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Freedom of Information Act
The Freedom of Information Act governs the response of federal executive branch agencies to requests for information. A useful guide to filing FOIA requests is available from the National Security Archive at George Washington University.
FOIA is administered by individual agencies. Each agency has its own guidelines for responding to FOIA requests. In addition procedures vary, so a request for the same document may be handled differently by two different agencies. Furthermore, presidents direct FOIA policy, so there may be inconsistency between presidential administrations. FOIA only applies to Executive Branch agencies. It does not apply to the federal judiciary, nor does it apply to Congress.
Various laws, such as the Espionage Act and the Privacy Act, govern what kinds of government information may be kept confidential. Additional laws and executive orders govern when information is released (if ever) and enumerate exceptions to release schedules.
Some government agencies post selected declassified or released documents on their web sites (see the FBI), but more typically the released documents simply undergo a status change but remain available only in a reading room at the agency.