A CITIZEN'S GUIDE ON USING THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
AND THE PRIVACY ACT OF 1974 TO REQUEST GOVERNMENT RECORDS

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FIRST REPORT

On March 12, 1997, the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight approved and adopted a report entitled "A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 To Request Government Records." The chairman was directed to transmit a copy to the Speaker of the House.

I. Preface

In 1977, the House Committee on Government Operations issued the first Citizen's Guide on how to request records from Federal agencies.\1\ The original Guide was reprinted many times and widely distributed. The Superintendent of Documents at the Government Printing Office reported that almost 50,000 copies were sold between 1977 and 1986 when the Guide went out of print. In addition, thousands of copies were distributed by the House Committee on Government Operations, Members of Congress, the Congressional Research Service, and other Federal agencies. The original Citizen's Guide is one of the most widely read congressional committee reports in history.

In 1987, the committee issued a revised Citizen's Guide.\2\ The new edition was prepared to reflect changes to the Freedom of Information Act made during 1986. As a result of special efforts by the Superintendent of Documents at the Government Printing Office, the availability of the new Guide was well publicized. The 1987 edition appeared on GPO's ``Best Seller'' list in the months following its issuance.

During the 100th Congress, major amendments were made to the Privacy Act of 1974. The Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988 \3\ added new provisions to the Privacy Act and changed several existing requirements. None of the changes affects citizen's rights to request or see records held by Federal agencies, but some of the information in the 1987 Guide became outdated as a result, and a third edition was issued in 1989.\4\

During the 101st Congress, the Privacy Act of 1974 was amended through further adjustments to the Computer Matching and Privacy Protection Act of 1988. The changes did not affect access rights. A fourth edition of the Citizen's Guide reflected all changes to the FOIA and Privacy Act made through the end of 1990.\5\ A fifth edition of the Guide, produced in 1993, included an expanded bibliography and editorial changes.\6\

A sixth edition contained bibliography additions and editorial changes and represented the first report issued by the new Government Reform and Oversight Committee.\7\

In the closing days of the 104th Congress, the Senate and the House of Representatives completed action on the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996. The President signed this legislation into law on October 2, 1996, when it became Public Law 104-231. With the exception of two sections, these amendments become effective 180 days after enactment of the legislation. The other two sections become effective 1 year after enactment. Because the 1996 amendments change some FOIA access rights, this seventh edition of the Guide was prepared to reflect these modifications. It also contains bibliography additions and editorial changes.\8\


Footnotes

\1\ A Citizen's Guide on How to Use the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act in Requesting Government Documents, H. Rept. 95- 796, 95th Cong., 1st sess. (1977).

\2\ A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 To Request Government Records, H. Rept. 100- 199, 100th Cong., 1st sess. (1987).

\3\ 102 Stat. 2507.

\4\ A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 To Request Government Records, H. Rept. 101- 193, 101st Cong., 1st sess. (1989).

\5\ A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 To Request Government Records, H. Rept. 102- 146, 102d Cong., 1st sess. (1991).

\6\ A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 To Request Government Records, H. Rept. 103- 104, 103d Cong., 1st sess. (1993).

\7\ A Citizen's Guide on Using the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act of 1974 To Request Government Records, H. Rept. 104- 156, 104th Cong., 1st sess. (1995).

\8\ The committee wishes to acknowledge the assistance of Harold C. Relyea, Specialist, American National Government, Government Division, Congressional Research Service, in the preparation of this report.

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