Click here to skip navigation Home  |  Subject Index  |  Important Links  |  Contact Us  |  Help

U.S. Office of Personnel Management - Recruiting, Retaining and Honoring a World-Class Workforce to Serve the American People

Advanced Search

Freedom of Information Act

Reference Guide


The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, gives you the right to request access to federal agency records or information. All U.S. government agencies are required to disclose agency records to the public unless the records are protected by one or more of the FOIA's nine exemptions or three exclusions. The nine exemption categories that authorize government agencies to withhold information are:

  1. classified information for national defense or foreign policy;
  2. internal personnel rules and practices;
  3. information that is exempt under other laws;
  4. trade secrets and confidential business information;
  5. inter-agency or intra-agency memoranda or letters that are protected by legal privileges;
  6. personnel and medical files;
  7. law enforcement records or information;
  8. information concerning bank supervision; and
  9. geological and geophysical information.

The three exclusions are rarely used and pertain to particularly sensitive law enforcement and national security matters.

Access to Certain Records Without a FOIA Request

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) makes certain records available without requiring a FOIA request. Such records include the agency's Annual FOIA Report, which can be found at, and other documents which can be found in the agency's Electronic Reading Room, located at

OPM's Freedom of Information Act Web page provides access to a list of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Contacts within OPM and a link to the U.S. Department of Justice FOIA and Privacy Act Web pages.

Time for Response

OPM has three methods for responding to your FOIA request. These methods, which have different response times, are regular processing, expedited processing, and extended response time processing.

Regular Processing

Once the appropriate OPM office receives your FOIA request, it will determine within twenty business days (excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) whether to disclose or deny the records sought.

Expedited Processing

You may be entitled to expedited processing of your FOIA request if you certify that you have a compelling need. A compelling need may be a threat to someone's life or physical safety. You may also have a compelling need if you are primarily engaged in disseminating information to the public and the information is urgently needed to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activity. The request for expedited processing must include your reasons why your request should be expedited. You should also certify that your reasons are true and correct. The appropriate office will notify you of its decision to expedite your request within ten days after receiving your request. If the OPM office decides to expedite your request, it will be processed as soon as practicable. If the office denies your request for expedited processing, you have the right to submit an appeal, which OPM will handle expeditiously.

Extended Response Time Processing

Under the FOIA, OPM may extend the response time for an additional ten business days based upon unusual circumstances involved in the request, such as the volume of records sought.


An OPM office will furnish, without charge, reasonable quantities of material that it has available for free distribution to the public. Under the FOIA, OPM is permitted to charge certain fees for processing FOIA requests.

Fees may vary depending on the requester's category. Commercial requesters may be charged fees for searching, reviewing, and duplicating records. Noncommercial requesters, such as educational or scientific institutions and the news media, are only charged for the duplicating expenses, after the first 100 pages of copies. All other requesters who do not fall within either of these two categories are not charged for the review of the records, only for the search and duplication of the records. No charge is assessed for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of copies.

Fees less than $25.00

If the total fee for searching, reviewing, and duplicating is less than $25.00, no fee is assessed.

Fees between $25.00 and $250.00

If the estimated fees are between $25.00 and $250.00, OPM will not release the records unless you have agreed to pay all fees at the time of your request. If you do not include an acceptable agreement to pay the fees at the time of your request, OPM will promptly notify you of the estimated fees. Once you provide OPM with an agreement to pay all fees, OPM will release the records.

Fees over $250.00

If the estimated fees exceed $250.00, OPM may require you to pay the fees in advance.

Fee Waivers

OPM may waive fees if the disclosure of the requested information contributes significantly to public's understanding of the operation or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

Initial Request Determination

Once the OPM office has processed your request and any fee issues have been resolved, the office will send you a written notice explaining its determination to disclose or deny records. If information is being withheld, OPM will specify the FOIA exemption that pertains to the denial. You will also be advised of your right to appeal any adverse determination. If pages of the requested information are withheld in their entirety, OPM will usually specify the number of pages being withheld or will make a reasonable effort to estimate the amount of withheld information.

This page can be found on the web at the following url: