A CITIZEN'S GUIDE ON USING THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
AND THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974 TO REQUEST GOVERNMENT RECORDS
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The committee recommends that this Citizen's Guide be made widely available at low cost to anyone who has an interest in obtaining documents from the Federal Government. The Government Printing Office and Federal agencies subject to the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 should continue to distribute this report widely.
The committee also recommends that this Citizen's Guide be used by Federal agencies in training programs for government employees who are responsible for administering the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974. The Guide should also be used by those government employees who only occasionally work with these two laws.
In following these recommendations, however, agencies are not relieved of their obligation to comply with the provisions of the 1996 FOIA amendments requiring agencies to make publicly available, upon request, reference material or an agency guide for requesting records or information. This agency guide should include an index and description of all major information systems of the agency, and guidance for obtaining various types and categories of public information from the agency.
The agency guide is intended to be a short and simple explanation for the public of what the FOIA is designed to do, and how a member of the public can use it to access government records. Each agency should explain, in clear and simple language, the types of records that can be obtained from the agency through FOIA requests; why some records cannot, by law, be made available; and how the agency makes the determination of whether or not a record can be released.
Each agency guide should explain how to make a FOIA request, and how long a requester can expect to wait for a reply from the agency. In addition, the guide should explain the requester's rights under the law to appeal to the courts to rectify agency action. The guide should give a brief history of recent litigation the agency has been involved in, and the resolution of those cases. If an agency requires that certain requests, such as applications for expedited access, be completed on agency forms, then the forms should be part of the guide.
The agency guide is intended to supplement other information locator systems, like the Government Information Locator System (GILS) mandated by the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995.\10\ Thus, the guide should reference systems and explain how a requester can obtain more information about them. Any agency specific locator systems should be similarly referenced in the guide.
All agency guides should be available through electronic means, and should be linked to agency annual reports on FOIA administration. A citizen examining an agency guide should learn how to access the agency's annual reports, and any potential requester reading an annual report should learn about the agency guide, and how to access it.
\10\ 109 Stat. 163; 44 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 3501-3520 (1995).