The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The Freedom of Information Act, also known as the FOIA, is a federal statute that provides the public with the right to request access to records in the possession of federal agencies in the Executive Branch. FOIA establishes a presumption that records are accessible to the people, except for those records protected from disclosure by any of the nine exemptions contained in the law or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.
The FOIA does not grant an absolute right to examine government documents; the FOIA establishes the right to request records and to receive a response to the request. If a record cannot be released, the requestor is entitled to be told the reason for the denial. The requester also has a right to appeal the denial and, if necessary, to challenge it in court.
FOIA Response Times
In general, the FOIA requires an agency to respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days after the office that maintains the responsive records receives the request. The business day response requirement is not necessarily the time frame for releasing responsive documents. Department of Homeland Security general policy is to process requests by date of receipt at the proper office maintaining the required records on a first-in, first-out basis, except for exceptions outlined in the FOIA and the Department of Homeland Security FOIA implementing regulations.
For example, under certain conditions, your request may receive expedited processing if you meet the criteria established in our regulations. However, an expedited request will be processed on a first-in, first-out basis with other expedited requests. Expedited processing of a request may be granted in accordance with Department of Homeland Security FOIA/PA regulations (PDF 147 KB).
How to Submit a FOIA request
There are certain limitations to a FOIA request:
- Please note that the FOIA does not require the agency to answer questions, issue opinions, conduct legal research, create records, or produce tangible objects in order to respond to a request.
- Your request may not be in the form of a question. FOIA does not require agencies to answer questions. Questions posed as FOIA requests will not be processed.
- Information about an individual (other than yourself) may be requested under the FOIA, but release is subject to whether the privacy interests of the affected party outweighs the public interest in the release of said information.
- Information covered under the FOIA Exemptions may be withheld.
Please include the following in your request:
- Contact information: Please include your name, mailing address, phone number and an e-mail address so we can reach you with any questions concerning your request.
- A complete description of the records you are requesting. Please include enough file-related information (type of document, title, subject area, date of creation, originating office) or event-related information (date and circumstances surrounding the event) for us to conduct a focused, time-efficient search for materials.
- If you are requesting records on yourself or another individual, see additional requirements under the DHS guidelines for Submitting Privacy Act Request.
- Multiple requests. For faster handling, please note in your request whether you are submitting it to more to more than one Department component.
FOIA requests may also be submitted through the U.S. Mail to:
FEMA FOIA Office
Records Management/Disclosure Branch
1800 S. Bell St., Fourth Floor, Mail Stop 3005
Arlington, VA 22202
To submit requests for records from other Department of Homeland Security components, see the DHS FOIA website: DHS.gov.
FOIA Processing Fees
FOIA provisions allow the agency to recover part of the cost of complying with your request. All fees are assessed in accordance with theDepartment of Homeland Security FOIA/PA regulations (PDF 147 KB).
Your submission of a FOIA request for documents is deemed an implicit commitment to pay up to $25 in fees, unless you indicate a commitment to pay a certain higher amount or request a fee waiver. You will be promptly notified if the anticipated fees exceed $25. There is no charge when assessable fees total less than $14 dollars. Multiple FOIA requests by a single requester related to the same issue will be aggregated for the purpose of assessing fees.
The fee rates are as follows:
- The standard fee for the duplication of documents is 10 cents per page.
- A clerical-level employee search or document review costs $4 dollars per 15 minutes.
- A professional-level employee search or document review costs $7 dollars per 15 minutes.
- A managerial-level employee search or document review costs $10.25 dollars per 15 minutes.
Fees are charged differently to each of three categories of requestor:
- Commercial requesters are charged for search time, document review, and duplication costs.
- News media, educational, and scientific requesters are charged for any duplication costs after the first 100 pages of responsive documents.
- All other requesters are charged for document search time in excess of two hours plus any duplication costs after the first 100 pages of responsive documents.
DHS Electronic Reading Room
DHS FOIA Electronic Reading Room website (DHS.gov) hosts the following material:
- Annual FOIA request logs to each of the DHS component agencies.
- The DHS FOIA Annual Report to Congress which includes component FOIA Office reporting data.