exists to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal government activity; or
(c) records requested relate to an appeal that is pending before, or that the requester faces an imminent deadline for filing with, the Merit Systems Protection Board or other administrative tribunal or a court of law, seeking personal relief pursuant to a complaint filed by the requester with OSC, or referred to OSC pursuant to title 38 of the U.S. Code.
Requesters must submit documentation showing they have met one of the three requirements for expedited processing. OSC will decide whether to grant a request for expedited processing and notify the requester of its decision within 10 calendar days of the FOIA Officer's receipt of the request. If the request for expedited processing is granted, the request for records shall be processed as soon as practicable. If a request for expedited processing is denied, any administrative appeal of that decision will be acted on expeditiously.
OSC is an investigative and prosecutorial agency. As such, the contents of its case files are usually subject to withholding under FOIA. Most case file records (other than correspondence and other documents previously exchanged between a requester and OSC – see item 5, above, for discussion of those records) are withheld, in whole or in part, on the basis of four of the FOIA's nine exemptions. A description of those exemptions, and the types of OSC case file records typically covered by those exemptions, follows:
The FOIA and OSC regulations permit us to recover some of the direct costs of providing information to FOIA requesters. OSC may charge a fee for document search, review and reproduction based on the category of requester.
Fee categories are as follows: (1) commercial use requests – requests for information from an individual or entity seeking information to further the commercial, trade, or profit interests of the requester; (2) requests from educational and non-commercial scientific institutions and the news media; and (3) all other requesters.
Search fees will be charged to all requesters, except educational institutions, non-commercial scientific institutions and news media requesters. Commercial requesters will also be charged fees for review of requested documents to determine whether all or any portion of a document is exempt from disclosure.
Non-commercial requesters will receive the first 100 pages of duplication (or the cost equivalent) and the first two hours of search (or the cost equivalent) free of charge. After 100 pages, a fee of $.25 per page will be charged for duplication.
For specific fee schedules, see OSC's FOIA regulation at 5 C.F.R. § 1820.7.
If your request for records is denied, and you believe there is a legal reason that they should have been disclosed, you may appeal the decision administratively. The FOIA requires federal agencies to notify requesters of their right to appeal an agency decision denying access to records in response to a FOIA request.
In addition, OSC has a FOIA Public Liaison who will help resolve disputes concerning the release of records or any other FOIA customer service concerns. You may contact our FOIA Public Liaison, Kenneth Hendricks, at (202) 254-3600.
You may appeal an adverse decision on your FOIA request to the appeal official designated in the decision letter, or to:
Office of General Counsel
U.S. Office of Special Counsel
1730 M Street, N.W. (Suite 218)
Washington, DC 20036-4505
or by Fax to (202) 254-3711,
or by E-mail to: FOIAappeal@osc.gov
The appeal must be in writing, and be sent by regular mail or by fax. OSC's FOIA regulation, at 5 C.F.R. § 1820.6, specifies that an appeal must be received by the Office of General Counsel within 45 days of the date of the letter denying the FOIA request.
For the quickest possible handling, the appeal letter and envelope or any fax cover sheet should be clearly marked “FOIA Appeal,” and should identify the decision (including the assigned FOIA request number, if known) being appealed.
If the appeal is denied in whole or in part, OSC’s written appeal decision will inform you of your right to judicial review of that determination.
On December 14, 2005, President Bush signed Executive Order No. 13,392, entitled, “Improving Agency Disclosure of Information.” The executive order required that all federal agencies evaluate their FOIA program and to produce a plan with goals and timeframes for streamlining the processing of requests and increasing public awareness of its FOIA procedures. A link to OSC’s plan is provided below:
FOIA Improvement Plan
Backlog Reduction Goals
U.S. Department of Justice FOIA web site
“Your Right to Federal Records, Questions and Answers on the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act” [a guide issued by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), and the U.S. General Services Administration in May 2006]
“A Citizen’s Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records” [a report by the U.S. House of Representative Committee on Government Reform, September 20, 2005]