How long does it take to get information under FOIA?

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Once the right agency (or component of an agency) has received a complete and
perfected request, it has 20 working days to respond with its determination of
whether to grant the request.

If information is denied in full or in part, the agency must give the reasons
by this deadline. If it grants a request, the agency does not have to deliver
the applicable documents within the time frame, but must do so promptly

FOIA allows agencies additional time to process requests in “unusual
circumstances,” including 1) the need to search for and collect records from
separate offices; 2) the need to examine a voluminous amount of records required
by the request; and 3) the need to consult with another agency or agency

Many times agencies cannot meet the time limits, owing to the complexity of
the request or to a backlog of prior FOIA requests. In that case, agencies
typically process requests on a first-in, first-out basis. Some agencies
multitrack requests, allowing simpler requests to move through the system more
quickly. Agencies sometimes expedite urgent requests if a “compelling need” is

To get an idea how quickly a particular agency generally responds to its
requests, see that agency’s annual FOIA report, where it describes its
compliance with the time limits and the median number of days it requires to
process requests. (The DOJ keeps all departments’ and agencies’
annual reports
on its Web site.)