What is the FOIA?
Congress passed the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1966 and later amended it. The FOIA gives U.S. citizens the right to access federal agency records so they can understand their government's operations and activities.
The FOIA requires that all federal agencies disclose records to any person who makes a request in writing. However, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and other agencies protect privileged information. They cannot release material that falls within the nine exemptions and three exclusions contained in the FOIA.
The FOIA applies only to federal agencies and does not provide for the right to access records held by Congress, the courts, or by state or local government agencies. Each state has its own public access laws that should be consulted to obtain state and local records.
Led by the President of the United States, the Executive Branch is responsible for the administration of the FOIA. The Department of Justice's Office of Information Policy oversees agency compliance with the FOIA.
Executive Correspondence and Support Branch
Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration
5600 Fishers Lane
Rockville, MD 20857
Office: (240) 276-0764
SAMHSA FOIA Resources
- HHS Administrative Manuals
- Submitting a FOIA Request and Associated Fees
- SAMHSA's Quarterly and Annual FOIA Summary Reports
Federal Government FOIA Information and Resources
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provide information and resources about the FOIA law, regulations and exemptions. Both departments also provide answers to frequently asked questions and reference materials that will help the FOIA submission process:
- The DOJ FOIA page provides an overview of all federal government FOIA activities.
- DOJ's FOIA.gov provides data and reports on requests received across the federal government along with information about the FOIA submission process.
- The United States Department of Justice Guide to the Freedom of Information Act (posted July 24, 2013) provides a comprehensive legal guide of the FOIA's procedural requirements, exemptions and litigation considerations.
- The HHS FOIA home page provides information about the FOIA and the submission process.
The FOIA Law and Regulations
- The Freedom of Information Act (5 USC 552) (PDF | 136 KB) is the law.
- Regulations 45 CFR Part 5, Public Information are the regulations.
Before Submitting a FOIA Request
Check the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website before submitting a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to see if the desired information is already publicly available. The website's search feature is a helpful tool for finding specific information.
How to Submit a FOIA Request
Submit a FOIA request to obtain records. Be advised that certain records and information are protected from disclosure and will not be released. To obtain FOIA records from SAMHSA, visit the FOIA.gov portal and follow the steps to electronically submit your request. The request should clearly describe the records needed and include the following, as it may be necessary for a member of the FOIA team to contact you:
- The subject of the request.
- Your complete mailing address.
- Your phone number and email address.
Fee Charges for FOIA Requests
SAMHSA charges fees for some requests and will bill you only if the total processing charges are $25 or more.
For fee purposes, the FOIA requires that requestors be placed in one of three categories:
- Commercial use
- Educational and scientific institutions, and news media
- All other
In line with these FOIA categories, SAMHSA charges the following costs associated with the processing of requests:
- Commercial-use requestors pay for search, review and duplication costs.
- Scientific, educational, and news media requestors pay for the cost of duplication only. The first 100 pages are free of charge.
- All other requestors pay for the costs of search and duplication. The first 2 hours of search and the first 100 pages of duplication are free of charge.
In your written request, you may specify the fee category in which you feel your request falls. You may also state the maximum amount of fees that you are willing to pay.
The FOIA permits SAMHSA to waive its fees if disclosure of the record is in the public interest, and it
- Is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.
- Is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requestor.
If you believe that your request meets both of the above tests, you can request a fee waiver or reduction in fees. Be sure to fully document and justify your waiver request.
A FOIA requester may appeal if denied access to records. Your appeal can be submitted by email or via HHS FOIA and Appeal Portal, and within the time limit, provided in your denial letter. appeal letter should state reasons why:
- You believe that the FOIA exemption(s) cited do not apply to the records that you requested, or
- The records should be released regardless of whether the exemption(s) apply.
Because SAMHSA has discretionary authority in deciding whether to release or withhold certain types of records, it may strengthen the request if an explanation for wanting the records is included. However, explanations are not required.
If the reviewing official grants the appeal, access to the records or an explanation of the delay will be provided. If the decision is to deny the appeal, the official will state the reasons for the decision and inform you of the FOIA provision for judicial review in writing.