FAQ

What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

Since 1967, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) has provided the public the right to request access to records from any federal agency. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Federal agencies are required to disclose any information requested under the FOIA unless it falls under one of nine...

When should I use a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request information?

All USGS products and publications are in the public domain. Most are readily available for free download on our website. Before launching a potentially time-consuming Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, make sure that the information you need cannot be easily obtained by immediate means. Visit the USGS website , explore our FOIA Reading...

How do I request information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

There are several ways to submit a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request: Submit a request through the National FOIA Portal . Use the Department of the Interior’s FOIA Request Form . Email your request to foia@usgs.gov . Put “Freedom of Information Act Request” in the subject line. Write a letter to the USGS FOIA Office using one of the...

What USGS products are already publicly available?

As the Nation’s largest water, earth, and biological science and civilian mapping agency, we have numerous types of products. Most of these--including data, tools, maps, and publications--are publicly available through our website. Almost all digital materials can be downloaded at no cost to the public. For information about the availability of...

What information should I include in my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request?

While you are not required to give a reason for your request, you should be as specific as possible when describing the records that you seek. That will produce faster and better results. Phrases like “any and all” can significantly delay the processing time and potentially increase your processing fee. Prior to submitting your request, we suggest...

Is there a cost for obtaining federal records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

By law, the USGS is authorized to charge Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processing fees to requesters in order to recover the direct costs of search, review, and duplication of requested records. The fees depend on the requester category into which you fall. If the total costs of supplying the requested information is less than $50, the USGS...

Can I ask that any Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processing fees be waived?

Yes, you can request a waiver of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) processing fees. Under the FOIA, fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities...

How long will it take to process my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request?

The USGS uses a multi-track processing system. We distinguish simple requests from more complex ones based on the estimated number of workdays needed to process the request. Factors include the number of pages involved in processing the request and the need for consultations with other federal agencies. Requests within each track are processed and...

Is a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request confidential? Does my identity impact the results?

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests are not confidential. Once a FOIA request is received, it becomes a public record of the USGS. If the request contains personally identifying information or the request is deemed “sensitive,” we may redact information under FOIA Exemption 6 (personal privacy). The identity of the FOIA requester does not...

Does the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) cover contract-related requests?

Yes, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) covers contract-related requests. Prior to submitting your request, check USAspending.gov to determine what information about the contract is already publicly available. If you decide to submit a FOIA request, please provide the award ID number or the name of the awardee so that we can quickly search for...

How do I check the status of my Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request?

Check the status of your FOIA request using the Department of the Interior’s Track Your FOIA Request webpage. Additionally, you can check the status of your FOIA request by contacting the USGS FOIA office using any of the following methods: Email: foia@usgs.gov Phone: (443) 498-5521 Mail: U.S. Geological Survey, 5522 Research Park Drive, Baltimore...

Why does the USGS invoke Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Exemption 5 (deliberative process privilege)?

FOIA Exemption 5 (deliberative process privilege) applies to inter-agency or intra-agency records where, for instance, there is a work product that is in draft format or documents that contain deliberations between parties leading up to a decision (including what to publish or not to publish in one of our products). The purpose of the privilege is...

What is the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)?

The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) offers mediation services to resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and agencies as an alternative to litigation. OGIS also reviews agency FOIA compliance, policies, and procedures and makes recommendations for improvement. The Office is a part of the National Archives and Records...

What is the difference between a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Consultation and a Referral?

In the course of processing FOIA requests, it is not uncommon to locate records that either originated with another agency or that contain information of interest to another agency. The practice in such situations is to either refer the requested record to the originating agency for it to process, or to consult with the other agency to get its...

What information/data is NOT covered by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

Information/data that is NOT covered by the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) includes: Non-agency records and personal records. Public requests for access to physical artifacts or scientific samples (e.g. core samples, sediment, rocks, fossils, specimen samples, blood samples). Access to some samples can be arranged through our laboratories...

What can I do if I cannot find a publication in the USGS Publications Warehouse?

If you can't find a known publication in our USGS Publications Warehouse , first try contacting the Publications Warehouse Team . If a print copy is readily available to them, they’re sometimes able to scan it and post it online for free download within a few days. If that doesn’t work, chances are good that the publication can be requested...