Office of the Secretary (OS) FOIA OFFICE FAQS

What information is available under the FOIA?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides public access to all federal agency records except for those records (or portions of those records) that are protected from disclosure by any of nine exemptions or three exclusions (reasons for which an agency may withhold records from a requester).

How do I request information under the FOIA?

In order to make a FOIA request, simply write a letter to the HHS FOIA office. For the quickest possible handling, mark both your letter and the envelope “Freedom of Information Act Request.”

What information is not available under the FOIA?

The FOIA does not apply to Congress, courts, White House central offices, or records in the custody of state or local governments. Additionally, some files are protected from disclosure by the exemptions and exclusions.

May I request records in a specific format?

Yes, but the records may not be available in the requested format. If you request records that exist in an electronic format, the FOIA requires agencies in almost all cases to provide these records to you in that same format, if that is what you prefer. However, if you request records that exist only in paper form, and you would like them in an electronic format, the agency is obligated to provide the records in electronic format only if it can do so with a reasonable amount of effort.

What happens after my FOIA request is received by HHS?

When HHS receives your FOIA request it is entered into the automated tracking system and assigned a control number. A FOIA analyst will review your request to understand the types(s) or records you wish to obtain and assign your request to the appropriate program office(s) to search for responsive records. You will receive an acknowledgement letter with a control number and instructions for checking the status of your request.

Can I ask questions under the FOIA?

The FOIA does not require HHS to answer questions, render opinions, or provide subjective evaluations. Requesters must ask for existing records.

What is the cost for getting records under the FOIA?

For noncommercial requesters, HHS may charge only for the actual cost of searching for records and the cost of making copies. HHS will not charge if the total processing cost is less than $25. You may request a waiver of FOIA processing fees if you can show that the records, when disclosed to you, will contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the operations or activities of the government, and that your request is not predominantly commercial in nature.

Is there any way for me to speed up the response time?

As a FOIA requester, you may ask HHS for “expedited processing” of your request. However, you should know that the agency will grant this request only under very specific circumstances.

How do I obtain the status of my request?

HHS strives to handle all FOIA requests in a customer-friendly fashion, in accordance with the FOIA.  HHS provides a telephone number and web site that you can use to obtain information about the status of your pending FOIA request. Further, if you wish to raise a concern about the service provided to you by an agency’s FOIA office, you may contact the agency official known as a “FOIA Public Liaison.”

What happens if HHS denies my request?

If HHS locates records in response to your request, it may withhold them (or any portion of them) only if they are exempt from disclosure under the FOIA or are prohibited from release by some other law.

Besides withholding any portion of a record, are there other reasons for not releasing records?

Yes. HHS may not release records under multiple circumstances, including when no records are located, the request is withdrawn, the request does not clearly describe the requested information, or the request is a duplicate request.

How do I appeal a denial?

In order to appeal a denial, promptly send a letter to the Designated Appeal Official. HHS requires that appeals be submitted within 30 days after the denial.

What can I do if my appeal is denied?

If HHS denies your appeal, or does not respond within 20 working days, you may file a lawsuit.

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