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M97-10: OMB Guidance on Access to Public Information

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April 7, 1997



FROM: Franklin D. Raines
SUBJECT: Guidance on Developing a Handbook for Individuals Seeking Access to Public Information

On October 2, 1996, the President signed into law the "Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996" (P.L. 104-231). The purpose of this memorandum is to provide guidance to agencies on Section 11, which requires each agency to issue reference material or a guide for requesting records or information from the agency. Section 11 amended the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) by adding 5 U.S.C. 552(g), which states:

"The head of each agency shall prepare and make publicly available upon request, reference material or a guide for requesting records or information from the agency, including—

"(1) an index of all major information systems of the agency;

"(2) a description of major information and record locator systems maintained by the agency; and

"(3) a handbook for obtaining various types and categories of public information from the agency pursuant to chapter 35 of title 44, and under this section."

The purpose of this "reference material" or "guide" is to provide the public with reference tools on how to find and obtain public information. This provision is in effect as of March 31, 1997.

With respect to paragraphs (1) and (2), an agency can satisfy these requirements by establishing a Government Information Locator Service (GILS) presence. The requirements for GILS are described in OMB Bulletin 95-01, "Establishment of Government Information Locator Service."

With respect to paragraph (3), each agency should prepare a document that describes in one place the various ways by which a person can obtain public information from the agency, as well as the types and categories of information available. In preparing the document, each agency should review the dissemination policies and practices set out in OMB Circular No. A130, "Management of Federal Information Resources." The document should be in plain English and user-friendly. Where applicable, it should indicate that the public is encouraged to access information electronically via the agency's home page or to search in its reading room, and that the public may also submit a request to the agency under the Freedom of Information Act. "Types and categories" of available information will vary from agency to agency, and agencies should describe their information resources in whatever manner seems most appropriate.

This document should be available in paper format as well as electronically, and should include the following:

  • the location of reading rooms within the agency and within its major field offices, as well as a brief description of the types and categories of information available;
  • the location of the agency's World Wide Web home page;
  • a reference to the agency's FOIA regulations and how to get a copy;
  • a reference to the agency's Freedom of Information Act annual report and how to get a copy,
  • the location of the agency's GILS page; and
  • a brief description of the types and categories of information generally available from the agency.

If an agency already has a document that addresses how the public can obtain agency information, such as a customer service handbook or a FOIA requester's handbook, the agency should review the document and revise it, if necessary, to reflect the new requirements.

Should your staff have any questions regarding this memorandum, they may contact Virginia Huth in the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Office of Management and Budget at (202) 395-3785.

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