Instructions for Requesting Information

Submitting a FOIA Request

Instructions on how to submit a request for information via the Freedom of Information Act.

The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C., Section 552), provides any individual access to Federal agency records, not otherwise accessible. The records may be protected from disclosure (in whole or in part) if they fall under one of nine exemptions and three exclusions. The FOIA was amended by Public Law 104-231 in 1996 (E-FOIA).

Submitting a FOIA Request

Before submitting a FOIA request, you should ensure that the information you seek is not already in the public domain.

FOIA requesters interested in obtaining information on AHRQ-funded projects should consult the Grants On-Line Database. This will enable requesters to identify the grant number and title in their FOIA requests. Go to: http://www.gold.ahrq.gov.

As of February 1, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) requesters are handled by the Division of FOIA Services within the Program Support Center. You may visit that site directly at http://www.psc.gov/psc_foia/psc-freedom-of-information-act-foia-home.

Identify the record(s) that you are seeking. It is helpful if you are as specific as possible. This will enable us to process your request in a reasonable time frame; otherwise we may have to ask you to clarify your request. After receipt of your request, we will send you an acknowledgment letter.

Individuals with questions concerning their request(s) may contact the FOIA Requester Service Center.

FOIA Fees

The FOIA permits us to assess fees for search, review, and duplication. We assume that you are willing to pay the fees accessed for processing your request. You may specify in your request the amount you are willing to pay. If the fees exceed that amount, the Agency will notify you before filling the request.

The fees are assessed according to the category of requester. The categories are:

  1. Commercial requesters.
  2. Educational and scientific institutions and news media.
  3. All others.

Commercial requesters are charged for search, review, and duplication.

The scientific, educational, and news media requesters are charged for duplication only. The first 100 pages are free.

All other requesters are charged for search and duplication, after the first 2 hours of search time and the first 100 pages, which are free. Requesters will be billed if the total processing fees are $25 or more.

If you request a fee waiver or a reduction in fees, you must do so in your initial request for documents.

FOIA Process

When the agency receives your request, it will be logged in and assigned a case number.

We will try to handle your request within 20 working days from the date we receive it. Depending on the type of record(s) you request, it may take longer. Requests are processed on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Expedited Process

We will provide expedited processing when the disclosure of records demonstrate a compelling need such as:

  1. Life threatening or physical safety.
  2. A member of the media demonstrates an urgency to inform the public about Government activities.

Your request will be expedited if the records are needed to meet a deadline imposed by a Government agency for comments on a proposed regulation or for a litigation. Your request must meet these reasons in order for your request to be expedited.

Denials

If the Agency determines to deny records in whole or in part, we will write to you and inform you of our decision. We will explain the reason(s) for withholding the information in accordance with the nine exemptions. We will inform you of your appeal rights.

Guide for Submitting FOIA Appeals

FOIA requesters may appeal the denial of information within 30 days of receipt of letters from the agency. Appeals should state the following information:

  • The reasons why the requested information should be released under the Act.
  • Why the denial may be in error.

FOIA requesters should attach copies of their original requests and response letters to all appeals, clearly mark the letters and the outside envelopes, "FOIA Appeal," and mail appeals to the following address:

Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs (Media)
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Parklawn Building, Room 17A-46
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857

FOIA Exemptions

Exemption 1: Classified Documents

This exemption permits the withholding of properly classified document(s). The document(s) are classified by an Executive Order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy.

Classified documents can be requested under the FOIA. The Agency will review the document(s) to determine whether or not it still requires protection. The Executive Order on Security Classification establishes a special procedure for requesting the declassification of documents. If a document is declassified, it can be released in response to a FOIA request. However, a document that is declassified still may be exempt under other FOIA exemptions.

Exemption 2: Internal Personnel Rules and Practices

This exemption permits the withholding of the Agency's internal personnel rules and practices. Information pertaining to personnel rules or internal Agency practices is exempt if it is a trivial administrative matter of no genuine public interest.

Internal administrative manuals can be exempt if disclosure would risk circumvention of law or Agency regulations. Manuals instructing inspectors or agents on how to perform their jobs are not exempt.

Exemption 3: Information Exempt by Other Laws

This exemption covers documents and information specifically exempted from disclosure by other laws if one of two disjunctive requirements are met. The statute either:

  1. Requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issue.

    or

  2. Establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld.

Exemption 4: Confidential, Commercial, and Financial Information

This exemption protects trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential.

The Government must prove that the information is confidential and that disclosure would either impair the Agency's ability to obtain necessary information in the future or cause substantial competitive harm to the submitter.

The Agency will notify a submitter that a FOIA request has come in concerning the business information submitted and the submitter will have an opportunity to convey to the Agency the information they feel qualifies for withholding.

Exemption 5: Internal Government Communications

This exemption protects the deliberative policymaking process of the Government. It does not protect factual information related to the policy process. Factual information must be released unless it is intertwined with protected information about an Agency decision.

Exemption 6: Personal Privacy

This exemption protects personnel, medical, and similar files, the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. It involves a balancing of the public's need to know against the degree of invasion of privacy which would result from disclosure.

Exemption 7: Law Enforcement

This exemption protects law enforcement records, but only to the extent that the production of such records would:

  1. Interfere with enforcement proceedings.
  2. Deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication.
  3. Constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
  4. Disclose the identity of a confidential source and, in the case of a record compiled by a criminal law enforcement authority in the course of a criminal investigation, or by an agency conducting a lawful national security intelligence investigation, confidential information furnished only the the confidential source.
  5. Disclose investigative techniques and procedures.
  6. Endanger the life or physical safety of law enforcement personnel.

Exemption 8: Financial Institutions

This exemption protects information that is contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by or for a bank supervisory agency such as the Federal Reserve, the New York Stock Exchange, or similar agencies.

Exemption 9: Geological Information

This exemption protects disclosure of geological and geophysical information and data, including maps concerning wells.

Current as of October 2012
Internet Citation: Instructions for Requesting Information: Submitting a FOIA Request. October 2012. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://www.ahrq.gov/policy/foia/instruct.html