How to Submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Requests
Enacted in 1966, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law that gives the public the right to access federal agency records. All federal agencies are required to abide by this law. FOIA requests can be made for nearly all agency records, including emails, meeting minutes, draft reports, and other documents and correspondence, though some exemptions do apply.
Before making a request, you should determine which agency is likely to have the records you are seeking. Most agency websites contain information about the type of records the agency maintains, as well as instructions for submitting a FOIA request. Some agencies with documents relating to the Gulf oil spill, BP and other polluters include:
- Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement
- Coast Guard
- Environmental Protection Agency
- Fish and Wildlife Service
- Geological Survey
- National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
The Department of Justice provides detailed guidance for writing a FOIA request, and the Center for Public Integrity provides a sample FOIA request letter. More information can be found at FOIA.gov.
Most U.S. states and public universities also abide by “sunshine” laws that require public disclosure of government records. Instructions for submitting requests to state agencies can be found at Sunshine Review.