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Basic Information About the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) generally provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure by one of nine exemptions. Only certain of these disclosure limitations are likely to pertain to records in the Office of Pesticide Programs.

Enacted in 1966, the FOIA established for the first time an effective statutory right of access to records in the possession of the executive branch of the federal government. The principles of government openness and accountability underlying the FOIA, however, are inherent in the democratic ideal.

The basic purpose of FOIA is to ensure an informed citizenry and to hold the governors accountable to the governed, both of which are vital to the function of a democratic society. Achieving an informed citizenry is a goal often counterpoised against other vital societal aims. Though tensions among these competing interests are characteristic of a democratic society, their resolution lies in providing a workable formula that encompasses, balances, and appropriately protects all interests, while placing emphasis on the most responsible public disclosure possible. It is this task of accommodating countervailing concerns, with disclosure as the predominant objective, that the FOIA seeks to accomplish.

The Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 were enacted to address the subject of electronic records, as well as the subject areas of FOIA reading rooms and agency backlogs of FOIA requests, among other procedural provisions. For example, the amendments stipulate that an agency shall provide records in any form or format requested by a person if the record is readily reproducible by the agency in that form or format.

Also, the amendments increased the Act’s basic time limit for agency responses, lengthening it from ten to twenty working days. Agencies are not necessarily required to release the records within the twenty-day statutory time limit, but access to releasable records should, at a minimum, be granted promptly thereafter.

Source: Department of Justice FOIA Guide

For information related to FOIA requests for other parts of EPA, please see EPA's national FOIA Web site, located in EPA's Office of Environmental Information.

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