Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
- What can I ask for under the FOIA?
Answer: A FOIA request can be made for any agency record. You can also specify the format in which you wish to receive the records (for example, printed or electronic form).
Please note, the FOIA does not require agencies to create new records or to conduct research, analyze data, or answer questions when responding to requests.
- What will I receive in response to a FOIA request?
Answer: Once the BLS has processed your request it will send you a written response letter. This response will let you know whether records were located and will include all releasable documents. If any portions of the records are withheld, for instance because disclosure would invade an individual's personal privacy, the agency will inform you of the specific FOIA exemption that is being applied.
- How do I submit a request to the BLS?
Answer: Before making a request, first look to see if the information you are interested in is already publicly available. You can find a lot of useful information on a range of topics on bls.gov.
If the information you want is not publicly available, you can submit a FOIA request to the BLS’ FOIA Office. The request simply must be in writing and reasonably describe the records you seek. The BLS accepts FOIA requests by mail, e-mail (see below for information on submitting by e-mail), or fax.
You should mail your FOIA request for BLS records to:
U.S. Department of Labor
Bureau of Labor Statistics
FOIA Disclosure Officer
Room 4080 Postal Square Building
2 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E.
Washington, DC 20212-0001
Or fax your request to:
Bureau of Labor Statistics
FOIA Disclosure Officer
Or email your request to:
- How do I submit a request for BLS records by email?
Answer: Email your request to email@example.com. The request will be sent to the Department of Labor’s main FOIA office and will be assigned to the BLS for reply.
- What are the FOIA exemptions and how do they apply to BLS records?
Answer: Not all records are required to be released under the FOIA. Congress established nine exemptions from disclosure for certain categories of information to protect against certain harms, such as an invasion of personal privacy, or harm to law enforcement investigations. The FOIA authorizes agencies to withhold information when they reasonably foresee that disclosure would harm an interest protected by one of these nine exemptions.
The nine exemptions are described below.
Exemption 1: Information that is classified to protect national security.
Exemption 2: Information related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.
Exemption 3: Information that is prohibited from disclosure by another federal law.
Exemption 4: Trade secrets or commercial or financial information that is confidential or privileged.
Exemption 5: Privileged communications within or between agencies, including those protected by the:
- Deliberative Process Privilege (provided the records were created less than 25 years before the date on which they were requested)
- Attorney-Work Product Privilege
- Attorney-Client Privilege
Exemption 6: Information that, if disclosed, would invade another individual's personal privacy.
Exemption 7: Information compiled for law enforcement purposes that:
- 7(A). Could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings
- 7(B). Would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication
- 7(C). Could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
- 7(D). Could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source
- 7(E). Would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law
- 7(F). Could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual
Exemption 8: Information that concerns the supervision of financial institutions.
Exemption 9: Geological information on wells.
BLS individual- or micro-level survey data are protected under exemption (b)(3) of the FOIA, “records that are specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” and will not be released through FOIA. The BLS has pledged to protect, in accordance with the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA) (44 U.S.C. § 3561 et seq.), the identity of all individuals and establishments from whom data are collected and to use that data for exclusively statistical purposes. Federal agencies are specifically prohibited from releasing in identifiable form information acquired under a pledge of confidentiality for exclusively statistical purposes. This includes not allowing information pertaining to any specific employee or establishment to be inferable from data we release. This assurance enables the BLS to collect sensitive information provided voluntarily by individuals and entities that might not otherwise cooperate. If we failed to keep our pledge of confidentiality, it could cause a detrimental effect on the participation of respondents, thereby impairing our ability to collect reliable data. Other exemptions protecting BLS data from release may apply depending on the request.
- What are the requirements for obtaining records on myself?
Answer: If you are seeking records on yourself, your request will be considered a formal first-party request and will be processed under the FOIA and the Privacy Act of 1974 (5 U.S.C. 552a). You will be required to provide a certification of your identity. This certification is required in order to protect your privacy and to ensure that private information about you is not disclosed inappropriately to someone else.
If you would like to submit a formal first-party request for information about yourself contained in BLS records, your request must include the following:
- Contact information, including full name, current address, telephone number, and email address so we may contact you if necessary and verify your identity.
- A description of the records requested and where they would be held. The specific system of records, or a clear description of the record(s) including date range, subject matter, contacts or persons involved, place records were created, applicable system of records, and other pertinent details should be included as necessary. The description should be specific enough to help us locate the records you are seeking. You can find the BLS-DOL Systems of Records listings and descriptions on this page: https://www.dol.gov/sol/privacy/.
- A brief description of the nature, time, place, and circumstances of your association with the BLS.
- Any other information which you believe would help the BLS to determine whether the information about you is included in any records.
- If you are authorizing another individual to have access to your records, the name of that person.
- A Privacy Act certification of identity. When you request access to records about yourself, you must verify your identity. You must sign your request and your signature must either be notarized or submitted by you under 28 U.S.C. 1746, a law that permits statements to be made under penalty of perjury as a substitute for notarization. While no specific form is required, please include the following information:
- Your full name and date;
- An acknowledgment that you understand the criminal penalty in the Privacy Act for requesting or obtaining access to records under false pretenses (5 U.S.C. 552a(I)(3)); and
- A notarization of your signature, or a declaration that your statement is true and correct under penalty of perjury (18 U.S.C. 1001).
- How is a FOIA request processed?
Answer: After BLS receives your FOIA request, you will usually receive an email acknowledging the request with an assigned tracking number. If BLS requires additional information before it can begin to process your request, it will contact you. BLS will typically search for records in response to your request and then review those records to determine which – and what parts of each – can be released. BLS will redact, or black out, any information protected from disclosure by one of the FOIA’s nine exemptions. The releasable records will then be sent to you.
- How long will it take before I get a response?
Answer: The BLS typically processes requests in the order of receipt. The time it takes to respond to a request will vary depending on the complexity of the request. Simple requests are typically more targeted and seek fewer pages of records and do not require coordination among multiple offices or agencies. Complex requests typically seek a high volume of material or require additional steps to process such as the need to search for records in multiple locations and may require coordination among multiple offices or agencies. A simple request can be processed faster by the agency than one that is complex. The BLS FOIA Service Center is available at BLSFOIAServiceCenter@bls.gov or on (202) 691-7628 to assist you at with any question about the status of your request and any steps you can take to receive a quicker response.
- Can I have my request processed faster than usual or expedited?
Answer: Under certain conditions you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis. There are two specific situations where a request will be expedited, which means that it is handled as soon as practicable. First, a request will be expedited if the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose a threat to someone's life or physical safety. Second, if there is an urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity, if made by a person who is primarily engaged in disseminating information, his or her request maybe approved for expedited treatment. A response to the request for expedited processing will be acknowledged within ten days of receipt of the request.
- Can I request BLS data at the individual or microdata level?
Answer: Requests for BLS microdata will be denied under exemption (b)(3) of the FOIA, “records that are specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” and also in some cases under exemptions (b)(4) of the Act, “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential,” and/or (b)(6) of the Act, “personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”
The BLS has pledged to protect, to the full extent permitted by law, the identity of all individuals and establishments from whom data are collected and to use that data for exclusively statistical purposes. Under the Confidential Information Protection and Statistical Efficiency Act (CIPSEA) (44 U.S.C. § 3561 et seq.), Federal agencies are specifically prohibited from releasing in identifiable form information acquired under a pledge of confidentiality for exclusively statistical purposes. This includes not allowing information pertaining to any specific employee or establishment to be inferable from data we release. This assurance enables the BLS to collect sensitive information provided voluntarily by individuals and entities that might not otherwise cooperate. If we failed to keep our pledge of confidentiality, it could cause a detrimental effect on the participation of BLS respondents, thereby impairing our ability to collect reliable data.
The BLS may be able to provide special tabulations that would contain aggregated data provided such tabulations meet our confidentiality guidelines. For more information, please contact the appropriate program office for the data you are seeking.
Freedom of Information Act Requests
Last Modified Date: January 6, 2019