Obtaining a Copy of your FBI Personnel File

by Nancy Savage, Executive Director

As many of you know, as part of my Red Folder material, I encourage all to obtain a copy of their FBI personnel file or a deceased family member’s personnel file. I do this because I am often asked by surviving family members if the Society has information about their family member’s career. These requests come from children or surviving spouses who were not married to the member during his FBI career. Occasionally, a grandchild, niece, or nephew will contact the Society when exploring their ancestry and they are interested in the career of their relative who served in the FBI. I have to advise them that the Society does not maintain this information and they are going to have to make a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act (FOIPA) Request of the FBI, noting that a response will take years. Bottom line to all of our members, wait no longer and request your FBI file – if not for yourself, for your survivors.

Many of you have made the file request already, including myself. There are two ways to make the request – either electronically on the www.fbi.gov website or with a simple letter. In the Spring of 2020, I took my own advice and made a request for my personnel file using the electronic version. There are warnings on the website that the COVID-19 pandemic may slow things down a bit as the FBI employees in Records Management Divisions are working remotely.

Not long after, I was contacted by a representative of FOIPA via email and received information that I wanted to share with all of you.

Simple and Complex FOIPA Requests

The good news is that those folks at FOIPA responsible for responding to our requests (Records/Information Dissemination Section or RDIS) resumed full staffing in June 2020 and are now able to increase processing production. They provided guidelines that I wanted to share.

Two Tracks

FOIPA requests are divided into two tracks:

  • Simple (50 pages or less of potentially responsive documents)
  • Complex (over 50 pages)

In all likelihood, your personnel file request is going to be a complex request.

Complex requests are further divided into:

  • Medium (51-950 pages)
  • Large (951-8,000 pages)
  • X-large (over 8,000 pages)

Time to Process

The size of the request determines the time it will take to respond and the cost to you.

  • Simple request: 4 months to complete
  • Medium request: 27 months
  • Large request: 57 months
  • X-Large request: 70 months

Three Parts of the FBI Personnel file

  1. The main file containing material such as our performance evaluations, letters of commendation, promotions, transfers, training, life and health insurance documents, and retirement information.
  2. The medical sub-file containing the results of our annual physicals.
  3. The security sub-file, which generally contains our background reinvestigations.

The FBI will email you and let you know how many pages are potentially in each section. I potentially had 1,800 pages in all three sections, which would have taken approximately 57 months for them to review and copy. I opted to decline my medical and security sub-files since I did not desire copies of my Bureau physical exams and I figured nothing important came up in my reinvestigations or I would not have been allowed to stay until age 57. This reduced my request to just the main file at approximately 800 pages, which will take 27 months to fulfill.

Two Locations for where the main file may be maintained

In some cases, (mine is) your file is still housed in the Records Management Division of the FBI in Winchester, VA. I believe some of the newer retirees will be notified that their main file is maintained at the National Personnel Records Center - Annex in Valmeyer, IL.

Bottom line: It is still a good idea to request your personnel file, just be prepared to pare down the request, or, if you know upfront that all you want is your main file, just ask for that.