Conducting a Search for Responsive Documents
Search - means to look for records, manually or by automated means, for the purpose of locating those records which are potentially responsive to a request.
Know what documents are being sought
- Requests should "reasonably describe" record(s) sought.
- Determine how the request should be interpreted, broadly or narrowly?
- Discussion with requester will help define, clarify, or narrow the scope of the request.
Identify and locate records
- Do not limit search to just paper records. As applicable, include storage at local record center, e-mail, computer programs, software, etc.
- Do the records exist? Are they personal vs. agency?
- Are records in agency's possession and control?
- Should another agency be consulted or referred to?
- Be sure the search is adequate and sufficient to ensure that all records within the scope of the request were identified and located. *
- Maintain a record (search certification) of the offices searched and the number of documents found.
* In evaluating the adequacy of an agency's search for records responsive to a FOIA request, the "issue is not whether any further documents might conceivably exist but rather whether the government's search for responsive documents was adequate." Weisberg v. United States Dep't of Justice, 705 F.2d 1344, 1351 (D.C. Cir. 1983). An agency "cannot limit its search to only one or more places if there are additional sources that are likely to turn up the information requested." Valencia-Lucena v. United States Coast Guard, FOAI/PA , 180 F.3d 321, 326 (D.C. Cir. 1999).