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Getting the Most Out of Your FOIA Request, Part One


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By Kimberly N. Epstein, Freedom of Information Act Officer

Understanding the path of a Freedom of Information Act request. The ACF FOIA effort has three components:  the FOIA Office, the program offices and perhaps most importantly, ACF leadership. ACF leadership sets the standard and provides support for transparency and responsiveness to our requesters.

The FOIA office receives FOIA requests via email, fax, postal service, FedEx and referrals from elsewhere in HHS or other agencies. The FOIA staff logs the request into a tracking system and acknowledges the request. Next, the FOIA staff determines where in ACF the requested records are likely to be and sends the request to that program office to perform a search.  

A search for responsive records can be time-consuming, and is usually done by employees with other duties, as well. Old records may be located at a federal records center, in another part of the agency, or may have been destroyed under the federal General Records Schedule (for more information on General Records Schedules, see Sometimes, we may call a requester during the search to clarify the request. 

The program offices provide the records to the FOIA staff, and the FOIA staff reviews each record, page-by-page, blocking out (“redacting”) information that is protected under one of the FOIA’s exemptions or exclusions. (For information on FOIA exemptions and exclusions, see

After review and redaction, the FOIA staff provides a copy of the record to the requester. ACF is committed to electronic record-keeping, and prefers to send records by email or compact disks. Under the FOIA, there may be a charge for providing the records, and in most cases, ACF sends its invoice with the records.

At every step of the way, ACF FOIA staff is available to work with you on your request.  We think working together is the best way to provide the information you seek about what your government is up to.

For more tips on getting the most out of your FOIA request, including what is not a FOIA request, check out tomorrow’s blog, Getting the most out of your FOIA request, Part 2!

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