District of Columbia, USA
District of Columbia Public Records Guide
DC Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
Enacted in 1976, Updated in 2001
Table of Contents
The U.S. granted limited home rule to the District of Columbia in 1973 with P.L. 93-198. The District of Columbia has enacted its own freedom of information act, modeled on the original federal statute but with some differences (and lacking most of the updates). A locally-elected mayor and 13-member council govern the District, though Congress retains authority to review all laws. District law (passed by the Council and codified in the D.C. Code) and executive agencies direct the affairs of a population of 700,000 in an area of about 60 square miles. Much land is in special categories such as embassies, federal agencies, national park land and the grounds of the U.S. Capitol. Some functions handled by municipalities or states elsewhere remain funded and directed by the federal government, most importantly regarding law enforcement. (Court records are increasingly available online, but are not covered by D.C. FOIA law.) In some situations, therefore, full information on a topic may require record requests to be directed not only to a D.C. agency (that will apply D.C. FOIA law) but also to a relevant federal agency (to be handled under federal FOIA law). .
Some of these situations where mixed governance complicates locating records of interest, include the following:
- While the D.C. attorney general has some prosecutorial authority, most serious crimes under D.C. law are prosecuted in D.C. courts by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.
- In addition to the Metropolitan Police Department, many other police departments also operate in the District and may make arrests, including the U.S. Park Police (in the Department of the Interior, National Park Service) that patrols the Mall and monuments, AMTRAK police, the Executive Protective Service that guards federal buildings (as well as agency-specific forces such as the FBI police).
- The D.C. courts (Superior Court and Court of Appeals) are federally funded and the U.S. Marshals Service provides courthouse security for the public and courtrooms and also runs the cellblocks.
- D.C. operates the Central Detention Facility (or D.C. Jail) which houses pretrial detainees, those serving short sentences and parole violators awaiting disposition. But long-term prisoners are put in custody of the U.S. Attorney General and housed in federal Bureau of Prisons facilities nationwide.
- Parole decisions for D.C. prisoners in the BOP are handled by another federal agency, the U.S. Parole Commission.
- Unlike a governor, the D.C. mayor is not commander-in-chief of the D.C. National Guard. Instead, the commanding general answers directly to the Department of Defense.
- The Army Corps of Engineers operates the Washington Aqueduct that supplies water distributed by the District’s Water and Sewer Authority.
- The bus and subway system and its own Transit Police are operated the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, established by an interstate compact approved by Congress. The Authority has its own public records access policies.
Can you submit a request if you’re not a resident?
Yes, under D.C. Code § 2-532(a).
To whom does this apply?
Is there a designated records custodian?
Yes, each public body is required to have a FOIA officer per D.C. Code §§ 2-538(d).
The directory of FOIA officers for each public body is located here.
Who is exempted?
No public bodies are explicitly exempted, but the definition of a public body in D.C. Code § 2–502.(18A) excludes the D.C. Courts.
How can requests be submitted?
Yes, under 1 DCMR § 402.1.
Yes, but the public body has the right to ask for the request in writing under 1 DCMR § 402.2.
By mail, email, or fax?
Yes, under 1 DCMR § 402.3.
Through an online portal?
Yes, in general, using https://foia-dc.gov/App/Index.aspx Requests to about 30 agencies may not be submitted through the portal but must be sent directly. Those are listed on the portal sign-in page.
The public body must respond to the initial request within fifteen (15) business days, and the Mayor’s office must respond to appeals within ten (10) business days. There are provisions for notifying the requester of “unusual circumstances”, under D.C. Code § 2-532(d), to extend the deadline.
Does the public body have to give you a tracking number or estimated date of completion?
There is no requirement for a tracking number, but the public body must give an estimated date of completion per 1 DCMR § 405.5(b), if it cannot fully respond within fifteen (15) business days.
Can they ask why you ask?
There is no requirement that you explain why you want the documents, but there is also not a specific prohibition to stop the public body from inquiring why.
Yes, the fee schedule is contained in 1 DCMR § 408.
Are there fee waivers for media requests or those made in the public interest?
Yes, under D.C. Code § 2-532.(b).
Attorney’s fees - Can you win them?
Yes, under D.C. Code § 2-537.(c).
Exemptions and Appeals
What exemptions exist?
There are sixteen (16) types of exemptions listed in D.C. Code § 2-534. The exemptions are fairly standard, but note the specific exemption about body-worn camera footage taken inside personal residences or taken of victims of domestic violence, stalking, or sexual assault.
Do they have to tell you why a portion or pages were redacted or withheld?
Yes, they must give the requester reasonably segregable portions of the record, explain the exemptions in writing, and cite the exemption for each deletion under D.C. Code § 2-534(b). They must also inform you who made the decision per 1 DCMR § 407.2.(a).
Administrative appeals must be made to the Mayor’s office under D.C. Code § 2-537(a), except that the mayor does not review appeals of denials by the D.C. attorney general or the D.C. legislative branch (the D.C. Council).
The Mayor’s Office of Legal Counsel publishes D.C. FOIA appeals decisions online.
Any requester denied a record may file a civil lawsuit in D.C. Superior Court, pursuant to D.C. Code § 2–537.
“Any person who commits an arbitrary or capricious violation” of the D.C. FOIA statute can be charged with a misdemeanor under D.C. Code § 2–537(d).
The D.C. Office of Open Government will review complaints about agencies’ performance under the FOI statute. The office can issue advisory opinions but does not adjudicate specific cases. The office authority is in its establishment act D.C. Code § 2-593 and the office web page explains its role (https://www.open-dc.gov/freedom-information-act).
- D.C. FOIA Guide
- D.C. Open Government Advisory Group
- D.C. FOIA Statute
- D.C. FOIA Municipal Regulations
- D.C. FOIA Officer Directory
- D.C. FOIA Public Access Link
- D.C. FOIA Reading Room
- D.C. FOIA Appeals Decisions
- D.C. Superior Court, Civil Matters
- D.C. Office of Open Government
The following organizations offer resources for those seeking public records in the D.C.:
Attorneys and law firms
The following attorneys and law firms have practiced public records law. Names marked with an asterisk have indicated a willingness to offer pro bono services on a case by case basis.
There are currently no experienced public records law attorneys that we know of in D.C. Write to us at info@MuckRock.com if you know of any and want to help us out!
News Stories on Public Records Laws in the District
Blogs and feeds primarily focused on public records in D.C.
The D.C. Open Government Coalition blog
Big FOIA wins
Have a public records success story? Let us know!
|No Responsive Documents||106|
- Allowed Response Time
- 15 days
- Average Response Time
- 204 days
- Success Rate
- Average Fee
- 1.02% of requests have a fee
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|Metropolitan Police Department||261||6,260|
|Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority||39||354|
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|District Of Columbia Department Of Health||14||1,509|
|D.C. Office of Contracting and Procurement||12||29|
|Department of Motor Vehicles||11||111|
|Metropolitan Police Department||10||10|
|District Department of Transportation||9||337|
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