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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act Reference Guide - FOIA Request

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How to make a FOIA request

FOIA requests for the REE agencies must be in writing and are accepted by mail, facsimile, or e-mail.

In making an electronic request, you may want to use the REE FOIA Request Form, which can be found at: http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/foia/foiaform.htm.

You can submit your request for REE records to:

REE FOIA Officer
USDA-REE-ARS-IS
5601 Sunnyside Avenue
Room 1-2248, Mail Stop 5128
Beltsville, MD 20705-5128
Telephone: 301-504-1655 or 301-504-1640
Facsimile: 301-504-1647
REEFOIA@ars.usda.gov

FOIA requests can also be submitted through the USDA FOIA Public Access Website found at: https://efoia-pal.usda.gov/palMain.aspx. This website provides the public with information on how to obtain access to records maintained by the USDA and includes links to USDA Agency FOIA contacts and USDA Agencies/Offices and Mission Areas, along with instructions on submitting multiple agency requests. The USDA FOIA Program website can be found at: http://www.dm.usda.gov/foia.htm.

In making your request, it is important to identify the records you want as accurately as possible, with as much detail that would be helpful for locating the information. The more precise and accurate the request, the more likely you are to get a complete response. We suggest you include the following:

  • The specific documents you are seeking
  • The name of the individual(s), staff(s) or location name(s) and the location(s) where the documents are maintained
  • Time period covered by your request
  • Grant or contract numbers, if applicable
  • Your telephone number, e-mail address, and mailing address
  • Fee information (see below)

A request may only seek records that are in existence at the time that the FOIA request is received. The FOIA does not require that new records be created in response to the request and does not require agencies to do research for you, to analyze data, or to answer written questions.

Fees: Agencies are authorized by law to recover the direct costs of providing information to a FOIA requester. The FOIA requires that requesters be placed in one of the following three categories:

  1. Commercial requesters may be charged the full fees for searching, reviewing, and duplicating the documents.
  2. Educational or noncommercial scientific institutions and representatives of the news media may be charged only for duplication, minus the first 100 pages.
  3. All other requesters may be charged fees for searching for documents and duplication, minus the first 2 hours of search time and the first 100 pages.

The costs associated with searching for and reviewing records responsive to a request are: the salary rate of the employee conducting the search, plus 16 percent of the employee’s basic pay; or where a homogeneous class of personnel is used exclusively, $10.00 per hour for clerical time and $20.00 per hour for supervisory or professional time. Duplication of pages 8 ½” x 14” or smaller is $0.20 per page. Duplication of pages larger than 8 ½” x 14” is $0.50 per page. Certifications are $5.00 each.

No fee will be charged if the amount is less than $25. In cases where no documents are located, the Agency is entitled to charge the requester for any applicable search time involved.

Fee Waivers: Fee waivers may be granted when disclosure of the documents is in the public interest and is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the Government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

When making a fee waiver request, the following six factors must be addressed in sufficient detail:

  1. The subject of the request, i.e., whether the subject of the requested records concerns the operations or activities of the government.
  2. The informative value of the information to be disclosed, i.e., whether the disclosure is likely to contribute to public understanding of government operations or activities.
  3. The contribution to an understanding of the subject by the general public likely to result from disclosure, i.e., whether disclosure of the requested information will contribute to public understanding.
  4. The significance of the contribution to public understanding, i.e., whether disclosure is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations or activities.
  5. The existence and magnitude of a commercial interest, i.e., whether the requester has a commercial interest that would be furthered by the requested disclosure; and if so,
  6. The primary interest in disclosure, i.e., whether the magnitude of the identified commercial interest of the requester is sufficiently large in comparison with the public interest in disclosure.

Appeals: A person whose initial FOIA request for documents has been denied, either in part or in whole, or who has received a no records response, or whose request for a fee waiver has been denied, has the right to appeal the denial to the appropriate REE administrator within 45 days after receipt of notification of the denial.

Exemptions: A request for records may be denied if the requested record contains information that falls into one or more of the 9 exemptions listed below. If the requested record contains both exempt and nonexempt information, the nonexempt portions that may reasonably be segregated from the exempt portions will be released to the requester.

  • Exemption 1 - Records which are specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in interest of national defense or foreign policy and are in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive Order.
  • Exemption 2 - Records related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of the agency.
  • Exemption 3 - Records specifically exempted from disclosure by statute, provided that such statute: a. Requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issues; or b. Establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld.
  • Exemption 4 - Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential.
  • Exemption 5 - Interagency or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.
  • Exemption 6 - Personnel, medical, and similar files when the disclosure of such information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
  • Exemption 7 - Records compiled for law enforcement purposes.
  • Exemption 8 - Records that are contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.
  • Exemption 9 - Geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.

Time Limits: Agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. This period does not begin until the request is actually received by the FOIA office. In specific situations, an additional 10-day extension may be granted in responding to a request. The FOIA provides for extensions of initial time limits under unusual circumstances, which are defined as (1) the need to search for and collect records from separate offices; (2) the need to examine a voluminous amount of records required by the request; and (3) the need to consult with another agency or agency component.

Last Modified: 11/7/2012
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