31 CFR § 1.4 - Responses to requests.

§ 1.4 Responses to requests.

(a) In general. Components ordinarily will respond to requests according to their order of receipt. The Appendices to this subpart contain the list of the Departmental components that are designated to accept requests. In instances involving misdirected requests, i.e., where a request is sent to one of the components designated in the Appendices but is actually seeking records maintained by another component, the response time will commence on the date that the request is received by the appropriate component, but in any event not later than ten working days after the request is first received.

(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. A component can consider factors such as the number of pages involved in processing the request or 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 limits for processing a request cannot be met because of “unusual circumstances,” as defined in the FOIA, and the component extends the time limits on that basis, the component shall, before expiration of the twenty-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 ten working days, the component shall, as described by the FOIA, provide the requester with an opportunity to modify the request or agree to an alternative time period for processing. The component shall make available its designated FOIA contact or 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 identifying 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 will not aggregate multiple requests that involve unrelated matters.

(e) Expedited processing.

(1) Requests and appeals will be processed on an expedited basis only upon request and when 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. The standard of “urgency to inform” requires that the records requested pertain to a matter of current exigency to the public and that delaying a response to a request for records would compromise a significant recognized interest to and throughout the general public; or

(iii) The loss of substantial due process rights.

(2) A request for expedited processing may be made at any time. Requests must be submitted to the component that maintains the records requested. The time period for making the determination on the request for expedited processing under this section shall commence on the date that the component receives the request.

(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. As a matter of administrative discretion, a component may waive the formal certification requirement.

(4) A requester seeking expedited processing under paragraph (e)(1)(ii) of this section, who is not a full-time member of the news media must establish that he or she is a person whose primary professional activity or occupation is information dissemination. 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.

(5) A component shall notify the requester within ten 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 component denies expedited processing, any appeal of that decision that complies with the procedures set forth in § 1.6 of this subpart shall be acted on expeditiously.

(f) Acknowledgments of requests. Upon receipt of a request that will take longer than ten business days to process, a component shall send the requester an acknowledgment letter that assigns the request an individualized tracking number. The component shall also include in the acknowledgment a brief description of the records sought to allow requesters to more easily keep track of their requests.

(g) Grants of requests. Once a component makes a determination to grant a request in full or in part, it shall notify the requester in writing. The component also shall inform the requester of any fees charged under § 1.7 of this subpart and shall disclose the requested records to the requester promptly upon payment of any applicable fees. The component must also inform the requester of the availability of the FOIA Public Liaison to offer assistance.

(h) Adverse determinations of requests. A component making an adverse determination denying a request in any respect shall notify the requester of that determination in writing. Adverse determinations, or denials of requests, include decisions that: The requested record is exempt, in whole or in part; the request does not reasonably describe the records sought; the information requested is not a record subject to the FOIA; the requested record does not exist, cannot be located, or has been destroyed; or the requested record is not readily reproducible in the form or format sought by the requester. Adverse determinations also include denials involving fees or fee waiver matters, and denials of requests for expedited processing.

(i) Content of denial letter. The denial letter shall be signed by the head of the component, or FOIA designee, and shall include, when applicable:

(1) The name and title or position of the person responsible for the denial;

(2) A brief statement of the reasons for the denial, including any FOIA exemption applied by the component in denying the request; and

(3) An estimate of the volume of any records or information withheld, for example, by providing the number of pages or some other reasonable form of estimation. This estimation is not required if the volume is otherwise indicated by deletions marked on records that are disclosed in part, or if the estimate would cause a harm protected by one of the exemptions.

(4) A statement that the denial may be appealed under § 1.6(a) of this subpart, and a description of the requirements set forth therein.

(5) A statement notifying the requester of the assistance available from the component's FOIA Public Liaison and the dispute resolution services offered by the Office of Government Information Services.

(j) Markings on released documents. Records disclosed in part must be marked clearly to show the amount of information deleted and the exemption under which the deletion was made unless doing so would harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption. The location of the information deleted shall also be indicated on the record, if technically feasible.

(k) Use of record exclusions.

(1) In the event a component identifies records that may be subject to exclusion from the requirements of the FOIA pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(c), the component shall consult with the Department of Justice, Office of Information Policy (OIP), before applying the exclusion.

(2) A component invoking an exclusion must maintain an administrative record of the process of invocation and of the consultation with OIP.