Under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), you have the right to examine public records.
Your FOIA rights
- You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
- You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
- If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA.
How to make a FOIA request
You may request records by completing a downloadable FOIA request form. If you do not have access to a computer, call 703-228-3120 to request a printed form.
You may submit this form in several ways:
- U.S. Mail: FOIA Officer, 2100 Clarendon Boulevard, Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201
- Fax: 703-228-3218
- Email: Send the form to CMOFOIA (at) arlingtonva.us
- In person: 2100 Clarendon Boulevard, Suite 302, Arlington, VA 22201
- Phone: 703-228-3120
Fulfilling your request
Arlington County will respond within five working days of receiving a request. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays. FOIA requires that Arlington County make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
- Provide the records requested in their entirety.
- Withhold all of the records requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, a response in writing will be sent with an explanation of the exemption. That response will identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld, and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows the records to be withheld.
- Provide some of the records requested, but withhold other records. An entire record will not be withheld if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, the portion of the record that may be withheld will be redacted, the remainder of the record will be provided. A written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld will be sent.
- Respond in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist. However, if another public body has the requested records, contact information for the other public body will be included in the response.
- If Arlington County cannot respond to a request within the five-day period, you will be informed in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow seven additional working days to respond a request, providing a total of 12 working days to respond to a request.
If a request for a very large number of records is made, and it is determined that it cannot be provide within 12 working days without disrupting other organizational responsibilities, the County may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that a reasonable effort be made to reach an agreement concerning the production or the records before going to court to ask for more time.
- If the estimated cost is more than $200, a deposit may be required (not to exceed the amount of the estimate), before proceeding with your request. The five days to respond to a request does not include the time between a request for a deposit and a response from the requestor.
- Costs include items such as staff time, copying costs or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It will not include general overhead costs.
- If requested, an estimate of the charges will be provided prior to supplying the records requested.
- If money is owed from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, Arlington County may require payment of the past-due bill before responding to a new FOIA request.
- A request must identify the records needed with "reasonable specificity." It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records requested; instead, it requires that a request be specific enough to identify and locate records.
- A request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA allows for inspection or copying of records; it does not apply to a situations asking general questions about the work of (the Department), nor does it require (the Department) to create a record that does not exist.
- Records can be provided in the format in which they were created.
- For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via e-mail or on a computer disk, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
- You may be contacted if there are questions about a request, to ensure that the appropriate records are being provided.
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. Arlington County Government commonly withholds records subject to exemptions such as:
- Personnel records
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege
- Vendor proprietary information
- Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded
- Security matters
For a complete list of exemptions, click here.
About Freedom of Information Act
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) -- located in § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia -- guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees. The purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness and transparency of government activities and afford residents an opportunity to witness the operations of government.
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.
For more information
The Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any general questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by email, or by phone at (804) 225-3056 or (toll free) 1-866-448-4100.
You can also contact Arlington County's Freedom of Information Officer at 703-228-3120 or by email.