Glossary search

agency record

Broader Term: 

n. ~ 1. Federal law · Records that are subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). - 2. Any record created or received by a federal agency.


FOIA does not allow or provide for access to all records. In particular, records not created or obtained by the agency in the course of business may not be covered by FOIA. For example, personal notes not shared with another may not be considered agency records.

(US DOJ 1980) Another aspect of 'agency records' is the concept of 'personal records'. In the leading case on this point, the court held that notes made by an agency employee could be his own and outside the FOIA concept of 'agency records' if they were made and kept purely voluntarily and 'not circulated to nor used by anyone other than the authors, and are discarded or retained at author's sole discretion for their own individual purposes in their own personal files.' Porter County Chap., Etc. v. U.S.A.E.C., 380 F. Supp. 630, 633 (N.D. Ind. 1974).
(US DOJ 1980) Since FOIA applies only to agency records, the mere fact that an item is a record does not automatically mean that it can be reached by a FOIA request. There has been an increasing amount of litigation over this issue of whether records are also agency records. ¶ The leading case on this question is Forsham v. Harris, 445 U.S. 169, 48 U.S.L.W. 4232 (Mar. 3, 1980), in which the Supreme Court held that records which had been generated by private grantees of the (then) Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW) working under a grant, and which had always remained in the grantees' possession, were not agency records despite the facts that HEW had a contract right to obtain copies of the records, and that it had used a report (which was an agency record) based on them in an agency deliberative process.