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First Amendment
Federal Open Records: What the federal government must provide for public review

Tuesday, January 01, 2002

SOME RECORDS ARE PUBLIC UNDER FEDERAL LAW (the Federal Open Records law)

Note: This is a brief summary of the regulations. See 5 U.S.C.A. 552 for the complete text.

Each federal agency (each authority of the Government of the United States, excluding the Congress; the courts of the United States; and other miscellaneous entities (such as the government of the District of Columbia, military courts, etc.) shall make available to the public information as follows:

1) Each agency shall separately state and currently publish in the Federal Register for the guidance of the public:

a) descriptions of its organization and the established places at which, the employees from whom, and the methods whereby, the public may obtain information, make submittals or requests, or obtain decisions;

b) statements of the general course and method by which its functions are channeled and determined, including the nature and requirements of all formal and informal procedures available;

c) substantive rules of general applicability adopted as authorized by law, and statements of general policy or interpretations of general applicability formulated and adopted by the agency

2) Each agency, in accordance with published rules, shall make available for public inspection and copying:

a) final opinions, including concurring and dissenting opinions, as well as orders, made in the adjudication of cases;

b) statements of policy and interpretations which have been adopted by the agency and are not published in the Federal Register;

c) administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public;

d) copies of all records, regardless of form or format, which have been lawfully released to any person and which, because of the nature of their subject matter, the agency determines have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records;

This section does not apply to matters that are:

a) specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy

b) related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency;

c) specifically exempted from disclosure by statute

d) trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person and privileged or confidential;

e) inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency;

f) personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;

g) records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes (but only to a limited extent)

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