Submitting a FOIA Request
FOIA requests to the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) should be in writing and include the requester's name, address and, preferably, email address and telephone number. The request should reasonably describe the records being sought. OGE can respond to a request for specific records that are releasable to the public quicker than a request for "all information" on a particular subject. Also, any fees for a more specific and limited request are likely to be lower. A request should also contain a statement concerning willingness to pay fees, including any limitations. Unless otherwise stated, filing of a request is deemed to constitute an agreement by the requester to pay all fees up to $25.00. In determining which records are responsive to a request, OGE ordinarily will include only records in OGE's possession and control as of the date its records search begins. If any other date is used, OGE will inform the requester of that date.
Send Requests By Email or Mail
FOIA requests can be emailed to the OGE FOIA Officer at email@example.com and should indicate in the subject line that the message contains a Freedom of Information Act request.
Requests may also be mailed to the following address:
OGE FOIA Officer
Office of Government Ethics
1201 New York Avenue, NW.
Washington, DC 20005-3917
The envelope containing the request and the letter itself should both clearly indicate that the subject is a Freedom of Information Act request.
Checking the Status of Requests
FOIA requesters may now track the status of their FOIA requests online at: FOIA Request Status Information. FOIA requesters should refer to their FOIA request acknowledgment letter for the individualized tracking number assigned to the request.
The status information includes the date of receipt, whether the request is open or closed, and the estimated date of completion. Status information is updated on an hourly basis.
FOIA requesters may have to pay fees covering some or all of the costs of processing their requests, unless the fees are waived or reduced. Requesters may want to include in their request letters the maximum dollar amount they are willing to pay (unless otherwise stated, filing of a request is deemed an agreement to pay all applicable fees up to $25.00). If the fees exceed the maximum amount stated, OGE will contact the requester before filling the request. Requesters are generally billed for fees after their requests have been processed (payment must be made before records are provided). However, if total fees are expected to exceed $250.00, or in the case of past nonpayment, OGE may require payment before processing the request. The fees for the various categories of requesters are as follows:
1. Commercial Use Requesters:
- Search and review time: the salary rate of the employee(s) making the search or review plus 16% (or for homogeneous staff searches, $16.00 per hour for clerical staff and $28.00 per hour for professional staff).
- Duplication: $0.15 per page.
- Computer Charges: actual direct cost.
- Electronic Forms/Formats: direct cost for form/format requested, plus any reproduction fees.
- Special services such as certifications: actual direct cost.
- Unproductive searches (no records or exempt records found): will be charged for in accordance with above noted rates.
2. Educational and Noncommercial Scientific Institutions and News Media:
- Duplication charges at the same rates listed above, with no charge for first 100 pages of duplication (no search or review charges).
3. All Other FOIA Requesters, Including Members of the Public:
- Search and duplication charges at rates listed above, with no charge for the first two hours of search time and the first 100 pages of duplication (no review charges).
Requesters should not send payment in with their requests but rather wait until billed. They will be billed if the total processing charges exceed $10.00, unless the fees are waived (or reduced) pursuant to OGE's FOIA regulations. OGE does not accept credit card payments or cash. Instead, payment must be made by check or money order payable to the Treasury of the United States.
Appealing a FOIA Determination
There are two ways a requester may contest OGE’s FOIA determination. FOIA provides a requester the right to bring a lawsuit against the agency in an appropriate Federal district court (in OGE's case, in Washington, DC, or where the requester resides or does business) if a request is, after initial request and administrative appeal, denied in whole or in part or if the agency's FOIA determinations are otherwise reviewable. Thus far, OGE has been involved as a party in three FOIA lawsuits. In all three cases, OGE's FOIA determinations were generally upheld.
- Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Clinton, 76 F.3d 1232 (D.C. Cir. 1996), affirming 880 F. Supp. 1 (D.D.C. 1995) (secondary FOIA count -- OGE's partial withholding of documents and determination that some documents were personal, not agency, records found to have been proper)
- Schwarz v. OGE, No. 96-0594 (D.C. Cir., per curiam Order filed Oct. 23, 1996), affirming No. 96CV00528 (D.D.C., Memorandum & Order filed Mar. 18, 1996) (case dismissed -- OGE had no responsive records)
- Defenders of Wildlife v. Interior Dept., 314 F. Supp. 2d 1 (D.D.C. 2004) (upholding OGE's partial withholding of documents, except for one document subsequently released by another party)
FOIA requesters may also use the mediation services offered by the Office of Government Information Services (“OGIS”) to resolve disputes with OGE as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation. The OGIS website is located at: http://www.archives.gov/ogis/. From time to time, OGE also advises and assists the Justice Department and other agencies in FOIA litigation concerning ethics records of other agencies.