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Freedom of Information Act Office

The NIH FOIA Staff welcomes you to the NIH FOIA Home Page. We hope you will find this site informative and that it will give you a better understanding of NIH's public information programs. We will continue to improve this site to bring you current program information.

NIH FOIA Staff

  • Susan R. Cornell, Freedom of Information Officer and Chief FOIA Liaison, NIH
  • Brenda J. Butler, FOIA Specialist, NIH
  • Jarell WIlliams, FOIA Specialist, NIH
  • Tim Redmond, FOIA Specialist, NIH
  • Lauren Bartok, Program Assistant

Welcome

The NIH FOIA office generally handles three different categories of requests:
  • requests for information maintained by the Office of the Director, NIH
  • requests that involve trans NIH issues or initiatives unless a specific IC has responsibility
  • requests for information that will not be released because it is protected by one or more of the FOIA's nine exemptions or three exclusions

While all requests may be sent to the NIH FOIA Office, each of NIH's separate Institutes and Centers has its own FOIA Coordinator. Requesters should direct requests for information about a specific NIH component to that component. A list of the FOIA Coordinators for each component is available at this site for your convenience.

Background/Overview

The Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"), 5 U.S.C. 552, provides individuals with a right to access to records in the possession of the federal government. The government may withhold information pursuant to the nine exemptions and three exclusions contained in the Act.

Guide for Submitting FOIA Requests

FOIA requesters interested in obtaining information on federally funded biomedical research projects should consult the NIH RePORT (Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools) website http://report.nih.gov/index.aspx. RePORT provides access to a variety of reporting tools, reports, data, and analyses of NIH research activities. One of the tools available on the RePORT site is the RePORTER (RePORT Expenditures and Results) module http://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm. RePORTER is an electronic tool that allows users to search a repository of NIH-funded research projects and access publications and patents resulting from NIH funding. This will enable requesters to identify the grant number and the component funding the research in their FOIA request. RePORTER also provides links to PubMed Central, PubMed and other helpful information.

In 1999 the Office of Management and Budget issued final revisions to Circular A110 to provide for access to data produced under grants awarded by the National Institutes of Health and other federal awarding agencies. To the extent you are interested in requesting data produced under a National Institutes of Health grant pursuant to the provisions of Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Revised Circular A110, please understand that the provisions of Revised Circular A110 apply to data:

  • first produced under a new or competing continuing grant awarded after the Department of Health and Human Services amended 45 C.F.R. 74 to incorporate the changes mandated by the Revised Circular (April 17, 2000); and
  • cited publicly and officially by the Federal Government in support of an agency action that has the force and effect of law.

In addition, if the data you request are already available to the public through an archive or other source, we will not process your request under the FOIA. In that situation, we will refer you to the archive or other source.

More information regarding NIH implementation of Revised Circular A110 may be found at http://grants.nih.gov/archive/grants/policy/a110/a110_guidance_dec1999.htm.

With all FOIA requests, if the information you are interested in is not in the public domain, please follow the suggestions listed below when preparing your FOIA request:

  • identify the records requested (be as specific as possible, i.e., describe the subject matter of the records, and, if known, indicate the dates of the records, the places where they originated, and the names of the originating persons or offices);
  • state that the records are requested under the Freedom of Information Act;
  • include daytime telephone numbers in case additional information is needed before answering requests; and
  • forward all requests either to the appropriate FOIA Coordinator or to the NIH FOIA Office by one of the methods listed below:
  • if you are requesting data produced under an NIH grant, include the following information in your request:
    • the federal regulation or administrative order that cited the data being requested;
    • the publication and/or reference cited in the federal regulation;
    • The grant number under which the data were produced (this information can be obtained from the RePORTER module http://projectreporter.nih.gov/reporter.cfm on the NIH RePORT (Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools) website http://report.nih.gov/index.aspx.
    • a description of the data sought; and
    • a statement that the data are being requested under OMB Revised Circular A110.
  • Mail the request (mark the outside of the envelope, "FOIA Request") either to the appropriate FOIA Coordinator or to the NIH FOIA Office:
    Freedom of Information Office, NIH
    Building 31, Room 5B35
    31 Center Drive, MSC 2107
    Bethesda, MD 20892-2107
  • OR Fax the request to the FOIA Office at (301) 402-4541;
  • OR email the request to the FOIA Office at nihfoia@mail.nih.gov.

If the requester knows which component has responsive documents, the FOIA request should be sent directly to the FOIA Coordinator for that component. A list of the FOIA Coordinators for NIH components and their addresses is included at this site.

Individuals with questions concerning their requests may contact the FOIA Coordinator to whom they sent their request or the NIH FOIA Office at 301-496-5633. Requesters may also contact the appropriate FOIA Requester Service Center or FOIA Public Liaison with questions or for a status update of their request.

Requests for Grants and Contract documents:

If you are requesting a copy of a funded grant application or an awarded contract with associated documents, you should understand that NIH routinely redacts certain information from those documents before we release them. More information about these routine redactions can be found at this site. Just click on the type of document that interests you: grants or contracts.

Guide for Submitting FOIA Appeals

FOIA requesters may appeal the denial of information within 30 days of receipt of letters from the agency. Appeals should state the following information:
  • the reasons why the requested information should be released under the Act; and
  • why the denial may be in error.

FOIA requesters should attach copies of their original requests and response letters to all appeals, clearly mark the letters and the outside envelopes, "FOIA Appeal, " and mail appeals to the following address:

U.S. Postal Service

Director, News Division
Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Parklawn Building, Room 19-01
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857

Fees

The Freedom of Information Act provides for the agency to recover part of the cost associated with responding to a request. The Department Regulations set out the specific rules for fees and for requesting a fee waiver or a reduction in fees. Some general principles apply to all requests such as:
  • if you are going to request a fee waiver or a reduction in fees, you must do so when you file your initial request for documents.
  • you may be charged for search time even if we do not locate any documents responsive to your request or if the documents we locate are denied to you under one of the FOIA's exemptions.
  • there will not be a charge if the cost of responding to your request is less than $25.

If a determination is made that fees will be charged, the following fee schedule will be used to calculate the exact cost of search and review time:

  • if the work is performed by an agency employee Grade 1-8, you will be charged $5.75 for each 15 minutes worked.
  • if the work is performed by an agency employee Grade 9-14, you will be charged $11.50 for each 15 minutes worked.
  • if the work is performed by an agency employee Grade 15 or above, you will be charged $20.75 for each 15 minutes worked.

In addition, if you are requesting data produced under a NIH grant under the provisions of OMB Revised Circular A110, you will be charged a reasonable fee equaling the full incremental cost of obtaining the data. This fee will reflect the costs incurred by NIH, the grantee institution and the grantee investigator. These fees will be in addition to any fees assessed by NIH under the FOIA.

FOIA Requester Service Centers and FOIA Public Liaisons

Requesters may have questions or want to know the status of their request. All questions about a pending request, including those for a status may be directed to the FOIA Coordinator to whom the request was submitted. In addition, NIH and each of its components has a FOIA Requester Service Center available to answer questions or to provide a status regarding a pending request. For more efficient service, questions and inquiries should be directed to the Service Center contact for the NIH component to which the request was submitted. A complete listing of the FOIA Requester Service Center contacts is available at this site. If, after contacting the appropriate FOIA Requester Service Center, a requester wants more information about a request, NIH and each component also has a FOIA Public Liaison who is available to provide information regarding FOIA requests. The listing of the FOIA Public Liaisons is included with the listing of FOIA Requester Service Center contacts.

Exemptions

The Freedom of Information Act provides that the agency will provide access to identifiable documents within our possession unless one of nine exemptions or three exclusions applies. The exact language of the exemptions can be found in the Freedom of Information Act. Additional guidance on the exemptions and how they apply to certain documents can be found in the Department Regulations implementing the FOIA.

Exclusions

Congress provided special protection in the FOIA for three narrow categories of law enforcement and national security records. The provisions protecting those records are known as "exclusions." The first exclusion protects the existence of an ongoing criminal law enforcement investigation when the subject of the investigation is unaware that it is pending and disclosure could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings. The second exclusion is limited to criminal law enforcement agencies and protects the existence of informant records when the informant's status has not been officially confirmed. The third exclusion is limited to the FBI and protects the existence of foreign intelligence or counterintelligence, or international terrorism records when the existence of such records is classified. Records falling within exclusion are not subject to the requirements of the FOIA. So, when we respond to your request we will limit our response to those records that are subject to the FOIA. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(c) (2006 & Supp. IV (2010).

NIH FOIA Library

On-Site Records

The NIH On-Site FOIA Library (FL) contains a variety of records that come from several of the Institutes and Centers at the NIH. The records are indexed with an identifying number to assist users in locating the record(s) of interest. The Index of Records is available at this site for your convenience. The records are available for reviewing in the FL, which is located in Building 31, Room 5B-35. The hours of operation are 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday through Friday (closed on Federal holidays). A copy machine is available for users to duplicate records of particular interest. Please contact the FOIA Office to make arrangements to view one or more of these records.

Electronic Records

In addition, the following records are available in electronic format at this site:

Frequently Requested Records

An NIH Search Engine is available at http://search.nih.gov/search/advanced?affiliate=nih.

Reference Guide

Description of Publicly Available Information

The NIH has a wealth of information available to the public both in printed form and electronically. Each of NIH's separate Institutes and Centers maintains it's own list of publications and this information can be accessed from their Home Pages. A list of the components is available. If you do not know which component has information of the subject you are interested in, you may run a search from the NIH Home Page.

Other Public Information Servers

  • National Technical Information Services (NTIS) External Web Site Policy
  • National Library of Medicine
  • U.S. Superintendent of Documents External Web Site Policy
    All documents at the U.S. Superintendent of Documents are shelved by government organization and not by subject matter. The documents include information about U.S. Government laws, regulations, statistics, maps, and bibliographies.

    Records that are "promptly published and offered for sale" are not subject to the requirements of FOIA, 5 U.S.C. 552(a) (2). These published materials are not required to be placed in agency conventional/electronic reading rooms.

Major Information Systems

  • MEDLINE: This database of more than 12 million references to articles published in 4600 biomedical journals is maintained by the National Library of Medicine and may be accessed free of charge on the World Wide Web. Two Web-based products, PubMed and the NLM Gateway provide this access.
  • NIH RePORT (Research Portfolio Online Reporting Tools): This is a searchable database of federally funded biomedical research projects conducted at universities, hospitals, and other research institutions. The database is maintained by the Office of Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health.
  • PubMed: This is a comprehensive database of article titles and abstracts.
  • NLM Gateway: The NLM Gateway allows users to search in multiple retrieval systems at the U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM.)

Policies and Administrative Manuals that Affect the Public

FOIA Policies

Department of Justice External Web Site Policy

This page last reviewed on April 2, 2014

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