Electronic FOIA

BIS does not maintain a Public Inspection facility (Reading Room). Instead, documents that are required to be made publicly available in the Reading Room are available on the Internet. These items are kept on the Web site for five years. They are in a searchable PDF format and require Adobe Acrobat 3.0 reader or higher to view. This reader can be downloaded at no cost to the user.

FOIA Background

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was originally enacted in 1966 to allow any person the right to request access to federal agency records maintained by agencies within the executive branch of the Federal Government. Agencies are required to disclose records upon written request except for those records that are protected from disclosure by any of the nine FOIA exemptions or by one of the three special law enforcement record exclusions. This right of access is enforceable in U.S. courts. Since its enactment the FOIA statute has been amended several times.

The Electronic Freedom of Information Act (E-FOIA) Amendments of 1996 require agencies to provide the public with electronic access to any of their "Reading Room" records that have been created by them since November 1, 1996. Each agency shall make available for public inspection and copying final opinions, including concurring and dissenting opinions, as well as orders, made in the adjudication of cases and a general index of the records. In accordance with E-FOIA, please browse through our Index of Documents for information that is currently available in our E-FOIA Reading Room.  The information found on the Index of Documents includes “frequently requested records.” Browsing through this site before submitting a FOIA request may be cost-effective.

Submitting a FOIA Request

A FOIA request must be made in writing (and may be sent by mail, facsimile, or e-mail) and must provide a "reasonable description" of the records you are seeking. For requests for records made on behalf of another individual, a written authorization signed by the individual permitting disclosure of his/her records is required.

State your willingness to pay the applicable fees or to pay fees up to a certain dollar amount, or provide a justification to support a fee waiver under the FOIA (See 15 C.F.R. § 4.11(k)).

You may fax, e-mail, or mail your request to:

Freedom of Information Officer
Bureau of Industry and Security, Room 6622
U.S. Department of Commerce
Washington, DC 20230
FAX: 202-482-0800
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

15 C.F.R. § 4.11(c) states that you will be charged a search fee in connection with your FOIA request even if no responsive documents are located or if responsive documents are determined to be exempt from disclosure under any applicable FOIA exemptions, according to the established schedule, except when a fee waiver has been granted. The four categories and chargeable fees are:

  1. Commercial use requests;
  2. Educational and noncommercial scientific institution requests;
  3. Representation of the news media;
  4. All other requesters 

Fee: Requesters may set a limit on the amount that they are willing to pay for a request. If it is estimated that fees will exceed the fee limit set by the requester, BIS will notify the requester, in writing, and offer the requester the opportunity to reduce the scope of the request in order to reduce estimated fees.

Federal agencies are required to respond to FOIA requests within 20 working days of receipt unless there are unusual circumstances such as: 1) requesting records from field facilities or other separate establishments; 2) examining voluminous records; and 3) the need for consultation with another component or Federal agency.

If you should have questions concerning your request call 202-482-8093.

FOIA Exemptions

For more information on FOIA exemptions, please go to the DOC FOIA website.

Submitting a FOIA Appeal

FOIA requesters may appeal an agency's decision not to provide information within 30 days of the date of the written denial. Appeals must include the following information:

  • a copy of the original request;
  • the initial denial, if any; and
  • a statement of the reasons why the initial denial, if any, was in error.

FOIA requesters shall include with the letter of appeal copies of their original requests and the responses to the request, clearly marking the letters and the outside envelopes, "FOIA Appeal." Appeals should be made to:

U.S. Department of Commerce
Office of General Counsel, Room 5875
14th Street and Constitution Ave., NW 
Washington, DC 20230

Location of BIS' Electronic Reading Room

This component does not maintain a separate public inspection facility. Per BIS Policy Directive, Number 1012, June 1, 2008, “only personnel approved to work on BIS IT systems are allowed access to them.” The majority of BIS IT systems require a high degree of protection due to the storage and accessing of sensitive information, law enforcement, personnel, and technical information. Several BIS IT systems are categorized under federal guidance as “high security impact” systems, largely because they store global trade data.

BIS policies do not allow public use of computer terminals. The public may access the Department of Commerce’s library computer terminals.

Requesters should first view records located in BIS' Electronic Reading Room. If the records sought cannot be located at this site, please call (202) 482-8093. If records sought are older than 5 years, then a written FOIA request must be submitted. The BIS E-FOIA website is covered under the General Records Schedule (GRS) 14, item 11b, which states, “Dispose of in accordance with approved agency disposition instructions for the related records or with the related FOIA request, whichever is later.” Since these records are not part of a FOIA request, they are covered under the retention instructions found in the Export Administration Regulations (EAR), which indicates that such documents are maintained for five years.

Publicly Available Information

For more information about documents that are available to the public, please go to Index of Documents.

Legal Authority

Title 15 Code of Federal Regulation--Commerce and Foreign Trade, Part 4--Public Information

For more detailed information, see the Department of Justice Text on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act (PA).

For additional general information on how to make a FOIA request, see "A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 to Request Government Records." This report is published by the Committee on Government Reform of the House of Representatives. It is available for sale for $5.00 from the U.S. Government Printing Office, stock number 052-071-01287-7. It also can be accessed on the World Wide Web on the Library of Congress Web site. This publication is also available at Federal Depository Libraries, the Government Printing Office, or you can access it through the GPO Access Web site.


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