FOIA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

These are the most frequently asked questions about FOIA at SIGIR.

What is the Freedom Of Information Act?
The FOIA is a federal law that establishes the public's right to request existing records from federal government agencies. Known by its legal cite as 5 U.S.C. § 552, it governs how requests are processed by government organizations, including SIGIR.
Who can file a FOIA request?
Any "person" can file a FOIA request, including U.S. citizens, foreign nationals, organizations, universities, businesses, and state and local governments.
Who is subject to the FOIA and what type of information can be requested?
The FOIA's scope includes federal executive branch directorates, agencies, and offices, federal regulatory agencies, and federal corporations. Congress, the federal courts, and parts of the Executive Office of the President are not subject to the FOIA. State and local governments are likewise not subject to the federal FOIA, but some states have their own equivalent access laws for state records.
What is a record?
A record is the product of data compilation, such as all books, papers, maps, and photographs, machine readable materials, inclusive of those in electronic form or format, or other documentary materials, regardless of physical form or characteristics, made or received by an agency of the U.S. government under federal law in connection with the transaction of public business and in SIGIR possession and control at the time the FOIA request is made.
Can I ask questions under the FOIA?
The FOIA does not require Federal Agencies to answer questions, render opinions, or provide subjective evaluations. Requestors must ask for existing records, such as those mentioned above.
How do I file a FOIA request?
It is the policy of SIGIR to make the maximum information available to the public on its operations and activities. SIGIR shall conduct its activities in an open manner consistent with the need for security and the other requirements of law and regulation.

The FOIA process will be reserved for use when it is necessary to protect information as permitted by law. Information not exempt from disclosure under FOIA shall be readily accessible to the public upon request.

I. Before making a request under FOIA, please check SIGIR Reports to determine if the information is already available; this section of the SIGIR Web site constitutes a "reading room" for FOIA purposes.
II. If the information is not already posted on the SIGIR Web site, contact SIGIR Public Affairs and request the information. Please address inquiries regarding reports and publicatons to SIGIR Public Affairs by e-mail or by phone 703-428-1100.
III. If the FOIA must be invoked for the release of the information, you will be advised to submit a formal request.

For mail/fax requests:

a. Label as, Freedom of Information Act Request, within the request letter (and on the envelope, if forwarded by mail)
b. State your willingness to pay applicable fees; if you are requesting that fees be waived, provide a justification
c. Describe the specific records you are requesting in enough detail so that they can be located within a reasonable amount of effort. Generally, a record is reasonably described when:
the description contains sufficient file-related information (type of document, title, subject area, date of creation, originator, etc.); or
the request contains enough event-related information (date and circumstances surrounding the event the record covers) to permit the conduct of an organized, nonrandom search.
d. Please note that security screening of mail can cause a delay in delivery to SIGIR.

Access a sample FOIA request letter for mail or fax

How should I submit FOIA requests?
By Mail:

(Please note that security screening of mail can cause a delay in delivery to SIGIR):

Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction
2530 Crystal Drive
Arlington, VA 22202-3940

By Fax : (703)-428-0818

By Web: Access FOIA Request Form and follow instructions.

By E-Mail:

I. Prepare a written request as described for mail or fax submission
II. Access the blank FOIA pre-addressed message form or prepare an e-mail message addressed to
III. Copy and paste your FOIA request into the body of the message
IV. Send the message
What are the reasons for not releasing a record?
Some reasons why the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction may not release a record when a request for information is made under the FOIA are:
  • The information requested is not under the cognizance of SIGIR and the request has been forwarded to another federal entity (with notification to the requestor).
  • A reasonable search of files failed to identify responsive records.
  • The record is denied in whole, or in part, in accordance with procedures set forth in the FOIA.
  • A record has not been described in adequate detail to enable SIGIR to locate it by conducting a reasonable search.
  • The request is withdrawn by the requestor.
  • The requestor is unwilling to pay fees associated with a request, the requestor is past due in the payment of fees from a previous FOIA request, or the requestor disagrees with the fee estimate.
  • The information requested is not a record within the meaning of the FOIA.
  • The request is a duplicate request from a single requestor (please do not send your request by more than one method i.e., mail, fax and e-mail)
What are the FOIA exemptions?
Records (or portions of records) will be disclosed unless that disclosure harms an interest protected by a FOIA exemption. The nine FOIA exemptions are cited in the Act as 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(1) through (b)(9):
  • Records currently and properly classified in the interest of national security
  • Records related solely to internal personnel rules and practices, which if released would allow circumvention of an agency function
  • Records protected by another law that specifically exempts the information from public release
  • Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a private source which would cause substantial competitive harm to the source if disclosed
  • Inter/Intra-agency records that are deliberative in nature and are part of the decision making process that contain opinions and recommendations
  • Records which if released, would result in a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
  • Investigatory records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes
  • Records for the use of any agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions
  • Records containing geological and geophysical information (including maps) concerning wells
Can I appeal a denial?
Yes. If your request is initially denied in whole, or in part, under one or more of the above exemptions, or for some other reason, you will be advised of your appeal rights and the proper procedures for submitting the appeal, which must be postmarked within 60 days of the date of the denial letter. You may also appeal any determination which you consider to be adverse. As with appeals of denied information, an appeal of an adverse determination also must be postmarked within 60 days of the date of the letter advising you of the adverse determination. If you are not satisfied with the appeal decision, you may pursue your case in federal court.
How long will it take for my request to be processed?
In fairness to all requestors, SIGIR processes requests in order by date-of-receipt and according to complexity. Whenever possible, an initial determination to release or deny a record is made within 20 working days after receipt of the request by the official who is designated to respond. Under certain conditions you may be entitled to an expedited response (e.g., an urgent need to inform the public). Expedited access may be granted if there is a compelling need. There may also be circumstances (e.g., requests for voluminous records), that require SIGIR to extend the response time by 10 additional days. When a determination on a request is not made within the applicable time period and you have not agreed to an extension, you may file suit in federal court to pursue a response.
Do I have to pay for a FOIA request?
The FOIA allows fees to be charged to certain types of requestors, but it also provides for waivers or reductions in fees if disclosing the information is in the public interest. Public interest is defined as information which significantly enhances the public's knowledge of the operations and activities of SIGIR. FOIA requires that requestors be placed into one of the below categories:
  • Commercial. Requestors who seek information for a use or purpose that furthers their commercial, trade, or profit interest are considered commercial requestors. Commercial requestors pay all fees for search, review and duplication.
  • Educational. Institutions of education, including preschools, elementary or secondary schools and institutions of higher learning, qualify as educational institutions. The records must be sought in furtherance of scholarly research. Educational requestors pay only duplication fees, unless it is determined that fees are waived or reduced in the public interest. The first 100 pages are provided at no cost.
  • Non-Commercial Scientific. A non-commercial scientific institution is operated solely for conducting scientific research. The records must be sought in furtherance of scientific research. Like educational requestors, these requestors pay only duplication fees, unless it is determined that fees are waived or reduced in the public interest. The first 100 pages are provided at no cost.
  • News Media. A representative of the news media is a person actively gathering news for an entity organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. News media pay only duplication fees, unless it is determined that fees are waived or reduced in the public interest. Again, the first 100 pages are provided at no cost.
  • "Other" Requestors. Requestors who do not qualify in another category are considered "other" requestors, and normally make requests for agency records for their personal use. "Other" requestors receive two hours search, all review costs, and the first 100 pages at no cost.
All requestors should submit a willingness to pay fees regardless of the fee category. However, this does not mean the requestor will be charged fees. Requestors may limit the fees they will pay for their request or state that if fees exceed a certain amount, they wish to be contacted before the search or copying is continued. If the requestor does not do so, SIGIR will assume that they are willing to pay fees up to $25. If SIGIR estimates that the total fees for processing the request will exceed $25, SIGIR will notify the requestor in writing of the estimate and offer the requestor an opportunity to narrow their request. Except for commercial requestors waivers are always considered. Fee waivers may be granted when disclosure of the records is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.
How May I Request a Fee Waiver?
The following factors are weighed in making a fee waiver determination:
  • the subject of the request
  • the informative value of the information to be disclosed
  • the contribution to an understanding of the subject by the general public likely result from the disclosure
  • the significance of the contribution to public understanding
  • disclosure of the information is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requestor
  • the ability of the requestor to disseminate the information
What is the Fee Schedule?
SIGIR costs for paper reproduction are currently set at .15 cents per page. Costs of reproducing in other media will be assessed at the actual cost of reproduction.

The assessment of fees varies for records searches, and review time. These will be charged according to the basic hourly rate of the employee performing the search or review, plus an additional 16% for benefits. Searches are ordinarily performed by GS-8 through GS-13. Reviews are performed by higher graded employees, ranging from GS-13 through GS-15.