Federal Agencies

The federal Freedom of Information Act applies to every agency, department, regulatory commission, government-controlled corporation and “other establishment” in the federal government’s executive branch. FOIA does not apply to Congress, state agencies that receive federal funds or federal courts.

FOIA covers all records in the possession or control of a federal agency. If you ask for records and are refused, you may formally request them by writing a letter to an agency. Every federal agency covered under the act has to designate an FOIA officer to handle these requests.

Members of the news media may ask to be exempt from search fees and will not be charged for 100 pages of copies. Others requesting documents under FOIA get two hours of free search time and 100 pages of copies without charge. 

The government may refuse FOIA requests for nine reasons: national security, internal personnel rules, information exempted by other federal laws, trade secrets, internal agency memorandums, personal privacy, investigations by law enforcement, banks regulated by the federal government, and oil and gas well information.

A government agency must respond within 20 days of receiving a request, even if it is to inform that an extension is needed to respond to the request.

A complete booklet on how to use FOIA is available from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Arlington, Virginia. The RCFP also provides samples of FOIA requests and has a fill-in-the-blank request generator at www.rcfp.org.

Montana’s Constitution says, “No person shall be deprived of the right to examine documents or to observe the deliberation of all public bodies or agencies of state government and its subdivisions, except in cases in which the demand of individual privacy clearly exceeds the merits of public disclosure.”