Indian Affairs | Question & Answer

FOIA Questions and Answers

What Information is Available Under FOIA?

The FOIA gives the right to request access to any agency record.  This does not mean, however, that an agency will disclose every record requested.  There are statutory exemptions that authorize the withholding of information of an appropriately sensitive nature.  If a FOIA request is denied the OCIO – IA/BIA must specify which statute permits the withholding of the information being requested.  The public should be aware that the FOIA does not require agencies to do research, analyze data, answer questions or create records in order to respond to a request.

If a FOIA request contains material that is exempt, the agency will respond in writing, detailing the amount of material found and whether or not the records are being partially released.  If any portion of the request is denied, the response will explain the reasons for denial, which FOIA exemptions apply, and the right to appeal the decision.

A FOIA request may be denied in whole or in part only when it is determined that the information may be withheld under one of nine exemptions.  The nine exemption categories that authorize government agencies to withhold information are:

Exemption 1 – Classified National Security Information Concerning National Defense or Foreign Policy
Exemption 2 – Internal Personnel Rules and Practices of an Agency
Exemption 3 – Matters Specifically Exempted From Disclosure by Statute
Exemption 4 – Trade Secrets and Confidential Business Information
Exemption 5 – Internal Memoranda Privileges
Exemption 6 – Personal Privacy
Exemption 7 – Investigatory Files
Exemption 8 – Records of Financial Institutions
Exemption 9 – Geological and Geophysical Information

A sound, legal basis will be the determining factor if information is withheld.  If only a partial record must be withheld, the Agency will provide access to the rest of the record.

What About Costs for Records Under the FOIA?

Please see the Department of the Interior FOIA web page for costs.

When Can an Appeal be Made if a  FOIA Request is Denied?

An appeal may be filed with the Department of the Interior FOIA Appeals Officer if: (a) A requested record is withheld; (b) a FOIA response delayed (responses are due within 20-working days or 30-working days when an extension is justified); (c) a fee waiver is denied; or (d) a request has been denied for failure to describe requested records or for other procedural deficiency, or because requested records cannot be located.    

Appeal language and the address to file your appeal will be provided in the response from the Bureau.

What is Meant by Multi-track Processing?

Effective January 9, 2007, all bureaus/offices in the Department of the Interior (DOI) are required to use multi-track processing (see 43 CFR 2.26).  This means that bureaus/offices will be using three tracks to process their FOIA requests.  The availability of multi-track processing does not affect expedited processing in accordance with 43 CFR 2.14.  Bureaus/offices will ensure that requests are processed fairly by treating similarly situated requests in a like manner.

FOIA requests will be placed in one of three tracks based on the amount of time needed to process the request:

  1. Simple: 1-5 workdays
  2. Normal: 20 workdays
  3. Complex: over 20 workdays.


Requestors should assume, unless notified by the bureau/office that their request is in the “Normal” track.

The FOIA coordinator will notify a requestor as soon as possible if the FOIA request has been placed in the “Complex” category.  If the scope of the FOIA request is limited, it may result in faster processing (43 CFR 2.26(b)). 

How Long Does it Take to Respond to a FOIA Request?

The action office will respond to an initial FOIA request no later than 20 days after the appropriate Bureau FOIA Contact receives the request and it is perfected (i.e., all issues regarding fees and the scope of the request are resolved), unless the request is in the complex track.

The 20-workday time limit begins to run the workday after a request complying with the procedures in 43 CFR 2.8 and 2.1 (i.e., it is perfected) and received by the FOIA Contact at the Bureau/Office that has the requested records.  If a request is received that is unperfected, the action office or the FOIA Contact must contact the requestor as soon as possible to resolve the issues and perfect the request.

What Does the Term “Perfected FOIA Request” Mean?

This term describes a FOIA request for records which adequately describes the records sought, which has been received the FOIA office of the agency or agency component in possession of the records, and for which there is no remaining questions about the payment of applicable fees.

What is Expedited Processing?

Expedited processing means giving a FOIA request priority, and processing it ahead of other non-expedited requests pending in the Bureau because a requester has shown