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EOUSA Resource Manual

136. Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA)

See USAM 3-17.100 et seq.

The underlying principle on which FOIA is premised is disclosure to the public, every agency is obligated to make available to the public information which can be revealed without injury to the public or governmental interest, or the interests of private individuals. Information subject to the Act falls into three classes of information described in subsection (a) of the Act:

  1. Agency rules, a description of its organization, and a statement of the general method by which its functions are channeled and determined, all of which must be published in the Federal Register;

  2. Final opinions and orders made in the adjudication of cases, and statements of policy and interpretations which have been adopted by the agency but which are not published in the Federal Register, including substantive agency rules of general applicability and statements of general policy, final agency opinions made in the adjudication of cases, administrative staff manuals which affect the public, and an indexing of information required to be made available to the public;

  3. All other records of an agency except those records specifically exempt from disclosure by one or more of the nine exemptions to the Act, set forth in subsection (b) thereof.

    Thus, there are nine specific exemptions to disclosure:

    1. National defense and foreign policy information which is properly classified;
    2. Information relating solely to internal personnel rules and practices of the agency;
    3. Information which is specifically prohibited by another statute from disclosure;
    4. Trade secrets, and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential;
    5. Inter- and intra-agency communications which would not be available by law to a party other than the agency in litigation with the agency, e.g., pre-decisional advice pertaining to the deliberative process or attorney work product prepared in reasonable anticipation of litigation;
    6. Personnel, medical, and similar files, the disclosures of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;
    7. Records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that one or more of six specified forms of harm could reasonably be expected to result;
    8. Certain bank records; and
    9. Oil well data.

For a detailed discussion of the FOIA's exemptions and its most important procedural aspects, see, Freedom of Information Act Guide & Privacy Act Overview, an annual Department of Justice publication available from the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys at (202) 616-6757.

[cited in USAM 3-17.100]