How to Submit a FOIA Request
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) gives you the right to access information from federal agencies like the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) & APHIS. FOIAonline allows you to submit FOIA requests to all participating agencies from this website, track the status of requests, search for requests submitted by others, and generate up-to-the-minute reports on FOIA processing.
The general rule is that any person – citizen or not – can make a FOIA request. It’s easy to do so and there is no specific form that must be used to make a request. The request simply must be in writing, reasonably describe the information you seek, and comply with specific agency requirements.
So how do you create a FOIA request? Here’s some steps to requesting documentation on captive cetaceans via the Freedom of Information Act.
1. Create an account on FOIAOnline. This will allow you to submit electronic FOIA requests as well as receive records via their online system.
2. Draft your request letter. Your request letter can be as specific or as vague as you want it to be. When drafting your letter try to communicate exactly what you want from the agency, you will get what you ask for in most cases but wording is important.
You can use a short request or a longer request, whatever you prefer.
Use the template below to create your own letter by editing the fields in bold or italics to meet your needs. This letter is only one example however more samples can be viewed at Sample FOIA Request Letters and Sample FOIA requests and appeals.
———- BEGIN SHORT SAMPLE FOIA REQUEST LETTER ———-
———- END SHORT SAMPLE FOIA REQUEST LETTER ———-
———- BEGIN LONG SAMPLE FOIA REQUEST LETTER ———-
Agency Head [or Freedom of Information Act Officer]
Name of Agency
Address of Agency
City, State, Zip Code
Re: Freedom of Information Act Request
Dear ______________ / Attn FOIA Agent:
Pursuant to the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I request access to and copies of [list of documents, for example, Marine Mammal Inventory Reports (MMIR), necropsy reports, Marine Mammal Transfer Notifications (MMTTN), etc]. [Also describe what species or institutions from which you’re requesting these forms from].
For example: I am requesting copies of the marine mammal inventory reports for SeaWorld Orlando, Georgia Aquarium and Indianapolis Zoo. I would like the reports to include all marine mammals/all cetaceans/all pinnipeds (pick one or all). I would also like the reports to include living animals/dead animals/both living and dead animals.
In order to help to determine my status to assess fees, you should know that I am [insert a suitable description of the requester and the purpose of the request].
Sample requester descriptions:
-affiliated with an educational or noncommercial scientific institution, and this request is made for a scholarly or scientific purpose and not for a commercial use.
– an individual seeking information for personal use and not for a commercial use.
– affiliated with a private corporation and am seeking information for use in the company’s business.
If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you justify all deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the act. I will also expect you to release all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material. I, of course, reserve the right to appeal your decision to withhold any information or to deny a waiver of fees.
[Optional] I am willing to pay fees for this request up to a maximum of $_____. If you estimate that the fees will exceed this limit, please inform me first. I will accept records in either hard copy or electronic format.
I look forward to your reply within 20 business days, as the statute requires.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
City, State, Zip Code
Telephone number [Optional]
—————————————– END SAMPLE FOIA REQUEST LETTER —————————————–
3. Now that your FOIA Request letter is complete you can submit your request online. Be sure to specify which agency you’re requesting from. The two most common agencies for captive cetacean records are the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) which is part of the Department of Commerce and APHIS which is part of the Department of Agriculture.
AGENCY SPECIFIC FOIA CONTACTS
APHIS FOIA Contact Information
Tonya Woods, FOIA Director
Legislative and Public Affairs
Freedom of Information Act
4700 River Road, Unit 50
Riverdale, MD 20737
Fax: 301-734 -5941
NMFS Office of Protected Resources
Attn: Gary Jackson, F/PR FOIA Coordinator
1315 East-West Highway, Room 13242
Silver Spring, MD 20910
phone: (301) 713-2319 x107
fax: (301) 713-0376
FOIA RELATED LINKS & RESOURCES
Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), FOIA page – information pertaining the APHIS and FOIA requests.
Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), eFOIA Reading Room – The FOIA Electronic Reading Room contains documents specifically identified for inclusion by the FOIA, as well as documents for which we have received multiple FOIA requests.
Animal Plant and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), eFOIA Request Documents– electronic copies of recent FOIA requests to APHIS. Captive cetacean documents often fall under the “Animal Care” category.
FOIA.gov, Frequently Asked Questions
NMFS/NOAA FOIA Contact Information – captive marine mammals fall under the Office of Protected Resources.