38 CFR § 1.557 - Responses to requests.

§ 1.557 Responses to requests.

(a)Acknowledgement of requests. When a request for records is received by a component designated to receive requests, the component's FOIA Officer will assign a FOIA request number; the FOIA Officer will send the requester written acknowledgement of receipt of the request and will advise the requester of the assigned FOIA request number and how the requester may obtain the status of his or her request.

(b)Processing of requests. Upon receipt of a perfected request by the appropriate component, the FOIA Officer will make a reasonable effort to search for records responsive to the request. The FOIA Officer ordinarily will include as responsive those records in its possession and control as of the date the search for responsive records began. This includes searching for records in electronic form or format, unless to do so would interfere significantly with the agency's automated information systems. If fees for processing the request are due under § 1.561, the FOIA Officer shall inform the requester of the amount of the fee as provided in § 1.554(e) and § 1.561. When a request is granted in part, the FOIA Officer shall mark, redact, or annotate the records to be released to show the amount of information deleted and, where technically feasible, indicate the exemption at the place of redaction unless doing so would harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption. The FOIA Officer will provide the records in the form or format sought by the requester, if readily reproducible in that form or format.

(c)Time limits for processing requests. A component must advise the requester within 20 business days from the date of VA's receipt of the request whether the request is granted in its entirety, granted in part, or denied in its entirety and provide the reasons therefor. If the request must be referred to another component, the response time will begin on the date that the request was received by the appropriate component, but in any event not later than 10 business days after the referring office receives the FOIA request; the referring component has an affirmative duty to refer the FOIA request within 10 business days.

(d)Grants of requests in full. When a component makes a determination to grant a request in full, it shall notify the requester in writing. The component also shall inform the requester of any fees charged under § 1.561. The component also must inform the requester of his or her right to appeal and to seek mediation or the assistance of the appropriate VA FOIA Public Liaison and provide the contact information for the Liaison.

(e)Adverse determinations of requests. When a component makes an adverse determination denying the request in any respect, the component FOIA Officer shall promptly notify the requester of the adverse determination in writing. Adverse determinations include decisions that a requested record is exempt from release in whole or in part, does not exist or cannot be located, is not readily reproducible in the form or format sought by the requester, or is not a record subject to the FOIA; adverse determinations also include denials regarding requests for expedited processing and requests involving fees, such as requests for fee waivers. The adverse determination notice must be signed by the component head or the component's FOIA Officer, and shall include the following:

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

(2) A brief statement of the reason(s) for the denial, including any FOIA exemptions applied by the FOIA Officer in denying the request;

(3) The amount of information withheld in number of pages or other reasonable form of estimation; an estimate is not necessary if the volume is indicated on redacted pages disclosed in part or if providing an estimate would harm an interest provided by an applicable exemption;

(4) Notice that the requester may appeal the adverse determination and a description of the requirements for an appeal under § 1.559 of this part; and

(5) Notice that the requester may seek assistance or dispute resolution services from the VA FOIA Public Liaison or dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services.

[76 FR 51894, Aug. 19, 2011, as amended at 84 FR 12127, Apr. 1, 2019]