Frequently Asked Questions


Open Government
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Privacy Act (PA)
Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA)  


Directives Management  

What is the FOIA?

Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security, and law enforcement.

The FOIA also requires agencies to proactively post online certain categories of information, including frequently requested records.

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Who can make a FOIA request?

Generally any person – United States citizen or not – can make a FOIA request.

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How do I make a FOIA request?

Before making a request, first look to see if the information you are interested in is already publicly available. You can find a lot of useful information on a range of topics on our web site or on each of our components' websites. If the information is not publicly available, visit our FOIA Requests web page.

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What can I ask for under the FOIA?

A FOIA request can be made for any agency record. You can also specify the format in which you wish to receive the records (for example, printed or electronic form). The FOIA does not require agencies to create new records or to conduct research, analyze data, or answer questions when responding to requests.

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What is a record?

Record under the FOIA means all information under the control of the Department, including all Government records, regardless of format, medium or physical characteristics, and electronic records and information, audiotapes, videotapes, Compact Disks, DVDs, and photographs. It does not include records that are not already in existence and that would have to be created specifically to meet a request (see 15 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), section 4.3)

A two-part test is used for determining an agency record:

      • an agency record is either created or obtained by an agency and,
      • an agency record must be under agency control at the time of the FOIA request.
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Questions and Comments

Send Questions or Comments on the Commerce Office of Privacy and Open Government programs to

Office of Privacy and Open Government
Office of the Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Secretary for Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce


Page last updated:October 28, 2016