Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
A public record includes, but is not limited to, a writing or recording (regardless of format), such as:
- A paper record
- An electronic file
- An audio file
- A video recording
- Any other formatted communication
A public record may be owned, prepared by or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed “open,” and may only be withheld if a specific statutory exemption applies.
Under FOIA, a Commonwealth of Virginia citizen has the right to:
- Request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
- Have an estimate of any charges for a FOIA records request provided in advance.
- File a petition in district or circuit court to compel FOIA compliance in the event the citizen believes his or her FOIA rights have been violated.
- Mailing Address
Office of the State Inspector General FOIA-Responsible Officer
P.O. Box 1151
Richmond, VA 23218
(804) 786-2341 (Include fax coversheet stating: “FOIA Request/Attention OSIG FOIA-Responsible Officer)
firstname.lastname@example.org (Include in the subject line: “FOIA Request/Attention OSIG FOIA-Responsible Officer”)
(804) 625-3255 (Ask for the OSIG FOIA-Responsible Officer)
The Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer FOIA questions and can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (804) 698-1810 or (866) 448-4100 (toll free).
The following guidelines apply to all FOIA requests:
- FOIA does not require written requests or that a citizen specifically state he or she is requesting records under FOIA; however, it may be helpful for both the citizen and the person receiving the FOIA request to have a request in writing. This creates a record of the FOIA request and also provides OSIG with a clear statement of what records are being requested. However, OSIG will respond to a FOIA request that is not in writing.
- The request must identify the desired records with “reasonable specificity.” This does not refer to, or place a limit on, the volume or number of records being requested. Reasonable specificity ensures that requests are specific enough for OSIG to identify and locate the requested records.
- A request must concern existing records or documents. FOIA gives a citizen the right to inspect or copy records; however, it does not give a citizen the right to ask general questions about OSIG’s work, nor does it require OSIG to create a record that does not exist.
- A citizen may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by OSIG in the regular course of business. For example, if a request is being made for records maintained in an Excel database, the citizen may ask to receive the records via e-mail, on a disk or as a printed hard copy.
- If OSIG has questions about a request, OSIG asks that a citizen please cooperate with staff’s efforts to clarify the type of records being sought, or in the event of a large request, that an attempt be made to reach a reasonable agreement about the response. OSIG staff may need to discuss a request with a citizen further to ensure understanding of the request.
Visit the State Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline FOIA page for information.
OSIG must respond to FOIA requests within five working days. “Day one” starts the working day after OSIG receives the request. The five-day time frame does not include weekends or holidays.
FOIA does not require that a citizen provide a reason for a FOIA request, and OSIG cannot ask a citizen the reason for a request of public records. FOIA does allow OSIG to ask a citizen for a name and legal address.
FOIA requires that OSIG respond to a FOIA records requestor in one of the following ways within the five-day response time:
- OSIG provides the citizen with the requested records in their entirety.
- OSIG withholds all requested records because they are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all records are withheld, OSIG must send the citizen a written notification. The written notification must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows OSIG to withhold the records. For more information on statutory exemptions, visit the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council's Records Exemptions of General Applicability website page or Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.1 et seq.
- OSIG provides some of the records requested, but withholds other records or redacts (leaves out) specific content in a record. OSIG cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, OSIG staff may redact the exempt portion of the record, but provide the remainder of the record. OSIG must provide written notification stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows withholding portions of requested records. For more information on statutory exemptions, visit the Virginia Freedom of Information Advisory Council's Records Exemptions of General Applicability website page or Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.1 et seq.
- OSIG provides written notification that the requested records cannot be found, do not exist or that OSIG does not own the requested records. If OSIG knows that another public body may have the requested records, OSIG must state this in its written notification and include contact information for the other public body.
- OSIG provides written notification and the reason a request cannot be fulfilled in the five-day response time. OSIG will then have seven additional days to respond to a request, giving OSIG a total of 12 working days (not including weekends or holidays) to respond to a request.
Note: If a request is made for a very large number of records, and OSIG believes that it cannot provide the records to the requestor within 12 working days without disrupting its other organizational responsibilities, OSIG may petition the court for additional time to respond to a request. However, FOIA requires that OSIG make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with the requestor concerning the production of the records before it asks for more time from the court.
In the past, OSIG has withheld records or content subject to the following exemptions found in Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.3 :
- Investigative notes, correspondence and information furnished in confidence, with respect to an allegation of wrongdoing or abuse under the Fraud and Abuse Whistle Blower Protection Act (§ 2.2-3009 et seq.) or with respect to an investigation initiated through the State Fraud, Waste and Abuse Hotline or an investigation initiated pursuant to Chapter 3.2 (§ 2.2-307 et seq.).
- Records of completed investigations shall be disclosed in a form that does not reveal the identity of the complainants or persons supplying information to investigators. Unless disclosure is prohibited by Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.3 , the records disclosed shall include, but not be limited to, the agency involved, the identity of the person who is the subject of the complaint, the nature of the complaint, and the actions taken to resolve the complaint. If an investigation does not lead to corrective action, the identity of the person who is the subject of the complaint may be released only with the consent of the subject person.
Citizens may have to pay for records requested from OSIG. FOIA allows OSIG to charge for the cost of responding to FOIA requests, which may include, but is not limited to, staff time spent searching for the requested records, records copying costs or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. However, charges cannot include general overhead costs.
If the total charge for a FOIA request equals $50 or less, the requestor will not be charged. If OSIG estimates it will cost $200 or more to respond to a request, it may require a deposit be paid, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with the request. The five days OSIG has to respond to a request does not include the time between OSIG's request for a deposit and the response.
A citizen may request that OSIG provide a cost estimate in advance regarding charges for supplying requested records. This lets citizens know about any costs in advance and gives them the opportunity to modify a request in an attempt to lower estimated costs.
If a citizen owes OSIG money from a previous FOIA request that has not been paid for more than 30 days, OSIG may require payment of the past-due bill before responding to a new FOIA request.