The Freedom of Information Act is a law that enables you, as a member of the public, to request documents from the government. You will often hear the Freedom of Information Act referred to as FOIA for short. On President Obama’s first day in office, he issued a memorandum directing government agencies to favor disclosure in response to FOIA requests “in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in FOIA, and to usher in a new era of open Government.”
Can I submit a FOIA request?
The answer is most likely yes. Any person (individuals; foreign citizens; partnerships; corporations; associations; foreign, state, or local governments) can submit a FOIA request. Only Federal agencies are unable to submit a FOIA request.
How do I submit a FOIA request?
You may send your request via email (FOIA@cfpb.gov), fax (1-855-FAX-FOIA (329-3642)), or mail at the following address:Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Attention: Chief FOIA Officer
1700 G Street, NW
Washington, DC 20552
Make sure your request includes:
- Your contact information (e.g., full name, address, phone number, e-mail address).
- As many details as possible about the information you are seeking from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (e.g., “Consumer complaints received between January 1, 2013 and the present that were related to overdraft charges”).
- Type of requester. For example: “for commercial purposes,” “news media,” “non-commercial scientific institution,” “educational institution,” or “other.”
- Indicate whether you are willing to pay fees for searching, reviewing, and/or duplication records. You may request that fees be waived because the request is not commercial and it will significantly contribute to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government; please make sure you include a waiver justification for CFPB to consider.
How long will it take to process my FOIA request?
The CFPB is committed to providing courteous and timely treatment when processing FOIA requests. FOIA requesters can expect that their requests will be promptly considered, that reasonable searches will be conducted for the requested record(s), and that a careful review of any records that were found will be performed. FOIA requesters will receive a response to their request within 20 business days unless there are unusual circumstances. In this case, you will receive a letter stating the reason for the delay. If there is a compelling need to inform the public about actual or alleged government activity or failure to obtain the records poses an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual, you may seek expedited processing.
Who do I contact to find out the status of my request or raise a concern with my request?
You can contact CFPB’s FOIA Requester Service Center at 1-855-444-FOIA (3642) or FOIA@cfpb.gov to determine the status of your request or address concerns regarding your FOIA request. The CFPB’s FOIA Public Liaison is Mr. Mark Vugrinovich.
Why didn’t I get the records I asked for?
FOIA authorizes government agencies to protect certain information from release under nine different exemptions. Here are some examples of information that may fall under the nine exemptions:
- Classified Information – If in the unlikely event that the CFPB possesses records classified under a Presidential Executive Order, these documents can be withheld from disclosure. Examples of withheld classified information from other government agencies would include military plans related to readiness and confidential government intelligence sources.
- Internal Personnel Rules and Practices – Information related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency. Examples of information that may be withheld include practices dealing with employee relations, rules associated with human resources, and hiring or firing procedures.
- Statute – A statute requires that the information be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion to the agency: for example, the Census Act that prohibits the release of any identifying information collected during the national census or the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that prohibits releasing information related to matters presently before the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
- Trade Secrets/Confidential Financial Information – This exemption relates to trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a private source which is privileged or confidential. Information that may be protected as a trade secret includes items like a recipe for a commercial food product or a formula for a pioneering drug product. Information that could be protected as confidential or privileged commercial or financial information may include the marketing plans, unit prices, or other information that, if released, could impair the government’s ability to obtain such information in the future or cause competitive harm to the entity or person who provided the information.
- Privileged Inter/Intra-Agency Communications – Records subject to this exemption include those containing information subject to the attorney/client communications, attorney work product, and agency deliberative process privileges. For example, an internal government draft document that makes recommendations about a policy that has not been approved, or a memorandum from an agency employee to his supervisor describing options for conducting agency business, may be exempt as deliberative process privilege material.
- Personal Privacy – This exemption protects personnel, medical, and similar information from disclosure if its release would represent a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. It requires agencies to balance an individual’s right to privacy and the public’s right to know. Information protected under this privacy exemption may include an individual’s date of birth, social security number, and other personally identifiable information.
- Law Enforcement – This exemption enables agencies to withhold records in order to protect the law enforcement process from interference. There are six specific sub-categories within this exemption. For example, 7(D) protects the identities of confidential sources and 7(E) protects information from disclosure if doing so would reveal techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions.
- Financial Institutions – Protects information that is contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by or on behalf of, or for the use of, an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions (like the CFPB).
- Geological/Geophysical Information – This exemption is rarely used and relates to geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, about wells.
In the event that the information you requested has not been released (in whole or in part), you may appeal the decision. Your appeal rights will be clearly outlined in the response letter.