Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, DC Code §§ 2-531-539, provides that any person has the right to request access to records. All public bodies of the District government are required to disclose public records, except for those records, or portions of records, that are protected from disclosure by the exemptions found at DC Code § 2-534.
A FOIA request may be made for any public record. This does not mean, however, that the public body will disclose every record sought. Statutory exemptions authorize the withholding of certain public records. When the public body does withhold records or portions of records, it must specify which exemption of the FOIA permits the withholding. FOIA does not require agencies to do research, to analyze data, to answer written questions, or to create records in order to respond to a request. FOIA only requires the agency to make a reasonable effort to locate already existing records.
How to Make a Request
Anyone may submit a FOIA request. There is no central FOIA office in the District government. Each public body responds to requests for its own records. To submit a request, you should determine which public body is likely to maintain the records you are seeking and submit a request to the FOIA Officer of that public body. Please refer to the FOIA officer list for contact information.
A FOIA request may be submitted orally or in writing and may be mailed, faxed or emailed. Oral requests may be honored, but the agency has the right to request that it be submitted in writing.
When submitting your request, please mark the outside of the envelope or the subject line of the fax or email: "Freedom of Information Act Request" or "FOIA Request."
Please include a daytime telephone number, email address or mailing address in your request letter so that the FOIA Officer may contact you if necessary.
Describe the record(s) you are seeking as clearly and precisely as possible. In your description, please be as specific as possible with regard to names, dates, places, events, subjects, and other pertinent details that will help the public body to identify the records. The more specific you are about the records you are seeking, the more likely the public body will be able to locate those records. If your request is vague or too broad, we may ask you to be more specific, and this may delay the processing of your request.
All public bodies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 15 business-days (that is, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal public holidays) following the receipt of a request by the FOIA Officer of the public body that maintains the records you are requesting. Public bodies may extend the time for a response by an additional 10 business-days (again, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal public holidays) for unusual circumstances, as defined by DC Code § 2-532 (d).
Exemptions from FOIA Disclosure
The FOIA statute provides that certain categories of documents may be withheld from disclosure. Included among these are documents that relate to law-enforcement activities, documents subject to recognized legal privileges such as the attorney-client and work-product privileges, documents required to be withheld by other laws (federal or District), documents that reflect the internal deliberative processes of the government, and documents the disclosure of which would result in a clearly unwarranted intrusion on personal privacy. For a complete list of the exemptions, please see DC Official Code § 2-534.
Fees and Waiver of Fees
There is no initial fee for submitting a FOIA request. However, a public body may charge fees for searching, reviewing, and reproducing records as provided in 1 DCMR § 408. You may include in your request letter a specific statement limiting the amount of fees you are willing to pay. Please be aware that you may have to pay search and/or review fees even if the search does not locate any responsive records or if records are located but are withheld as exempt.
You may request a waiver or reduction of fees in your request letter. You must include a statement describing how the requested records will be used to benefit the general public. Pursuant to DC Official Code § 2-532(b), if the public body determines that a waiver or fee reduction is in the public interest, i.e., furnishing the records primarily benefits the general public, a waiver or reduction may be granted.
Appeals or Judicial Review of Denials
You may file an administrative appeal or seek judicial review if you are dissatisfied with a public body's response to your request.
An administrative appeal is submitted to the Mayor. The appeal must be in writing and must include a copy of the original request as well as a copy of the public body's written denial letter issued to you, if any. In addition, the appeal must include a written statement of the arguments, circumstances, or reasons in support of the information sought by your request. The appeal letter must include "Freedom of Information Act Appeal" or "FOIA Appeal" in the subject line of the letter as well as marked on the outside of the envelope. You may direct a written appeal to:
Mayor’s Correspondence Unit
1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20004
A copy of the appeal must be provided to the public body whose denial you are appealing. The appeal must be addressed to the public body’s FOIA Officer.
Please refer to the District of Columbia Superior Court rules concerning procedures for filing a civil action.
Please refer to the FOIA statute at DC Code §§ 2-531-539 and the FOIA regulations at 1 DCMR §§ 400-417 for additional information.
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