How to file an FOIA with the DOD

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) establishes a presumption that records in the possession of agencies and departments of the executive branch of the U.S. Government are accessible to the people.(1)

Because my area of interest is defense contractors and their employees, I've outlined below how to obtain information from the Department of Defense.

There are several online 'letter generators,' such as this one from the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, that help build an FOIA letter by inserting key provisions:

Just about every website that belongs to a US federal agency contains a link that says 'FOIA,' usually found at the bottom of the agency's homepage. Each federal agency has specific instructions for filing a request. Read and follow the agency's instructions carefully. Some agencies require a physical letter, some take email requests, some have online forms, some require photo identification, etc. Filing requirements change from time to time so always double check before filing a new request.

Confirmation an FOIA Request was Received

Confirmation can vary from an instant email reply to an actual letter mailed weeks and weeks later. Each FOIA is assigned a case number which is usually included with the confirmation. In addition, the agency may assign an FOIA case officer or specialist to a request and provide contact information such as phone number(s) and an email address.

In general, filing an FOIA is not a fast process, so be patient. Iraq Contractors: Raw Data From CENTCOM data took several FOIA requests and a year to obtain.

When in doubt, file by certified mail, return receipt requested.

Department of Defense

The OSD/JS FOIA Requester Service Center supports all actions related to Freedom of Information requests submitted by the public for access to records under the control of the Offices of the Secretary of Defense and Joint Staff.

There are (9) Unified Combat Commands within the US Department of Defense (DOD) as well as (16) Defense Agencies and (7) Field Activities:

Each Combat Command covers a specific geographic area known as its Area of Responsibility (AOR).

Iraq is within the AOR of CENTCOM. The CENTCOM website provides several options for filing an FOIA.

DSN: 651-1810/6413
Commercial:(813) 827-1810/6413
Fax: (813) 827-1241
Email Address:
Mailing Address:
MACDILL AFB, FL 33621-5101

Sample FOIA Letter

Below is the text of the actual letter that was sent to CENTCOM for the data ePluribus Media published in Iraq Contractors: Raw Data From CENTCOM.

Note: Because I sought the information for dissemination to the general public through a news article for ePluribus Media, a fee waiver and a fee benefit were requested for some copy and research costs that might arise from fulfilling the FOIA request. (Learn more about waivers here.) The letter was sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, after several attempts by email failed to elicit a response. I included a copy of the original White House memo as proof that the information I sought likely existed in some form.

July 8, 2006


Fee benefit requested
Fee waiver requested

Dear FOI Officer:

Pursuant to the federal Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, I request access to information on the total numbers of contractors operating in Iraq as found in response to the Memorandum (copy enclosed) from the Office of Management and Budget, dated May 16, 2006 issued by Robert A. Burton, Subject: Request Contracting Information on Contractors Operating in Iraq:

(Aggregate number of all personnel of Prime and Subcontractors at all tiers)

Total Employed in Iraq
Total US
Total Third Country Nationals
Total Local Iraqis

I would like to receive the information in electronic format.

As a representative of the news media I am only required to pay for the direct cost of duplication after the first 100 pages. Through this request, I am gathering information on the number of contractors in Iraq that is of current interest to the public because of the increasing role civilian contractors play in supporting government operations and activities. This information is being sought on behalf of ePluribus Media for dissemination to the general public.

Please waive any applicable fees. Release of the information is in the public interest because it will contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations and activities.

If my request is denied in whole or part, I ask that you justify all deletions by reference to specific exemptions of the act. I will also expect you to release all segregable portions of otherwise exempt material. I, of course, reserve the right to appeal your decision to withhold any information or to deny a waiver of fees.

As I am making this request as a journalist and this information is of timely value, I would appreciate your communicating with me by email, if you have questions regarding this request.

I look forward to your reply within 20 business days, as the statute requires.

Thank you for your assistance.

Susie Dow

Executive Office of the President White, Office of Management and Budget
May 16, 2006 from Robert A. Burton,
Subject: Request Contracting Information on Contractors Operating in Iraq

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First thing I did was to Scrapbook a copy of this post, thanks!

"I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our moneyed corporations which dare already to challenge our government in a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country." - Thomas Jefferson

It's important to target the request to as narrow a range of possibilities as possible. Too broad, and the request will get held up or denied. So the more specific the request, the better.

It's a bit intimidating the first time. But it gets a bit easier over time, especially with figuring out what to ask for.