This is Part 3 of a 6 Part Blog Series on “How to Make a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) Request“. Please stay tuned for the other blogs for the full picture!
Step 3: Draft and Mail Your Written FOIA Request Letter
You cannot make a FOIA request to a federal agency over the telephone. All FOIA requests must be in writing (i.e., postal mail, fax, or email). Most federal agencies do not have FOIA forms so you must draft a written letter. In New York, a form for emailed FOIL requests is available online from the NYS Department of State at http://www.dos.state.ny.us/coog/emailrequest.html.
To make sure your letter is handled correctly, mark on both the letter and envelope “Freedom of Information Act Request” (or “Freedom of Information Law” for New York agencies). The federal government is not required under FOIA to do any research, analyze data, or answer written questions; thus, if you include these types of requests in your FOIA letter, the federal agency is not obligated to answer them. You are encouraged to keep a copy for records and send your letter by certified mail so that you can have proof of the agency’s receipt.
Your FOIA request should include the following information:
- Contact information including your full name, address, phone number;
- Description of records requested (e.g., aerial photographic reproductions from the Farm Service Agency or National Agriculture Library, all records pertaining to a piece of property);
- Identification of locations of files are obtained, such as a regional EPA or USDA office (if known);
- The maximum amount that you are willing to pay in printing charges for the documents (e.g., $100.00);
- Written authorization signed by yourself or an official representative of your agriculture operation or food business; and,
- Request that non-exempt material be segregated.
This is an excerpt from my first book that I co-authored with Pat Dillon, an Iowa agriculture lawyer titled “Field Manual: Legal Guide for New York Farmers and Food Entrepreneurs” available on CreateSpace, Amazon, Kindle and iBooks. You can find out more about this book here.