This guide answers the most frequently asked questions about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

What is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. Section 552 (PDF, 61 KB) is a federal law established in 1966 to give private citizens greater access to government information. It requires that federal agencies disclose the fullest possible amount of information to the public, subject to certain exemptions.

President's Memorandum (PDF, 88 KB) Federal Register Notice / Vol. 74, No. 15 / Monday, January 26, 2009

Attorney General’s Memorandum (PDF, 1.17 MB) March 19, 2009

What is the Privacy Act?

The Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. Section 552a is a companion to FOIA. It allows individuals access to federal agency records about themselves. It requires that personal information in agency files be accurate, complete, relevant, and timely. Additionally, each agency must publish a description of each system of records maintained by the agency that contain personal information.

What type of information can I request?

FOIA requests may be used to obtain "agency records," which include a wide variety of documents and other materials (including print, photographic, and electronic formats) that were created or obtained by a Federal agency and are, at the time the FOIA request is filed, in the agency’s possession and control. However, FOIA excludes certain categories of records from disclosure, including materials related to national security, internal agency rules, proprietary business information, inter- and intra-agency communications that are protected by legal privileges, and personal privacy.

Can I access agency records without filing a FOIA request?

Yes. Many IMLS publications and much grant-related information are available to the public without the need to make a formal FOIA request. A great deal of this information, including publications, sample application narratives, reviewer handbooks, and grant recipients, is readily accessible on this website.

How do I make a FOIA request?

You can fax, write, or e-mail:

Freedom of Information Act Officer
Institute of Museum and Library Services
955 L'Enfant Plaza North, SW, Suite 4000
Washington, DC, 20024-2135

Facsimile: 202-653-4625

You can also submit your FOIA request online.

It is important to include the following information in your request, so that we may answer your request in a timely manner:

  • A statement that you are requesting information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
  • A clear and specific description of the information you are requesting. If possible, identify dates, subjects, titles, or authors of the documents requested.
  • An explanation of what the information will be used for (i.e. scholarly purpose, commercial use, personal use). This will help us determine what fees, if any, to charge you for the information.
  • If you are requesting a waiver of fees, please state why you believe you are entitled to the waiver.
  • Your contact information, including name, address, phone, fax, and email.

What charges apply to process FOIA requests?

Information requests may result in costs to the agency, such as search, review, duplication, computer programming, delivery, and special handling. The costs will be relayed to the requestor, according to the following cases:

  • Commercial use requestors must pay all associated costs.
  • Those requesting information for media use, educational research, or private or non-profit receive 100 pages of duplication and two hours of search and review free of charge. The remaining costs, and fees associated with computer programming, special handling, and delivery must be paid.
  • You may request a waiver of all fees if your request is "likely to contribute to public understanding of the operation or activities of government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requestor."

How quickly will you respond to my request?

IMLS makes every effort to respond to your request as quickly as possible. The law requires that federal agencies respond to you within 20 days of the receipt of the request, excluding weekends and holidays. Especially complex or voluminous requests may need additional time. If your request cannot be answered within the twenty day period, you will be contacted to either narrow your request to allow for a timelier response, or to accept a delay in delivery.

Track a FOIA request (PDF, 126KB).

May I appeal if my FOIA request is denied?

If your FOIA request is denied, you have the right to appeal to the head of the agency. You may also appeal the following decisions regarding your request: a decision to withhold materials; a rejection of a fee waiver request; the type or amount of fees charged; or for any other type of adverse determination.

Appealing is a straightforward procedure. Simply write a letter including a description of your original request, the reason for your appeal, and why you believe the agency’s response was incorrect. Please include a copy of your original request and the agency’s response. You should be as complete as possible, and there is no charge for filing an administrative appeal. Your letter should be sent to:

IMLS Director
c/o Office of the General Counsel
Institute of Museum and Library Services
955 L'Enfant Plaza North, SW, Suite 4000
Washington, DC, 20024-2135

Phone: 202-653-4787
Facsimile: 202-653-4625


FOIA Electronic Reading Room

Quarterly FOIA Reports


Annual FOIA Reports


Chief FOIA Officer Report


FOIA Regulations

IMLS Freedom of Information Act Regulations, 45 CFR § 1184 (effective March 21, 2014)

FOIA Officers, FOIA Request Service Centers, and Public Liaisons

In response to the President’s Executive Order 13,392 of December 14, 2005 "Improving Agency Disclosure of Information," the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) designates the following:

Chief FOIA Compliance Officer

Calvin D. Trowbridge III

FOIA Officer

Gladstone Payton
Office of Communications and Government Affairs

FOIA Request Service Center Principal FOIA Contact

Brianna Ingram

FOIA Public Liaisons

Brianna Ingram

Gladstone Payton
Office of Communications and Government Affairs

Privacy Assessments

Privacy impact assessments are available at and through IMLS's Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO). Please contact the OCIO at 202-653-4767 for further assistance.

Additional information about IMLS's Privacy Program is available at: