The Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552, provides any person the right to request access of federal agency records or information. The FOIA applies to records either created or obtained by an agency and under agency control at the time of the FOIA request. Agencies within the executive branch of the federal government, including the Executive Office of the President and independent regulatory agencies are subject to the FOIA. State governments, municipal corporations, the courts, Congress and private citizens are not subject to the FOIA.
All IRS records are subject to FOIA requests. However, FOIA does not require the IRS to release all documents that are subject to FOIA requests. The IRS may withhold information pursuant to nine exemptions and three exclusions contained in the FOIA statute.
While the Freedom of Information Act is an option in some cases, records that can be processed routinely in accordance with procedures identified in 26 CFR 601.702(d) are specifically excluded from the processing requirements of the FOIA. Many FOIA requests for IRS information can be obtained more efficiently using routine established agency procedures.
The FOIA established an effective statutory right that records of the Executive Branch of the United States Government are accessible to the people. This was not always the policy regarding disclosure of Federal information. Before the FOIA was enacted in 1966, the Administrative Procedure Act governed the disclosure of agency records to the public and was viewed as a withholding statute rather than a disclosure statute.
The FOIA sets standards for determining which records must be made available for public inspection and which records (or portions of records) should or may be withheld from disclosure. The law also provides administrative and judicial remedies for those denied access to records. Above all, the statute requires Federal agencies to provide the fullest possible disclosure of information to the public.
How To Make A Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) Request
The FOIA request must be in writing and sent to the Disclosure Central Processing Unit. Letters requesting records under the FOIA can be short and simple. See How to write your Freedom of Information Act request. A requester who follows the IRS’s specific procedures may receive a faster response.
There are four basic elements to an FOIA request letter:
- The letter should state that the request is being made under the Freedom of Information Act.
- The letter should identify the records that are being sought as specifically as possible.
- The name and address of the requester must be included. If the request involves the tax records of an individual or business, the requester must also include a copy of the requester’s driver’s license or a sworn or notarized statement swearing to or affirming their identity. In this case, the authority of the requester to receive such records must be established. If the request is for the Centralized Authorization File (CAF), you must attach a valid photo identification which includes your signature as proof of identity. If the request is for agency records only the name and address of the requester is required.
- The requester should make a firm commitment to pay any fees which may apply (the complete regulatory requirements for FOIA requests filed with the IRS are available at 67 Federal Register 69673, Treasury Regulation 601.702).
Section (a)(4) of the FOIA requires the IRS to establish fees associated with searching for, reviewing and copying records, which may vary depending on the status of the requester or the purpose of the request. As a result, a requester may have to provide information on their status and their purpose for making the request to allow the IRS to determine the appropriate fees. Different fees apply to: commercial requesters; representatives of the news media; educational or noncommercial scientific institutions; and individuals. More information on fees can be found below in Fees and waivers and IRS FOIA fee schedule.
Sample Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) Letter
Your name or your company’s name
Your address or your company’s address
Your phone number (optional)
Dear Disclosure Manager:
This is a request under the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act.
I request that a copy of the following documents (identify the documents or information as specifically as possible) be provided to me. I do not wish to inspect the documents first. In order to determine my status for the applicability of fees, you should know that I am (insert a suitable description of the requester and the purpose of the request).
[Sample requester descriptions (please choose only one if applicable):
A media requester: a representative of the news media affiliated with the XXXX newspaper (magazine, television station, etc.), and this request is made as part of newsgathering and not for a commercial use.
An educational institution requester or a non-commercial scientific institution requester affiliated with an educational or noncommercial scientific institution, and this request is made for a scholarly or scientific purpose and not for a commercial use.
A commercial-use requester, seeking records for a use or purpose that furthers the commercial, trade, or profit interests of the requester or the person on whose behalf the request is being made.
An “other” requester seeking information for personal or non-commercial use.
As proof of identity I am including a photocopy of my driver’s license, notarized declaration, sworn statement, etc. (See Establishing proof of identity and right to access)
I am willing to pay fees for this request up to a maximum of $XX. If you estimate that the fees will exceed this limit, please inform me first.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.
Where To Send Your Request
Internal Revenue Service
Central Processing Unit
PO Box 621506
Atlanta, GA 30362-3006
For personal/business taxpayer records
Internal Revenue Service
Central Processing Unit
Post Office Box 621506
Atlanta, GA 30362
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