The District of Columbia Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, DC Official Code §§ 2-531 et seq., provides that any person has the right to request access to public records. All public bodies of the District government are required to disclose public records, except for those records, or portions of records, that are protected from disclosure by the exemptions found at DC Official Code § 2-534.
Pursuant to the Council Rules (Rule 811), the Office of the General Counsel is the principal point of contact for the Council of the District of Columbia for advice and policy guidance on matters pertaining to the administration of the FOIA. All requests are handled professionally and expeditiously.
A FOIA request may be made for any public record. This does not mean, however, that the public body will disclose every record sought. Statutory exemptions authorize the withholding of certain public records. When the public body does withhold records or portions of records, it must specify which exemption of the FOIA permits the withholding. FOIA does not require agencies to do research, to analyze data, to answer written questions, or to create records in order to respond to a request.
HOW TO MAKE A REQUEST
Anyone may submit a FOIA request. There is no central FOIA office in the District government. Each public body, including the Council of the District of Columbia, responds to requests for its own records. To submit a request, you should determine which public body is likely to maintain the records you are seeking and submit a request to the FOIA Officer of that public body. A component of the District government is not required to forward a FOIA request to another agency or component of the District government. A FOIA should be in writing and may be mailed, faxed or e-mailed.
FOIA requests may be oral or in writing. If the request is written, the envelope shall be prominently marked “FOIA Request.” The FOIA Officer may request that an oral request be reduced to writing, if the requested records are not customarily made available by the Council. FOIA requests shall be directed to the Council FOIA Officer who is listed below.
- When submitting your request, please mark the outside of the envelope or the subject line of the fax or email: “Freedom of Information Act Request” or “FOIA Request.”
- Please include a daytime telephone number, email address or mailing address in your request letter so that the FOIA Officer may contact you if necessary.
- Describe the record(s) you are seeking as clearly and precisely as possible. In your description, please be as specific as possible with regard to names, dates, places, events, subjects, and other pertinent details that will help the public body to identify the records. The more specific you are about the records you are seeking, the more likely the public body will be able to locate those records. If your request is vague or too broad, we may ask you to be more specific, and this may delay the processing of your request.
All public bodies are required to respond to an FOIA request within 15 working days (that is, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal public holidays). The response period begins on the date the request is actually received by the FOIA Officer of the public body that maintains the records you are requesting. Public bodies may extend the time for a response by an additional 10 working days (again, excluding Saturdays, Sundays and legal public holidays) for unusual circumstances, as defined by DC Official Code § 2-532(d).
EXEMPTIONS FROM FOIA DISCLOSURE
The FOIA statute provides that certain categories of documents may be withheld from disclosure. Included among these are documents that relate to law-enforcement activities, documents subject to recognized legal privileges such as the attorney-client and work-product privileges, documents required to be withheld by other laws (federal or District), documents that reflect the internal deliberative processes of the government, and documents the disclosure of which would result in a clearly unwarranted intrusion on personal privacy. For a complete list of the exemptions, please see DC Official Code § 2-534.
FEES AND FEE WAIVERS
There is no initial fee for submitting an FOIA request. However, a public body may charge fees for searching, reviewing,and reproducing records. You may include in your request letter a specific statement limiting the amount of fees you are willing to pay. Please be aware that you may have to pay search and/or review fees even if the search does not locate any responsive records or if records are located but are withheld as exempt.
You may request a waiver or reduction of fees in your request letter. You must include a statement describing how the requested records will be used to benefit the general public. Pursuant to DC Official Code § 2-532(b), if the public body determines that a waiver or fee reduction is in the public interest, i.e., furnishing the records primarily benefits the general public, a waiver or reduction may be granted.
JUDICIAL REVIEW OF DENIALS
You may seek judicial review if you are dissatisfied with the response to your request. Please refer to the District of Columbia Superior Court rules concerning procedures for filing a civil action.
The information contained herein is provided as a helpful summary of the DC FOIA. Please refer to the FOIA statute at DC Official Code §§ 2-531 et seq. for additional information.
COUNCIL FOIA OFFICER
Assistant General Counsel
Office of the General Counsel
Council of the District of Columbia
John A. Wilson Building,
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Suite 4,
Washington, DC 20004
Tel: (202) 724-8026
Fax: (202) 724-8129