Free public access to United States government documents in a federal depository library is guaranteed by law (44 USC §1911). While UC Berkeley houses one of the most comprehensive collections of U.S. government documents in the country, the Library is one of over a thousand Federal Depository Libraries across the United States, and one of several Federal Depository Libraries in the San Francisco Bay Area.
FOIA stands for Freedom Of Information Act. It allows anyone to request information from the Executive Branch agencies and departments (those agencies and departments that report to the President--find them here). FOIA does not apply to the Legislative Branch (U.S. Congress) nor the Judicial Branch (U.S. Courts).
FOIA Resources, including the law itself (from the U.S. Department of Justice).
Read the regulations governing FOIA. (from the Legal Information Institute at Cornell University Law School).
Before pursuing a FOIA request, do as much research as you can in the published record. Look at government reports, press releases, newspaper articles, etc. For most research projects, the published record can provide the information you may need. If you decide to do a FOIA request, examining the published reports will help you focus your request, or provide the necessary background information to better construct your request. Use the government information guides or contact a government information librarian for tips and advice on locating this information.
If the public record does not satisfy your research, a FOIA request may be needed. This guide provides tips and links to sample requests from various groups, as well as how to determine where to send your request.
Many open government, watchdog groups, and even the federal government provide examples, instructions and tips on conducting a FOIA request. Here are a few of them:
A few agencies are starting to use FOIAOnline for their requests. FOIAOnline lets you submit your request as well as search requests that have been fulfilled. Only a small number of agencies are a part of this site, but the list is growing.
If the agency/department you are interested in is not a part of FOIAOnline, you will need to send your request to their FOIA office. The simplest way to determine where to send your request is to Google the name of the agency/department with FOIA. Use the search box below to add the name of the agency you are interested in after FOIA.
Some agencies, like the EPA, allow anyone to submit a request through their website or via FOIAOnline. Others will inform you where to mail or fax your request.