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FOIA Background/Overview

FOIA Background/Overview

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552 provides individuals with the right to access records in the possession of the Federal Government. The Government may withhold information pursuant to the nine exemptions and three exclusions contained in the Act.


There are certain reasons and occasions that records can be withheld. However, the reasons must be listed within one of the following exemptions of Subpart F. If the reason(s) for withholding the information cannot be supported by one of these exemptions, then the information cannot be withheld and is required to be released to the requester.
FOIA exemptions seek to protect many different interests.  There are nine exemptions, protecting the following types of information.
  1. National defense and foreign policy
  2. Internal personnel rules and practices
  3. Records exempted by other statutes
  4. Trade secrets and confidential commercial or financial information
  5. Internal memoranda
  6. Clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy
  7. Law enforcement
  8. Regulation or supervision of financial institutions
  9. Geological or geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells

Contract Related Documents

If you are requesting a copy of an awarded contract with associated documents, you should understand that NIH routinely redacts certain information from these documents before they are released. More information about these routine redactions can be found at this site: Information for Requesters who Request Contracts or Contract Related Documents.

How to Make a FOIA Request

Before submitting a FOIA request, individuals should first try to find the information they are seeking in the public domain, e.g. checking with the Office of Research Facilities (ORF) or the Office of Research Services (ORS). 
If requesting information involving a contract with the NIH, include the contract number, approximate date, type of contract, and name of contractor, if available.
You can print the form below and submit your request by fax (301-594-9522) or mail, or complete the on-line request form below.
Holly Woodson
ORS/ORF FOIA Coordinator
NIH/OD/Office of Research Services
31 Center Drive
Building 31, 2B37
Bethesda, MD  20892
Tel: (301) 402-3570

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

The FOIA, 5 U.S.C. 552, provides individuals with a right to access to records in the possession of the Federal government. The government may withhold information pursuant to the nine exemptions and three exclusions contained in the Act.

If you have questions regarding FOIA requests pending with the Office of Research Facilities (ORF) or the Office of Research Services (ORS) or questions specific to ORS or ORF records, please contact Holly Woodson  ORS/ORF Contact FOIA and Privacy Act Coordinator, by phone 301.594.9520 or email

More Information about the types of information you can request through FOIA, or to submit a FOIA Request with NIH, visit the National Institutes of Health FOIA Page.

Online Request Form PDF

FOIA Online Form Thumbnail 

NIH Reading Rooms

On-Site Reading Room

The NIH On-Site Reading Room (RR) contains a variety of documents that come from several of the Institutes and Centers at the NIH.

The documents are indexed with an identifying number to assist users in locating the document(s) of interest. The Index of Documents is available at this site for your convenience. Documents cited with an asterisk (*) are available for viewing in the RR, which is located in Building 31, Room 5B35. The hours of operation are 10:00am to 4:00pm - Monday through Friday (closed on Federal holidays).

A copy machine is available for users to duplicate documents.  Documents without an asterisk are presently stored off-site and can be retrieved upon request. Please contact the NIH FOIA Office to make arrangements to view one or more of these documents.

Payment of Fees

It is important to note that FOIA allows agencies to recover part of the costs associated with responding to requests. Department of Health and Human Services regulations describe specific rules for fees, requesting a fee waiver, and reducing fees.