Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Guide

NOTE: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the National Endowment for the Arts staff is working almost entirely off-site. As a result, we will not be able to accept and process postal mail and other deliveries in our usual manner. Because mail and other deliveries may be returned to sender, we ask that you not send us anything until the agency has resumed normal operations. We will update this notice as necessary to reflect evolving conditions.

The purpose of this overview is to answer some frequently asked questions about the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). For further information on how FOIA is implemented at the National Endowment for the Arts, please see 45 C.F.R. § 1100

What is The Freedom of Information Act?

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was established in 1966 for the purpose of allowing private citizens greater access to government information.

FOIA sets standards for determining which records must be disclosed and which records may be withheld. A list of FOIA exemptions determines which categories of information the agency may withhold. However, FOIA also provides administrative and judicial remedies for those who are denied their request. Most importantly,FOIA requires all federal agencies to provide you with the fullest possible disclosure of information. It is our desire to assist you in obtaining this information.

On January 21, 2009, President Barack Obama signed two memoranda to executive departments and agencies concerning 1.) the Freedom of Information Act and 2.) Transparency and Open Government. Among the principles established are:

  • Adopting a presumption in favor of disclosure to all decisions involving FOIA
  • Taking affirmative steps to make information public, even before a specific request has been received
  • Timely disclosure
  • Reaffirming the commitment to accountability and transparency

What is the Privacy Act?

The Privacy Act of 1974 is a companion to FOIA. It allows individuals access to federal agency records about themselves. For more information about the Privacy Act, please click here.

How do I make a FOIA request?

You can fax, write, or email:

FOIA Requests
Office of General Counsel
National Endowment for the Arts
400 7th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20506

To view a sample FOIA request, please click here.

What information can I get through FOIA?

Are there documents I can access without a FOIA request?  
Yes! In particular, there are many interesting and informative documents on our website which we encourage you to browse at your leisure. You will find answers here to most questions you may have about the programs of the Arts Endowment, as well as a wealth of information about the grant award process. You'll also find application materials and guidelines available on the website, along with lists of other NEA publications that you can obtain through our Office of Public Affairs.  Additionally, documents that have been frequently requested through FOIA are available in the FOIA Library.

What types of records can be requested from the NEA through FOIA?  
Any agency record can be requested through the Freedom of Information Act.  An “agency record” is one that has been created or obtained by the NEA, and is under NEA control. Note, however, that the NEA is not required to create new records under the Freedom of Information Act. 

Does FOIA allow access to all NEA Records?

No. FOIA provides nine specific exemptions that allow certain records to be withheld in full or in part. Please see additional information on these exemptions.

Are there fees involved in requesting documents?

Depending upon the type of request, certain types of fees may be charged. Please see the fee schedule for additional information.

How long will I have to wait to receive the information I've requested?

Once the NEA receives a FOIA request, it has 20 business days to respond. 
However, some FOIA requests are so broad and complex that they cannot be completed within the 20-day period, and the time spent processing them only delays other requests. Accordingly, the NEA may discuss with requesters ways of tailoring large requests to improve responsiveness. This approach explicitly recognizes that FOIA works best when agencies and requesters work together. We will also notify you if your request will be delayed for any other reason.

What are the common reasons for delay?

  • Additional time is needed to search for documents.
  • The request is especially voluminous or complex.
  • It is necessary to consult with another agency before releasing documents.

Can my request be expedited?

Yes, under certain conditions. You must demonstrate a compelling need for a quicker response. A compelling need can be demonstrated by showing either:

  • Failing to obtain the records within the expedited deadline poses an imminent threat to an individual's life or physical safety OR
  • The person making the request is someone who is primarily engaged in disseminating information and urgently needs the information expedited to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activity.

If a delay in the response to your request would compromise a significant and recognized public interest, the expedition requirement would be satisfied. However, a general assertion of "the public's right to know" will not be sufficient to expedite a request.

What can I do if my FOIA request is denied?

If your FOIA request is denied, you have the right to appeal the denial to the head of the agency.

What can I appeal?

  • You may appeal a decision to withhold materials.
  • You may appeal for a waiver of fees.
  • You may contest the type or amount of fees that were charged.
  • You may appeal any other type of adverse determination.

How do I file a FOIA appeal?

Appealing to the head of an administrative agency under FOIA is a simple process. You do not need a lawyer to help you write an appeal. Your letter should identify what you are appealing and why you disagree with the agency's decision to withhold information. You should be as complete as possible. There is no charge for filing an administrative appeal.

Write to:

NEA Chairman
c/o Office of General Counsel
National Endowment for the Arts
400 7th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20506

Can I keep the NEA from releasing information about me to someone else?

This situation is called a "reverse FOIA." A reverse FOIA is when someone petitions or sues the agency to prevent it from releasing specific information. Unless the petitioner can show that the information in question is protected by a FOIAexemption, or would cause specific and serious harm if released, the agency may choose whether or not to release the information.