Expedited processing and fast-tracking your request

In some circumstances, defined either by the statute or by agency regulations, you are entitled to expedited processing of your FOIA request.

If you ask for expedited processing, an agency must grant or deny you faster processing within 10 calendar days. If the agency grants you expedited processing, it will take your request out of order and process it before other requests.

To support your request you should describe the circumstances that you feel make it eligible for expedited processing. You should also “certify” to the agency that the reasons you give for seeking expedited processing are true with a declaration such as, “I certify that my statements concerning the need for expedited processing are true and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief.” The statute allows agencies to require certification, although as a practical matter many agencies have agreed in their FOIA regulations to waive this requirement.

An agency will honor a request for expedited processing if you have a life-threatening need for the information or if delayed disclosure could threaten the physical safety of any individual. It will also grant a request for expedited processing if you are a reporter or a person who is otherwise “primarily engaged in disseminating information” and your request concerns a matter of “compelling need.”

Of more importance to reporters, the Justice Department also provides for expedited processing if your request concerns a matter of “widespread and exceptional media interest in which there exist possible questions about the government’s integrity which affect public confidence.” Requests to the Justice Department for expedited processing under this last standard should be directed not to the FOIA officer but to the department’s Office of Public Affairs.16

The law allows agencies to separate requests into different queues depending upon how much work or time it will take to fulfill the request. It also allows agencies to give requesters an opportunity to narrow their requests to fit the fastest track.

Simply splitting up your request into smaller segments is probably not sufficient to gain a spot on the faster tracks. The law allows agencies to “aggregate” requests that are clearly related and treat them as a single, larger request.

If an agency offers to negotiate, you should work with it to narrow your request. Ultimately if you sue the agency over its delays, a court will consider your efforts to cooperate or to negotiate in determining whether the agency is acting “reasonably” to exercise diligence in fulfilling your request.

You can learn which “track” your request is placed on and when it is anticipated to be filled once the agency provides you with a tracking number. You can check online or over the phone to see when your request was received and where it falls in the queue.

16 Director of Public Affairs, U.S. Department of Justice, Room 1128, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20530