District of Columbia public policy entitles all persons to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them. Enacted in 1973, the District’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is designed to “pierce the veil of administrative secrecy and to open agency action to the light of public scrutiny.” The Act gives any person the right to request records, in any form, that are prepared, owned, used, in the possession of, and retained by a public body. When FOIA requests are submitted, agencies are required to make a reasonable search for records. On an annual basis, District government agencies are required to report FOIA disclosure activities for the previous fiscal year to the Secretary of the District of Columbia and the Council of the District of Columbia.
View the full FOIA statute:
How to Make a FOIA Request
Anyone may submit a FOIA request. There is no central FOIA office in the District government; therefore, each public body 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 FOIA request may be submitted orally or in writing and may be mailed, faxed or emailed.
When submitting your request, mark the outside of the envelope or the subject line of the fax or email: “Freedom of Information Act Request” or “FOIA Request.” Include a daytime telephone number, email address or mailing address in your request letter so that the FOIA Officer may contact you if necessary.
Requests for the Office of the People’s Counsel should be mailed/faxed/emailed to:
Tamika R. Dodson, FOIA Officer
Office of the People’s Counsel
1133 15th Street, NW
Suite 500 Washington, DC 20005
Fax: (202) 727-1014
To ensure that your FOIA request is processed smoothly, please 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 OPC identify the records you seek. The more specific you are about the records you are seeking, the more likely OPC 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.
Pursuant to the FOIA statute, agencies have fifteen (15) business days to respond to a FOIA request. When the request generates a large volume of documents, agencies may invoke a ten (10) business day extension, and inform the requestor of the extension.
Exemptions from FOIA Disclosure
The FOIA statute provides that certain categories of records may be withheld from disclosure. Included among these are records that relate to law-enforcement activities, records subject to recognized legal privileges such as the attorney-client and work product privileges, records required to be withheld by other laws (federal or District), records that reflect the internal deliberative processes of the government, records that reveal trade secrets, and records the disclosure of which would result in a clearly unwarranted intrusion on personal privacy.
If your request for documents falls into one of the 14 enumerated categories of exemptions listed in DC Code § 2-534, your FOIA request may be denied.
Fees and Waiver of Fees
There is no initial fee for submitting a FOIA request. However, OPC may charge fees for searching, reviewing, and reproducing records as provided in 1 DCMR §408. 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. 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. (DC Code § 2- 532(b)).
Appeals or Judicial Review of Denials
Should you disagree with the findings listed in the response to your FOIA request, you may file an administrative appeal with the Mayor. An administrative appeal may be submitted: (1) online via the DC government Public FOIA Portal, or (2) in writing by mail or email.
Written appeals must include: a copy of the original request, a copy of OPC’s denial letter, and a written statement of the arguments, circumstances, or reasons in support of the information sought by your request. The appeal letter must include “Freedom of Information Act Appeal” or “FOIA Appeal” in the subject line of the letter and marked on the outside of the envelope. You may direct a written appeal to firstname.lastname@example.org or to:
Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel
1350 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20004
A copy of the appeal must be provided to OPC and addressed to OPC’s FOIA Officer listed above.