Rights & Responsibilities
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees. A public record is any writing or recording _ regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format _ that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
The purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
A citizen may request to inspect or to receive copies of public records, or both. A citizen may ask any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance. If a citizen believes their FOIA rights have been violated, they may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA.
Requesting records from the Department of General Services
Records may be requested by U.S. Mail, fax, e-mail, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require requests be in writing. The requester does not have to refer to FOIA in order to request documents. From a practical perspective, the Department of General Services may ask the request be put in writing to ensure there is a clear statement of the type of records being requested and to reduce the potential for misunderstanding the request.
The request must identify the records the citizen is seeking with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records. The request must be specific enough for the records to be identified and located.
Requests must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA allows existing records to be inspected or copied. If a record does not exist, under FOIA, the Department of General Services is not required to create a 'new' record. FOIA does not apply when asking general questions about the work of the Department of General Services.
The requester may choose to receive electronic records in any format used in regular course of business by the Department of General Services. For example, a request for records maintained in an Excel database, the requester may elect to receive those records electronically, such as via e-mail or disc, or receive a printed copy.
The Department of General Services may need to clarify the information being requested. Please include appropriate contact information in case the request for information needs clarification, the cost to provide the records is extensive, and/or to coordinate delivery of the documents.
To request records from the Department of General Services, send your specific request, along with your mailing address to:
Attn: FOIA Request
Department of General Services
1100 Bank Street, Suite 420
Richmond, VA 23219
In the e-mail subject line please put at least the following: FOIA Request
Phone: (804) 786-3311
Fax: (804) 371-8305
The Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (804) 225-3056 or [toll free]: (866) 448-4100.
Department of General Services Responsibilities in Responding to Requests
The Department of General Services must respond to your request within five working days of receipt. "Day One" is the day after the request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
The Department of General Services can request the requester's name and legal address. The requester is not required to state why the records are being sought before the Department of General Services responds.
Within the five-day response period, the Department of General Services is required to make one of the following responses:
- The records requested are provided in their entirety.
- All records requested are being withheld because they are subject to a specific statutory exemption. The response from the Department of General Services will cite the specific section of the Code of Virginia allowing the records to be withheld, and identify the volume and subject matter of withheld records.
- Some of the records requested are provided, but other records are being withheld. An entire record may not be withheld if only a portion is subject to exemption. The record may be redacted and only a portion withheld. The response from the Department of General Services will cite the specific section of the Code of Virginia containing the exemption.
- The records requested cannot be found at the Department of General Services, or do not exist. However, if the Department of General Services knows that another public body has the requested records, the response will include the contact information for the other public body.
If it is practically impossible to respond to the request within five days, the Department of General Services will state this in writing and explain the conditions which make the response impossible. This will allow an additional seven working days to respond to the request, giving the Department of General Services a total of 12 working days to respond.
If the request is extensive and the records cannot be provided within 12 days without disrupting organizational responsibilities, the Department of General Services will contact the requester to agree on a reasonable time period to produce the records. If no agreement can be reached, the Department of General Services may petition the court for additional time to respond.
A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual costs incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fees charged by the department shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. All charges for supplying of requested records shall be estimated in advance at the request of the citizen as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia. If a request is estimated to cost more than $200, a deposit may be required before proceeding with the request. The five days to respond to the request does not include the time between asking for a deposit and the requester's response.
A requester may request, in advance, an estimate of the charges. If a requester owes the Department of General Services for a previous FOIA request and it has remained unpaid for more than 30 days the Department of General Services may require payment of the past-due bill before responding to the new FOIA request.