How To Get Informed: The Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA)
The Freedom of Information Act, commonly known as the FOIA, was enacted by Congress in 1966 to give the American public greater access to the Federal Government’s records. The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 expanded the scope of the FOIA to encompass electronic records and require the creation of “electronic reading rooms” to make records more easily and widely available to the public. Most recently in December 2005, Executive Order 13392, “Improving Agency Disclosure of Information,” reaffirmed that FOIA “has provided an important means through which the public can obtain information regarding the activities of Federal agencies” and required Federal agencies to make their FOIA programs “citizen-centered and results-oriented.”
The following is an informal explanation of the FOIA process at the FCC. Please consult the full text of the FCC’s regulations implementing the FOIA, found at 47 C.F.R. §§ 0.441 – 0.470, before filing a FOIA request. In addition, you may wish to consult the United States Department of Justice’s annual guide to the FOIA entitled Freedom of Information Act Guide and Privacy Overview that contains an extensive analysis of the statute and FOIA case law. If these reference guides do not provide you the information you need to submit your FOIA request, you can also contact the FCC’s FOIA Requester Service Center via phone, email, or surface mail. Get contact information for the FOIA Requester Service Center.
What types of materials are available without filing a FOIA request?
You do not have to file a FOIA request to obtain information which is routinely available for public inspection, including records from docketed cases, broadcast applications and related files, petitions for rulemakings, various legal and technical publications, legislative history compilations, etc. See 47 C.F.R. §§ 0.453 and 0.455. Much of this information is available on our website.
How do I obtain publicly available documents and other materials from the FCC?
Many of these documents and other FCC publications already appear on the FCC’s Internet Homepage. Documents may also be viewed in the FCC Reference Information Center at the FCC Headquarters at 445 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20554. The Reference Information Center is open to the public Monday through Thursday from 8:00 AM to 4:30 PM and from 8:00 AM to 11:30 AM on Friday. A person who wants to inspect publicly available FCC records need only appear at the Commission’s headquarters and ask to see the records. Alternatively, you may write or telephone in advance to schedule a date and time to make the records available for inspection. Advance notice to the FCC is suggested in some circumstances, i.e., if the request is for a large number of documents or for older documents which may have to be recalled from storage. Get more information about the Reference Information Center.
Copies of any available materials can be made in the FCC Reference Information Center or obtained through the FCC’s copy contractor, Best Copy Printing, Inc. (BCPI) at (202) 488-5300, (202) 488-5563 or www.bcpiweb.com
How do I file a FOIA request?
To make a FOIA request pursuant to 47 C.F.R. § 0.461, you have several options:
(1) You may fill out the Electronic FOIA Request Form and submit it to us; or
(2) You may write to us via surface mail. If you choose to send your request via surface mail you MUST: (a) write the words “Freedom of Information Act Request” at the top of your letter and on the outside of the mailing envelope, (b) date your request, (c) give us your daytime telephone number and/or daytime e-mail contact address so that our staff can get in touch with you during normal business hours if they have questions, and (d) provide as much information as possible regarding each document you are seeking. You should also specify the maximum search fee that you are prepared to pay for this request. Send your letter to the address below.
(3) You may also fax or e-mail your request to the contact information below.
What types of materials are available through a FOIA request?
Under the FOIA and the FCC’s implementing rules, you are allowed to obtain copies of FCC records unless the records contain information that is exempt under the FOIA from mandatory disclosure. To learn about these exemptions, please scroll down to the next section.
What types of materials are not available under FOIA?
Although most FCC documents, records, and publications are accessible through FOIA, some types of FCC records are not available. Section 552(b) of the FOIA contains nine types of records which are routinely exempt from disclosure under the FOIA:
Records classified national defense or foreign policy materials, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1);
Internal personnel rules and agency practices, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(2);
Information specifically exempted from disclosure by another statute, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3);
Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential, 5 U.S.C § 552(b)(4);
Inter- or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available to a party in litigation with the agency, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5);
Personnel, medical and similar files, disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6);
Records compiled for law enforcement purposes, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(7);
Records relating to the examination, operations, or condition of financial institutions, 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(8); and
Oil well data, 5 U.S.C. § 552 (b)(9).
Even if a record falls within one of these FOIA exemptions, the FCC may, in some circumstances, release the records, depending upon the exemption at issue and the circumstances of the FOIA request.
Are there any privacy considerations which the FCC must consider in granting your FOIA request?
Under the FOIA Exemption 6 and the Privacy Act, the FCC may be prohibited from disclosing information about an individual from a system of records without the written consent of the individual to whom the record pertains.
Can the FCC deny my FOIA request?
Yes. If the Bureau or Office that is the custodian of the records determines that there are no records responsive to your request, or that one or more of the FOIA exemptions described above applies to the documents you request, your request will be denied in writing.
How long will it take to get the information that I request?
Under the FOIA, the FCC must determine within 20 business days of receipt of your FOIA request by the FOIA Requester Service Center whether it is appropriate to grant or deny a FOIA request. The FCC makes every effort to act on a request within this time frame. If we determine that your request will take longer than 20 days to process, we will notify you in writing explaining the circumstances requiring the extension and establishing a date for response of not more than 10 working days beyond the initial 20-day limit.
However, if the FCC determines that the request cannot be processed within this 10 day extension, we will provide you with an opportunity to modify your request so that it may be processed within the extended time limit, or provide an opportunity for you to arrange with the FCC for an alternative timeframe for processing the original or modified request. We will also advise you of any additional charges involved. For this reason, it is important for you to include a telephone number where we can call you to discuss any issues involving your FOIA request. Even if we call, you will receive a letter from the FCC confirming your consent to any additional time and/or costs that may be necessary to comply with your FOIA request.
You may seek expedited processing of your FOIA request if you have a compelling need for the documents.
If my FOIA request is denied, what can I do?
If your FOIA request is denied in whole or in part, the Bureau or Office that made the decision will notify you of the denial of your request and of your right to file an administrative application for review. The application for review and the envelope containing it should have the words “Review of Freedom of Information Action” clearly written on them and must be filed within 30 calendar days of the date of the Bureau or Office’s written decision. A FOIA application for review should be sent to the Office of General Counsel, Federal Communications Commission, 445 – 12th Street, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20554. A copy of the application for review should also be sent to the person (if any) who originally submitted the records you are seeking. If the FCC denies your application for review in whole or in part, you may seek judicial review of that decision in a United States District Court.
Are there any costs to making a FOIA request?
Yes. Under the FOIA, we are allowed to charge for our research and reproduction services under certain conditions. Your FOIA request should specify the amount of FOIA fees you are willing to pay. Please note, under 47 CFR § 0.467(e), if the Commission estimates that your search charges are likely to exceed $25 or an amount which you have indicated you are willing to pay, we will notify you of the estimated fee charge prior to doing the search and give you the opportunity to revise or clarify your FOIA request.
Commercial use requesters will be assessed charges that recover the full direct costs associated with the search, review, and duplication of records.
Educational institutions, representatives of the news media, and non-commercial scientific institution requesters must pay for duplication only, and will not be charged for the first 100 pages. News media requesters, however, are entitled to a reduced assessment only when the request is for the purpose of disseminating information.
The Commission will charge all other requesters who do not fit into any of the categories above fees which cover the full, reasonable direct cost of searching for and reproducing records that are responsive to the request, except that the first 100 pages of the reproduction and the first two hours of search time shall be free of charge.
If you believe you are entitled to a restricted fee assessment, or a fee waiver, you must provide us with a statement explaining with specificity the reasons demonstrating why you qualify for a restricted fee or a fee waiver, including a statement certifying that the information will not be used to further your commercial interests. Please consult the rules, 47 C.F.R. § 0.470(c) – (e), when seeking a restricted fee or fee waiver.
The search fee is based on the salary level of the employee(s) who conducts the search. The fee charge is computed at the Step 5 of the specified grade level plus 20 percent to cover personnel benefits.
Outstanding fees. In certain circumstances, the FCC may request advance payment of fees. Failure to pay any fees within 30 days of the billing date may result in interest charges being levied. If you have made FOIA requests in the past, for which a fee was charged and you have not yet paid those fees, we may determine not to process any additional FOIA requests until any fees and interest you owe for previous requests are paid and you make an advance payment of the full amount of the estimated fee. We will not require advance payment of the estimated FOIA fee(s) unless we determine that the fee is likely to exceed $250 and the requester has no history of payment. If you have made FOIA requests previously and paid your fees promptly, we may notify you of the cost and rely on your promise to pay.
Frequently Requested Information
FOIA Electronic Reading Room Certification
FCC FOIA Reports:
[ 1998 | 1999 | 2000 | 2001 | 2002 | 2003 | 2004 | 2005 | 2006 | 2007 | 2008 ]
Improving Agency Disclosure of Information:
[ Backlog Reduction Goals for FY-08, FY-09 and FY-10 | Updated Status Report of 2006 FOIA Plan | 2006 Plan ]
Browse FCC Government Info Locator Service (GILS) Records
Major Information Systems
FCC FOIA Contact
I Want to Submit a FOIA Request:
You may submit a FOIA request to the FCC by e-mail, surface mail, fax, or by using the electronic form immediately below.
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W., Room 1-A836
Washington, D.C. 20554
Phone: 202-418-0440 or 202-418-0212
Fax: 202-418-2826 or 202-418-0521
I Want to Check on the Progress of a Request:
While the FCC works to ensure you are aware of our progress in responding to your request, if you have questions about a request that you have already filed, you can contact the FOIA Requester Service Center at:
Telephone: 202-418-0440 or 202-418-0212
I Want to Express a Complaint or Concern About the Handling of a FOIA Request:
If you have a concern or complaint about how the FCC has handled your FOIA request, please contact the FOIA Public Liaison – Shoko Hair.
FOIA Public Liaison
Federal Communications Commission
445 12th Street, S.W., Room 1-A836
Washington, D.C. 20554
Electronic FOIA (E-FOIA) Request Form
Use this E-FOIA Request Form to submit your Freedom of Information Act request. Unless otherwise indicated, you must provide us with the following information for your request to be processed.
THIS FORM IS TO BE USED ONLY FOR REQUESTS FOR RECORDS KEPT BY THE FEDERAL COMMUNICATION COMMISSION. YOU CAN NOT ACCESS RECORDS FOR OTHER FEDERAL AGENCIES BY USING THIS FORM. YOU MUST CONTACT OTHER AGENCIES DIRECTLY THROUGH THEIR FOIA OFFICES. You can find FOIA contact points for each Federal agency by visiting this web site:
1. Name [required]
2(a) Street Address/Post Office Box [required]
(e) Zip Code
3. Area Code + Telephone Number [required]
4. Area Code + Fax Number
5. E-Mail Address [required]
6. Date of Request.
7. Description of Records Requested
Identify the records as clearly and specifically as possible. Please provide sufficient information which would be helpful in identifying and locating the requested records, such as document title, etc.
8. Key Words or Phrases
Please be as complete as possible. Include information such as subject, publication date(s), office/bureau, docket number(s), and any other information which can help to identify the document(s) you are requesting
9. Maximum Search Fee
Enter the maximum search fee the person making this request is prepared to pay. If you do not enter an amount the FCC will assume you are willing to pay at least $25 for this search.
10(a) Is the requester entitled to a restricted fee assessment pursuant to 47 CFR Sections 0.470(a)(2), (a)(3), or a waiver pursuant to 47 CFR Section 0.470(e)? Yes No
10(b) If “Yes,” provide a statement explaining with specificity, the reasons demonstrating that he/she qualifies for a restricted fee or a fee waiver. Your statement should also include a certification that the information will not be used to further the commercial interest of the requester.
11. Additional Information and/or Comments