How long will I have to wait?
The FOIA requires an agency to decide within ten working days whether to comply with a FOIA request and to inform the person making the request of the decision and of the person's right to appeal a refusal to provide information to the head of the agency. If a requester files an administrative appeal, the agency has 20 days to respond to that appeal. If it upholds the decision to refuse to provide the information, it must inform the person requesting it of the right to appeal to a federal court.
An agency may take an additional ten days to respond to the initial request or the appeal in "unusual circumstances." This usually means the agency has to get the records from its field offices, or has to process a large volume of separate records, or it has to consult with another agency or two or more of its components in order to satisfy your request.
If it takes longer than that, the agency must show that "exceptional circumstances" exist, and that it is actively trying to meet your request. If they don't, you have the right to pursue your request in federal court. Even though this is the law, in practice, the courts usually allow the agency to take more time to fill your request provided they take all requests on a first-come, first-served basis.
If this happens, the agency will usually write to you within two weeks telling you your request has been placed in line and will be processed after a delay.
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