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A starting place for FOIA in the US government.

This project is currently working on getting people to the right place in the government to file their FOIA request.

Outside Contributors

Hello! If you're interested in learning more about this project, check out some related repos and don't be afraid to ask us questions (general questions usually go here: foia).

If you'd like to contribute to our project, please check out our [foia-hub] ( repo. We try to tag things that are easy to pick up without being entrenched in our project with a "help wanted" tag. Things in our backlog are usually also up for grabs, so let us know if you'd like to pick something up from there.

For those interested in contributing, please check out our contributing guidelines we use to guide our development processes internally.

Our Repos

  • foia - A discussion forum where we can discuss the project. Also includes miscellaneous resources and scrapers.
  • foia-hub - Where our work happens. We create issues related to each sprint and our backlog here. If you're interested in contribution, please look for "help wanted" tags or ask!

How is this different from other stuff?

There are some fantastic open source tools out there for processing FOIA requests, like Postcode's RecordTrac (which powers FOI for the City of Oakland) and mySociety's Alavateli (used all over the world).

Our platform, while still in its infancy, plans to be heavily optimized for the US federal government. It also plans to not be a backend tool for FOIA processing offices. In other words, there's no plans to allow government employees to log in to this system.

Instead, our tool will focus on a small, US-focused user experience, and API-driven integration for tools to submit, and receive submissions, through the US Freedom of Information Act.


This is a Django app that uses Postgres, and depends on Python 3.4.

  • If using Ubuntu, you may need to install the following:
sudo apt-get install libpq-dev python3-dev
  • Install project requirements. It's recommended you use a virtualenv.
pip install -r requirements.txt
  • Install autoenv to automatically load the contents of .env as environment variables. Do not use the brew version of autoenv.

  • Copy env.example to .env to get your settings started.

cp env.example .env

Using SQLite

If you're using SQLite, you're already done! Jump to loading data.

Using Postgres

  • Switch to the postgres user:
sudo su - postgres
  • Create a foia database in Postgres:
createdb foia

Note, that the database encoding needs to be UTF8. If your default is set to something else, you can use:

create database foia with encoding 'UTF8' LC_COLLATE='en_US.UTF8' LC_CTYPE='en_US.UTF8' TEMPLATE=template0;

If you you get a could not connect to server error, you could be experiencing a number of issues. Ensure that $PGHOST is set to localhost, and that the Postgres service has been started.

  • Next, create user foia with some password:
psql -d foia -c "CREATE USER foia WITH PASSWORD '<<PASSWORD>>';"
  • Initialize your database schema:
python syncdb
  • Update the DATABASE_URL in .env with your Postgres connection string.

Running the server

  • Launch the server locally:
python runserver

Running the tests

python test --settings=foia_hub.settings.test

Loading Data

First, migrate the database:

python migrate

Agency contact data is stored in another repository as YAML files.

Clone the repository:

git clone

Then run the data loading script, providing the path to contacts/data/ inside the foia repo you checked out above:

python load_agency_contacts /path/to/foia/contacts/data/

There's a small bash script which will check for changes to the repository, and if found, import the new data. This can be useful if combined with a cron script to run on a routine basis. The script expects to be ran from the foia-hub repository's root:

./ <<path to foia repository>>

No repository parameter is needed if both the foia and foia-hub projects are cloned into the same directory. You should be able to run the server now:

python runserver

Access http://localhost:8000/api/agency/ to see the list of agencies in JSON format.

Front-end Dev Environment

We use Sass, Bourbon and Neat for our front-end stack.

You will need Ruby, and the following gems:

gem install sass bourbon neat

You will then need to pull down further Bourbon and Neat dependencies:

cd foia_hub/static/sass
bourbon install
neat install

While developing you can trigger a recompile or run a "watch" script, which will recompile as you make Sass changes:

python scss   # one-off

python scss watch   # will run continuously

During development, you will likely run both scss watch and runserver.

Deploying to Cloud Foundry

18F deploys this app to a self-hosted instance of Cloud Foundry.

You'll need to configure an app named foia in the space or org that makes sense for you. We already have a manifest.yml that assumes the app is named foia, and sets a memory size of 1GB.

18F setup

Point cf at 18F's API. You may need to use --skip-ssl

cf api

If the cf api command below fails, add --skip-ssl-validation (this is temporary).

Work with the right "org" and "space":

cf target -o foia -s hub

Two production environments

To ensure zero downtime deploys, 18F uses two production environments, foia-a and foia-b.

A new deploy pushes code to the production environment not in use, and when the deploy has been concluded, URL routes are remapped to instantly switch from one app to another.

For each environment, set the app's environment variables.

  • DATABASE_URL: connection string to Postgres.
  • FOIA_ANALYTICS_ID: A Google Analytics profile ID.
  • FOIA_SECRET_SESSION_KEY: A random high-entropy string. Should be strong and unique for production.
  • DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE: Set to in development, and to foia_hub.settings.production in production.
cf set-env foia-a DATABASE_URL [value]
cf set-env foia-a FOIA_ANALYTICS_ID [value]
cf set-env foia-a FOIA_SECRET_SESSION_KEY [value]
cf set-env foia-a DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE

cf set-env foia-b DATABASE_URL [value]
cf set-env foia-b FOIA_ANALYTICS_ID [value]
cf set-env foia-b FOIA_SECRET_SESSION_KEY [value]
cf set-env foia-b DJANGO_SETTINGS_MODULE

Deploy the app with:


This will:

  • Decide whether to deploy to foia-a or foia-b, based on whether foia-a is currently started.
  • Deploy the app from the directory you run the command (the server does not check out the app from source control).
  • Migrate the database.
  • Check out the latest data from 18f/foia and load the data into the database.
  • Start the app.
  • If the app successfully starts, the route will be mapped to the new environment, and the previous production environment will have its route unmapped, and then be stopped.

Watching the logs

You can tail the logs for a given production environment during the process with:

cf logs foia-a

Tailing the logs doesn't show past logs. To view recent logs (without tailing), run:

cf logs foia-a --recent

Public domain

This project is in the worldwide public domain. As stated in CONTRIBUTING:

This project is in the public domain within the United States, and copyright and related rights in the work worldwide are waived through the CC0 1.0 Universal public domain dedication.

All contributions to this project will be released under the CC0 dedication. By submitting a pull request, you are agreeing to comply with this waiver of copyright interest.