28 CFR § 16.5 - Timing of responses to requests.

§ 16.5 Timing of responses to requests.

(a) In general. Components ordinarily will respond to requests according to their order of receipt. Appendix I to this part contains the list of the Department components that are designated to accept requests. In instances involving misdirected requests that are re-routed pursuant to § 16.4(c), the response time will commence on the date that the request is received by the proper component's office that is designated to receive requests, but in any event not later than 10 working days after the request is first received by any component's office that is designated by these regulations to receive requests.

(b) Multitrack processing. All components must designate a specific track for requests that are granted expedited processing, in accordance with the standards set forth in paragraph (e) of this section. A component may also designate additional processing tracks that distinguish between simple and more complex requests based on the estimated amount of work or time needed to process the request. Among the factors a component may consider are the number of pages involved in processing the request and the need for consultations or referrals. Components shall advise requesters of the track into which their request falls and, when appropriate, shall offer the requesters an opportunity to narrow their request so that it can be placed in a different processing track.

(c) Unusual circumstances. Whenever the statutory time limit for processing a request cannot be met because of “unusual circumstances,” as defined in the FOIA, and the component extends the time limit on that basis, the component shall, before expiration of the 20-day period to respond, notify the requester in writing of the unusual circumstances involved and of the date by which processing of the request can be expected to be completed. Where the extension exceeds 10 working days, the component shall, as described by the FOIA, provide the requester with an opportunity to modify the request or arrange an alternative time period for processing. The component shall make available its designated FOIA contact and its FOIA Public Liaison for this purpose. The component must also alert requesters to the availability of the Office of Government Information Services to provide dispute resolution services.

(d) Aggregating requests. For the purposes of satisfying unusual circumstances under the FOIA, components may aggregate requests in cases where it reasonably appears that multiple requests, submitted either by a requester or by a group of requesters acting in concert, constitute a single request that would otherwise involve unusual circumstances. Components shall not aggregate multiple requests that involve unrelated matters.

(e) Expedited processing.

(1) Requests and appeals shall be processed on an expedited basis whenever it is determined that they involve:

(i) Circumstances in which the lack of expedited processing could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual;

(ii) An urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity, if made by a person who is primarily engaged in disseminating information;

(iii) The loss of substantial due process rights; or

(iv) A matter of widespread and exceptional media interest in which there exist possible questions about the government's integrity that affect public confidence.

(2) A request for expedited processing may be made at any time. Requests based on paragraphs (e)(1)(i), (ii), and (iii) of this section must be submitted to the component that maintains the records requested. When making a request for expedited processing of an administrative appeal, the request should be submitted to OIP. Requests for expedited processing that are based on paragraph (e)(1)(iv) of this section must be submitted to the Director of Public Affairs at the Office of Public Affairs, Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20530–0001. A component that receives a misdirected request for expedited processing under the standard set forth in paragraph (e)(1)(iv) of this section shall forward it immediately to the Office of Public Affairs for its determination. The time period for making the determination on the request for expedited processing under paragraph (e)(1)(iv) of this section shall commence on the date that the Office of Public Affairs receives the request, provided that it is routed within 10 working days.

(3) A requester who seeks expedited processing must submit a statement, certified to be true and correct, explaining in detail the basis for making the request for expedited processing. For example, under paragraph (e)(1)(ii) of this section, a requester who is not a full-time member of the news media must establish that the requester is a person whose primary professional activity or occupation is information dissemination, though it need not be the requester's sole occupation. Such a requester also must establish a particular urgency to inform the public about the government activity involved in the request—one that extends beyond the public's right to know about government activity generally. The existence of numerous articles published on a given subject can be helpful in establishing the requirement that there be an “urgency to inform” the public on the topic. As a matter of administrative discretion, a component may waive the formal certification requirement.

(4) A component shall notify the requester within 10 calendar days of the receipt of a request for expedited processing of its decision whether to grant or deny expedited processing. If expedited processing is granted, the request shall be given priority, placed in the processing track for expedited requests, and shall be processed as soon as practicable. If a request for expedited processing is denied, any appeal of that decision shall be acted on expeditiously.

[AG Order No. 3517–2015, 80 FR 18106, Apr. 3, 2015, as amended by AG Order 3803–2016, 82 FR 727, Jan. 4, 2017]