| by Orlando Ortiz

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request is a useful and critical tool available to anyone who wishes to know how their federal, state and municipal governments operate.

In a sense, the FOIA serves as an individual check and balance that taxpayers can utilize on governmental actions and information. FOIA requests make government more accountable and transparent to the people they serve.

Key terms to know in relation to the FOIA and its process include:

The FOIA process 

To submit an FOIA request, an individual can email or mail the FOIA officer of a public body and ask for any public record within a specified time period.

The FOIA officer has 5 business days to decide whether he or she can comply with the request, must ask for an additional 5-day extension or will deny the request. The 5-day countdown begins the day after the public body receives the FOIA request.

An extension for an additional 5 business days is allowed for the following reasons:

A request may be denied under certain circumstances for being unduly burdensome. A request can be determined “unduly burdensome” if the information being sought cannot be narrowed enough so that the burden on the public body to produce the information outweighs the public interest. Also, the request may be denied if the requested information falls into any of these categories that are exempt by law:

If an individual believes his or her FOIA request was denied or not handled in compliance with the law, he or she can ask for a review from the public access counselor. The public access counselor will conduct a review and decide on the merits of the request. Contact information for Illinois’ public access counselor can be found here: foia.ilattorneygeneral.net.

A list of Chicago’s FOIA officers is available at: cityofchicago.org/city/en/narr/foia/foia_contacts.html

A list of Illinois’ FOIA officers is available at: www2.illinois.gov/Pages/FOIA-Contacts.aspx

Learning about how government is operating is a critical step to ensuring that it is operating honestly and efficiently. Utilizing the FOIA is one of the easiest and most important options for taxpayers to stay informed and ensure government accountability.

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