FOIA Definitions

This section describes the terms commonly used by FOIA professionals. The terms are listed in alphabetical order. If there are any terms not included on this list, please contact the NOAA FOIA Officer by using the link at the bottom of this page.


a request to a federal agency asking that it review, at a higher administrative level, a full denial or partial denial of access to records under the FOIA, or any other FOIA determination, such as a matter pertaining to fees.


requests open past the statutory time limit for response.


a FOIA request that an agency using multi-track processing places in a slower track based on the volume and/or complexity of records requested.


an agency decision not to release any part of a record or records in response to a FOIA request because all the information in the requested records is determined by the agency to be exempt under one or more of the FOIA's exemption or for some procedural reason (e.g., if no records are located in response to a FOIA request).


The Electronic FOIA Amendments, signed by President Clinton, amend the FOIA to include the following changes.

The Amendments:

  1. extend from 10 to 20 business days (excluding weekends and Federal holidays) the time in which an agency must respond to FOIA requests.
  2. require an agency to make reasonable efforts to search electronic databases and to make records available to the public in the formats they require;
  3. mandate that an agency submit its FOIA Annual Report to the Congress by fiscal year, instead of calendar year, as was required in the past;
  4. require that an agency make reports available to the public by computer telecommunications or other electronic means;
  5. mandate that an agency lists its major information systems, record locator systems, and reference guide and make them available in electronic format; and
  6. require that an agency establishes an electronic reading room and reference guide that includes agency policies, staff manuals, opinions made in the adjudication of cases, and an index of records released in compliance with FOIA that are likely to become the subject of subsequent FOIA requests.


one of nine federal statues that prohibit the disclose of a certain type of information to the public. Also refer to the FOIA EXEMPTIONS portion of this site.


practice an agency uses to process an expedited basis when a requester has shown an exceptional need or urgency for the records which warrant prioritization of his or her request over other requests that were made earlier.


a request for access to records concerning a third party, an organization, or a particular topic of interest. A PA request is a request for records concerning oneself; such requests are also treated as FOIA requests. All requests for access to records, regardless of which law is cited by requesters, are cited for FOIA annual reporting purposes.


an agency decision to disclose all records in full in response to a FOIA request.


a request to a federal agency for access to records under the FOIA.


a system in which simple requests requiring relatively minimal reviews are placed in one processing track and more voluminous and complex requests are placed in one or more tracks. Requests in each track are processed on a first-in/first-out basis. A requester who has an urgent need for records may request expedited processing.


an agency decision to disclose a records in part in response to a FOIA request, redacting information determined to be exempt under one or more of the FOIA's exemptions, or a decision to disclose some records in their entireties, but to withhold others in whole or in part.


a FOIA request for records which adequately describes the records sought, which has been received by the agency in possession of the records, and for which there is no remaining question about the payment of applicable fees.


a request or appeal for which an agency has taken a final action.


records released by an agency without waiting for a FOIA request.


review, manually or by automated means, agency records for the purpose of locating those records which are responsive to a FOIA request.


a FOIA request that any agency using multitrack processing places in its fastest (non-expedited) track based on the volume or complexity of records requested.


requests open past the statutory time limit for response.