The Virginia Freedom of Information Act
The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides access to public records and public meetings.
FOIA seeks to promote an increased awareness of governmental activities and to afford opportunities to witness the operations of government.
VITA is responsible for searching and producing only its own records in response to FOIA requests. FOIA requests for other agencies’ records must be directed to those agencies.
Each agency is responsible for its records
Although VITA provides technology infrastructure to which other state agencies may transfer data, VITA is not the custodian of those other agencies’ records and cannot fulfill FOIA requests for those entities. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(J); Va. Code § 42.1-85(B).
Agencies have technology choices
VITA provides various types of technology to our customers. Agencies make their own choices as to how to use VITA-provided IT infrastructure to store and maintain records.
VITA's scope of services
VITA's duties and responsibilities are set forth by statute. In general, VITA provides IT infrastructure services and governance for executive branch agencies. Localities (including local agencies) and the legislative and judicial branches of state government administer their own information technology.
Rights and Responsibilities
A public record is any writing or recording -- regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format -- prepared or owned by, or in the possession of a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. FOIA presumes records are open, unless an exemption is properly invoked. FOIA contains many exemptions but provides for them to be narrowly construed. See Va. Code § 2.2-3700.
- You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records.
- You have the right to request an estimate of any charges for the requested records in advance.
- If you believe there was a violation of your FOIA rights, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA. You also may contact the Freedom of Information Advisory Council (http://foiacouncil.dls.virginia.gov) for a nonbinding, advisory opinion.
Ask for existing records or documents.
FOIA provides for access to records, not for public bodies to answer questions about their work. Nor does it require creating a record that does not exist. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(D).
Let us know in what format you would like to receive records.
VITA will work with you to provide electronic records in a format used by VITA in the regular course of business. For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel spreadsheet, you may elect to receive an Excel document, another readily available format such as CSV or PDF, or a printed copy. Please note that printing and providing paper copies of records kept in electronic format likely will result in costs.
We may need to discuss your request with you.
Making a FOIA request should not be an adversarial process, and we prefer to resolve your request in a mutually agreeable way. We may need to discuss your request with you to ensure we understand what records you are seeking. Clarifying a request can also help avoid incurring unnecessary costs. Where you have made a large records request, we will attempt to reach agreement with you about a response.
How to request records from VITA.
FOIA does not require your request be in writing, nor do you need to state specifically you are requesting records under FOIA. However, a written request creates a record of your request with a clear statement of what records you are requesting so there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. It also facilitates contact with you. We encourage you to request records in writing, by emailing the VITA FOIA address.
Identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity."
This common sense standard requires you be specific enough so we can identify and locate the records you are seeking. Please note, broad requests are more likely to incur substantial, actual costs in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records. See Va. Code §§ 2.2-3704(F) & (H).
To request VITA records or if you have questions, please contact our FOIA officer, Joshua Heslinga.
The best way to request records is by email at FOIA@vita.virginia.gov, but you may also contact us by phone at (804)510-7288, or by mail at:
Virginia Information Technologies Agency
ATTN: FOIA Officer
7325 Beaufont Springs Drive
Richmond, VA 23225
In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. Contact Council staff at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (804) 698-1810. You may submit public comment to the FOIA Council through the FOIA Public Comment Form.
VITA must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it.
The five-day period begins the business day after we receive your request and does not include weekends or holidays.
The reason behind a request for VITA public records is irrelevant.
VITA's responsibilities in responding to your request are the same regardless of the reason for your request. However, FOIA provides that a public body may require requesters to provide their name and legal address. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(A).
There are five general types of FOIA request responses.
If VITA is the custodian of the requested records, FOIA requires that VITA make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(B):
- We provide you with the records you have requested in their entirety
- We withhold all of the records you have requested because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If we withhold all of the records, we must send you a response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the withheld records and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records.
- We provide some of the information requested, but withhold other information. Depending on the circumstances, we may redact part of a record that may be withheld and provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold some or all of the requested records.
- The requested records could not be found or do not exist. If we know or understand that another agency has the requested records, our response will include contact information for that agency.
- If it is not practically possible for VITA to respond to your request within the five-day period, we must state this in writing and explain why. This will allow us seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a 12 full working days to respond to your request.
If a request should be directed to another agency – for example, because VITA is not the custodian of the requested records – we will identify the other agency and provide contact information.
VITA may work with you or petition the court for additional response time.
If you make a request for a very large number of records, and we feel we cannot provide the records to you within 12 days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, we will make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production of the records before we go to court to ask for more time.
A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records.
A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records and shall make all reasonable efforts to supply the requested records at the lowest possible cost. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. Prior to conducting a search for records, the public body shall notify the requester in writing that the public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for requested records and inquire of the requester whether he would like to request a cost estimate in advance of the supplying of the requested records as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia. Whether to make such charges is left to the discretion of the public body.
You may have to pay for the records you request from VITA.
FOIA allows us to charge for the actual costs of responding to FOIA requests. This includes items such as staff time spent searching for and reviewing the requested records, copying costs, and any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(F).
VITA evaluates whether to charge on a request-by-request basis. The charges that VITA assesses are based on the time that VITA personnel spend on the request, such as time reviewing and redacting records. The hourly rate that VITA applies to such time charges is $45/hour, which was set in 2021 based on the then-salary (not including benefits) of VITA FOIA personnel and has not been raised since.
You may be required to pay a deposit.
If we estimate it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we may require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The five days we have to respond to your request does not include the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you respond. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(H).
You may request we estimate the charges prior to VITA fulfilling your request.
This will allow you to know about estimated costs upfront or give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(F).
Payment is due upon receipt of records.
You may also pay in advance. If you owe VITA money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, we may require payment of the past-due bill before we will process and respond to your new FOIA request. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(I).
If you are unsure whether VITA has the record(s) you seek, please contact our FOIA officer at FOIA@vita.virginia.gov. The following is a general description of the types of records held by VITA:
- VITA policies, standards, guidelines, and other publications of VITA
- Records concerning employees and officials of VITA
- Procurements conducted by VITA for information technology goods and services
- IT contracts which VITA has entered into or manages
- Records concerning VITA’s performance of its other statutory responsibilities
Please note that VITA is responsible for searching and producing only its own records in response to FOIA requests. FOIA requests for other agencies’ records must be directed to those agencies. Although VITA provides technology infrastructure to which other agencies transfer data, VITA is not the custodian of those records and cannot fulfill FOIA requests for those entities. See Va. Code § 2.2-3704(J); Va. Code § 42.1-85(B).
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. VITA commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:
- Personnel records. See Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(1).
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege or attorney work product. See Va. Code §§ 2.2-3705.1(2) & (3).
- Vendor proprietary information software. See Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(6).
- Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to contract award. See Va. Code § 2.2-3705.1(12) & § 2.2-4342.
- Records describing or relating to IT security and access control. See Va. Code § 2.2-3705.2(2).
- Records relating to cybersecurity threats, vulnerabilities, or security plans, the release of which would jeopardize safety or security. See Va. Code § 2.2-3705.2(14).
- Records relating to procurement transactions conducted pursuant to the Virginia Public Procurement Act. See Va. Code § 2.2-4342.
Furthermore, FOIA does not require agencies to provide records in response to a request by incarcerated or civilly committed persons. See Va. Code § 2.2-3703(C).
To comment on the quality of assistance provided to you by VITA, please use the online public comment form on the Freedom of Information Advisory Council’s website.