A CITIZEN'S GUIDE ON USING THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
AND THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974 TO REQUEST GOVERNMENT RECORDS
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VI. The Freedom of Information Act
A. THE SCOPE OF THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
The Federal Freedom of Information Act applies to documents held by agencies of the executive branch of the Federal Government. The executive branch includes cabinet departments, military departments, government corporations, government controlled corporations, independent regulatory agencies, and other establishments in the executive branch. The FOIA does not apply to elected officials of the Federal Government, including the President,\13\ Vice President, Senators, and Congressmen.\14\ The FOIA does not apply to the Federal judiciary. The FOIA does not apply to private companies; persons who receive Federal contracts or grants; private organizations; or State or local governments.
All States and some localities have passed laws like the FOIA that allow people to request access to records. In addition, there are other Federal and State laws that may permit access to documents held by organizations not covered by the Federal FOIA.\15\
\13\ The Presidential Records Act of 1978, 44 U.S.C. Sec. Sec. 2201-2207 (1982), does make the documentary materials of former Presidents subject to the FOIA in part. Presidential papers and documents generated after Jan. 20, 1981, will be available--subject to certain restrictions and delays--under the general framework of the FOIA.
\14\ Virtually all official records of the Congress are available to the public. The Congressional Record, all bills introduced in the House and the Senate, and all committee reports (except for those containing classified information) are printed and disseminated. Most committee hearings are also printed and available. Copies of most congressional publications are available at Federal depository libraries throughout the country. Historical records of the Congress are made available in accordance with procedures established by House and Senate rules. In addition, almost all activities of the Congress take place in public. The sessions of the House and Senate are normally open to the public and televised. Most committee hearings and markups are open to the public, and some are televised.
\15\ See, e.g., the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. Sec. 1681 et seq. (1982) (providing for access to files of credit bureaus), the Federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, 20 U.S.C. Sec. 1232g (1982) (providing for access to records maintained by schools and colleges). Some States have enacted laws allowing individuals to have access to personnel records maintained by employers. See, e.g., Michigan Compiled Laws Annotated Sec. 423.501.