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Electronic Code of Federal Regulations
Title 15: Commerce and Foreign Trade
Subpart A—Freedom of Information Act
§4.1 General provisions.
§4.2 Public reading rooms.
§4.3 Records under the FOIA.
§4.4 Requirements for making requests.
§4.5 Responsibility for responding to requests.
§4.6 Time limits and expedited processing.
§4.7 Responses to requests.
§4.8 Classified information.
§4.9 Business Information.
§4.10 Appeals from initial determinations or untimely delays.
§4.1 General provisions.
(a) The information in this part is furnished for the guidance of the public and in compliance with the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as amended (5 U.S.C. 552). This part sets forth the procedures the Department of Commerce (Department) and its components follow to make publicly available materials and indices specified in 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(2) and records requested under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3). Information routinely provided to the public as part of a regular Department activity (for example, press releases issued by the Office of Public Affairs) may be provided to the public without following this part. In addition, as a matter of policy, the Department shall make discretionary releases of records or information exempt from disclosure under the FOIA when required to do so in accordance with current law and/or Executive Branch policy. This policy does not create any right enforceable in court.
(b) As used in this subpart, component means any office, division, bureau or other unit of the Department listed in Appendix A to this part (except that a regional office of a larger office or other unit does not constitute a separate component).
(c) The Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) within the National Archives and Records Administration offers mediation services to resolve disputes between requesters and agencies as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation. Requesters with concerns about the handling of their requests may contact OGIS.
[66 FR 65632, Dec. 20, 2001, as amended at 79 FR 62557, Oct. 20, 2014]
§4.2 Public reading rooms.
(a) Records that the FOIA requires to be made available for public inspection and copying are accessible electronically through the Department's “Electronic FOIA Library” on the Department's Web site, http://www.doc.gov, which includes links to Web sites for those components that maintain Electronic FOIA Libraries. These records may also be accessible at the FOIAonline Web site, http://foiaonline.regulations.gov. Each component of the Department is responsible for determining which of its records are required to be made available, as well as identifying additional records of interest to the public that are appropriate for disclosure, and for making those records available either in its own Electronic Library or in the Department's central Electronic FOIA Library. Components that maintain their own Electronic FOIA Library are designated as such in Appendix A to this part. Each component shall also maintain and make available electronically a current subject-matter index of the records made available electronically. Each component shall ensure that posted records and indices are updated regularly, at least quarterly.
(b) If the requester does not have access to the Internet and wishes to obtain information regarding publicly available information, he or she may contact the component's FOIA office. Appendix A to this part contains the contact information for the components' FOIA offices. Some components may also maintain physical public reading rooms. These components and their contact information are listed in Appendix A to this part.
(c) The Department and its components shall maintain and make available electronically for public inspection:
(1) A current index providing information for the public as to any matter that is issued, adopted, or promulgated after July 4, 1997, and that is retained as a record and is required to be made available or published. Copies of the index are available upon request after payment of the direct cost of duplication;
(2) Copies of records that have been released and that the component that maintains them determines, because of their subject matter, have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records;
(3) A general index of the records described in paragraph (c)(2) of this section;
(4) Final opinions and orders, including concurring and dissenting opinions made in the adjudication of cases;
(5) Those statements of policy and interpretations that have been adopted by a component and are not published in the Federal Register; and
(6) Administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect a member of the public.
[79 FR 62558, Oct. 20, 2014]
§4.3 Records under the FOIA.
(a) Records under the FOIA include all Government records, regardless of format, medium or physical characteristics, and electronic records and information, audiotapes, videotapes, Compact Disks, DVDs, and photographs.
(b) In response to a FOIA request, the Department has no obligation to create, compile, or obtain from outside the Department a record to satisfy a request (for example, extrapolating information from existing agency records, reformatting available information, preparing new electronic programs or databases, or creating data through calculations of rations, proportions, percentages, trends, frequency distributions, correlations, or comparisons). In complying with a request for records (including data and other electronically-stored information), whether the Department creates or compiles records (as by undertaking significant programming work) or merely extracts them from an existing database is fact dependent. The Department shall undertake reasonable efforts to search for records stored in electronic format (including data and other electronically-stored information).
(c) Department officials may, upon request, create and provide new records to the public pursuant to statutes that authorize the creation and provision of new records for a fee, such as the first paragraph of 15 U.S.C. 1525, or in accordance with authority otherwise provided by law. Such creation and provision of records is outside the scope of the FOIA.
(d) Components shall preserve all correspondence pertaining to the requests they receive under this subpart, as well as copies of all requested records, until disposition or destruction is authorized by Title 44 of the United States Code or the National Archives and Records Administration's General Records Schedule 14. Components shall not dispose of records while they are the subject of a pending request, appeal, or lawsuit under the FOIA.
[66 FR 65632, Dec. 20, 2001, as amended at 79 FR 62558, Oct. 20, 2014]
§4.4 Requirements for making requests.
(a) How made and addressed. The Department has a decentralized system for responding to FOIA requests, with each component designating a FOIA office to process records from that component. All components have the capability to receive requests electronically either through electronic mail (email) or the FOIAonline Web site, http://www.foiaonline.regulations.gov. A request for Department records that are not customarily made available to the public as part of the Department's regular informational services (or pursuant to a user fee statute), must be in writing and shall be processed under the FOIA, regardless of whether the FOIA is mentioned in the request. Requests must include the requester's full name and a legible return address. Requesters may also include other contact information, such as an email address and a telephone number. For the quickest handling, the request (and envelope, if the request is mailed or hand delivered) should be marked “Freedom of Information Act Request.” Requests may be submitted by U.S. mail, delivery service, email, facsimile, or online at the FOIAonline Web site, http://foiaonline.regulations.gov. Requests made by mail, delivery service, email, or facsimile should be sent to the Department component identified in Appendix A to this part that maintains those records requested, and should be sent to the addresses, email addresses, or numbers listed in Appendix A to this part or the Department's Web site, http://www.doc.gov.1 If the proper component cannot be determined, the request should be sent to the central facility identified in Appendix A to this part. The central facility will forward the request to the component(s) it believes most likely to have the requested records. Requests will be considered received for purposes of the 20-day time limit of §4.6 as of the date it is received by the proper component's FOIA office.
1The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), which is established as an agency of the United States within the Department of Commerce, operates under its own FOIA regulations at 37 CFR part 102, subpart A. Accordingly, requests for USPTO records, and any appeals thereof, should be sent directly to the USPTO.
(b) Requests for records about an individual or oneself. For requests for records about oneself, §4.24 of this part contains additional requirements. For requests for records about another individual, either written authorization signed by the individual permitting disclosure of his or her records to the requester or proof that the individual is deceased (for example, a copy of a death certificate or an obituary) will facilitate processing the request.
(c) Description of records sought. A FOIA request must reasonably describe the agency records sought, to enable Department personnel to locate them with a reasonable amount of effort. Whenever possible, a request should include specific information about each record sought, such as the date, title or name, author, recipient, and subject matter of the record, and the name and location of the office where the record might be found. In addition, if records about a court case are sought, the title of the case, the court in which the case was filed, and the nature of the case should be included. If known, any file designations or descriptions of the requested records should be included. As a general rule, the more specifically the request describes the records sought, the greater the likelihood that the Department will be able to locate those records. Before submitting their requests, requesters may contact the component's FOIA contact to discuss the records they are seeking and to receive assistance in describing the records (contact information for these individuals is contained in Appendix A to this part and on the Department's Web site, http://www.doc.gov). If a component determines that a request does not reasonably describe the records sought, it shall inform the requester what additional information is needed or how the request is otherwise insufficient, to enable the requester to modify the request to meet the requirements of this section. Requesters who are attempting to reformulate or modify such a request may discuss their request with the component's designated FOIA contact. When a requester fails to provide sufficient detail within 30 calendar days after having been asked to reasonably describe the records sought, the component shall notify the requester in writing that the request has not been properly made, that no further action will be taken, and that the FOIA request is closed. Such a notice constitutes an adverse determination under §4.7(d) for which components shall follow the procedures for a denial letter under §4.7(e). In cases where a requester has modified his or her request, the date of receipt for purposes of the 20-day time limit of §4.6 shall be the date of receipt of the modified request.
[79 FR 62558, Oct. 20, 2014, as amended at 79 FR 68609, Nov. 18, 2014]
§4.5 Responsibility for responding to requests.
(a) In general. Except as stated in paragraph (b) of this section, the proper component of the Department to respond to a request for records is the component that first receives the request and has responsive records (or in the instance of where no records exist, the component that first receives the request and is likely to have responsive records), or the component to which the Departmental FOIA Officer or component FOIA Officer assigns lead responsibility for responding to the request. Where a component's FOIA office determines that a request was misdirected within the Department, the receiving component's FOIA office shall route the request to the FOIA office of the proper component(s). Records responsive to a request shall include those records within the Department's possession and control as of the date the Department begins its search for them.
(b) Consultations and referrals. When a component receives a request for a record (or a portion thereof) in its possession that originated with another Federal agency subject to the FOIA, the component shall refer the record to that agency for direct response to the requester (see §4.8 for additional information about referrals of classified information). In instances where a record is requested that originated with the Department and another Federal agency has a significant interest in the record (or a portion thereof), the component shall consult with that Federal agency before responding to a requester. When a component receives a request for a record (or a portion thereof) in its possession that originated with another Federal agency that is not subject to the FOIA, the component shall consult with that Federal agency before responding to the requester.
(c) Notice of referral. Whenever a component refers a record to another Federal agency for direct response to the requester, the component's FOIA Officer shall notify the requester in writing of the referral and inform the requester of the name of the agency to which the record was referred.
(d) Timing of responses to consultations and referrals. All consultations and referrals shall be handled in chronological order, based on when the FOIA request was received by the first Federal agency.
(e) Agreements regarding consultations and referrals. Components may make agreements with other Federal agencies to eliminate the need for consultations or referrals for particular types of records.
[66 FR 65632, Dec. 20, 2001, as amended at 71 FR 31073, June 1, 2006; 79 FR 62559, Oct. 20, 2014]
§4.6 Time limits and expedited processing.
(a) In general. Components ordinarily shall respond to requests according to their order of receipt.
(b) Initial response and appeal. Unless the component and the requester have agreed otherwise, or when “unusual circumstances” exist as provided for in paragraph (d) of this section, a determination whether to comply with a FOIA request shall be made by components within 20 working days (i.e., excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) of the receipt of a request for a record under this part by the proper component identified in accordance with §4.5(a). In instances involving misdirected requests that are re-routed pursuant to §4.5(a), the response time shall commence on the date that the request is received by the proper component, but in any event not later than ten working days after the request is first received by any designated component. An administrative appeal, other than an appeal from a request made to the Office of the Inspector General, shall be decided within 20 working days of its receipt by the Office of the General Counsel. An administrative appeal from a request made to the Office of the Inspector General shall be decided within 20 working days of its receipt by the Office of the Inspector General Office of Counsel. The Department's failure to comply with the time limits identified in this paragraph constitutes exhaustion of the requester's administrative remedies for the purposes of judicial action to compel disclosure.
(c) Clarification of request. Components may seek a one-time clarification of a request for records under this part. The component's request for clarification must be in writing. When a component seeks clarification of a request, the time for responding to a request set forth in §4.6(b) is tolled until the requester responds to the clarification request. The tolled period will end when the component that sought the clarification receives a response from the requester. If a component asks for clarification and does not receive a written response from the requester within 30 calendar days from the date of the component's clarification request, the component will presume that the requester is no longer interested and notify the requester that the request will be closed.
(d) Unusual circumstances. (1) Components may extend the time period for processing a FOIA request only in “unusual circumstances,” as described in paragraph (d)(2) of this section, in which the component shall, before expiration of the twenty-day period to respond, notify the requester of the extension in writing of the unusual circumstances involved and of the date by which processing of the request is expected to be completed. If the extension is for more than ten working days, the component shall provide the requester with an opportunity to modify the request or agree to an alternative time period for processing the original or modified request.
(2) For purposes of this section, unusual circumstances include:
(i) The need to search for and collect the requested agency records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request;
(ii) The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that are the subject of a single request; or
(iii) The need to consult with another Federal agency having a substantial interest in the determination of the FOIA request or among two or more components of the Department having substantial subject-matter interest in the determination of the request.
(3) If a component reasonably believes that multiple requests submitted by a requester, or by a group of requesters acting in concert, constitute a single request that would otherwise involve unusual circumstances, and the requests involve clearly related matters, the component may aggregate them. Multiple requests involving unrelated matters will not be aggregated.
(e) Multi-track processing. (1) A component must use two or more processing tracks by distinguishing between simple and more complex requests based on the amount of work and/or time needed to process the request, including the amount of pages involved, and whether the request qualifies for expedited processing as described in paragraph (f) of this section.
(2) A component using multi-track processing may provide requesters in its slower track(s) with an opportunity to limit the scope of their requests in order to qualify for faster processing. A component doing so shall contact the requester by telephone, email, letter, or through the FOIAonline Web site, http://foiaonline.regulations.gov, whichever is the most efficient in each case.
(f) Expedited processing. (1) Requests and appeals shall be taken out of order and given expedited treatment whenever it is determined that they involve:
(i) Circumstances in which the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual;
(ii) The loss of substantial due process rights;
(iii) A matter of widespread and exceptional media interest involving questions about the Government's integrity which affect public confidence; or
(iv) An urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity, if made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information.
(2) A request for expedited processing may be made at the time of the initial request for records or at any later time. For a prompt determination, a request for expedited processing should be sent to the component listed in Appendix A to this part that maintains the records requested.
(3) A requester who seeks expedited processing must submit a statement, certified to be true and correct to the best of that person's knowledge and belief, explaining in detail the basis for requesting expedited processing. For example, a requester within the category described in paragraph (f)(1)(iv) of this section, if 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, though it need not be his or her sole occupation. A requester within the category described in paragraph (f)(1)(iv) of this section must also 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 to establishing the requirement that there be an “urgency to inform” the public on a topic. As a matter of administrative discretion, a component may waive the formal certification requirement.
(4) Within ten calendar days of its receipt of a request for expedited processing, the proper component shall decide whether to grant it and shall notify the requester of the decision. Solely for purposes of calculating the foregoing time limit, any request for expedited processing shall always be considered received on the actual date of receipt by the proper component. If a request for expedited processing is granted, the request shall be given priority and processed as soon as practicable, subject to §4.11(i). If a request for expedited processing is denied, any appeal of that decision shall be acted on expeditiously.
[66 FR 65632, Dec. 20, 2001, as amended at 79 FR 62559, Oct. 20, 2014]
§4.7 Responses to requests.
(a) Acknowledgment of requests. Upon receipt of a request, a component ordinarily shall send an acknowledgement letter to the requester which shall provide an assigned request number for further reference and, if necessary, confirm whether the requester is willing to pay fees.
(b) Interim responses. If a request involves voluminous records or requires searches in multiple locations, to the extent feasible, a component shall provide the requester with interim responses consisting of fully releasable records.
(c) Grants of requests. If a component makes a determination to grant a request in whole or in part, it shall notify the requester in writing of such determination and disclose records to the requester promptly upon payment of any applicable fees. Records disclosed in part shall be marked or annotated to show the applicable FOIA exemption(s) and the amount of information deleted, 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 feasible.
(d) Adverse determinations of requests. If a component makes an adverse determination regarding a request, it shall notify the requester of that determination in writing. An adverse determination is a denial of a request and includes 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 previously 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 or denials of requests for expedited processing.
(e) Content of denial. The denial letter shall be signed by an official listed in Appendix B to this part (or a designee), and shall include:
(1) The name and title or position of the person responsible for the denial;
(2) A brief statement of the reason(s) for the denial, including any FOIA exemption(s) applied by the component in denying the request;
(3) An estimate of the volume of any records or information withheld, by providing the number of pages or some other reasonable form of estimation. This estimate is not required if the volume is otherwise indicated by deletions marked on records that are disclosed in part, or if providing an estimate would harm an interest protected by an applicable FOIA exemption; and
(4) A statement that the denial may be appealed under §4.10, and a list of the requirements for filing an appeal set forth in §4.10(b).
[79 FR 62560, Oct. 20, 2014]
§4.8 Classified information.
In processing a request for information classified under Executive Order 13526 or any other executive order concerning the classification of records, the information shall be reviewed to determine whether it should remain classified. Ordinarily the component or other Federal agency that classified the information should conduct the review, except that if a record contains information that has been derivatively classified by a component because it contains information classified by another component or agency, the component shall refer the responsibility for responding to the request to the component or agency that classified the underlying information. Information determined to no longer require classification shall not be withheld on the basis of FOIA exemption (b)(1) (5 U.S.C. 552(b)(1)), but should be reviewed to assess whether any other FOIA exemption should be invoked. Appeals involving classified information shall be processed in accordance with §4.10(c).
[79 FR 62560, Oct. 20, 2014]
§4.9 Business Information.
(a) In general. Business information obtained by the Department from a submitter will be disclosed under the FOIA only under this section.
(b) Definitions. For the purposes of this section:
(1) Business information means commercial or financial information, obtained by the Department from a submitter, which may be protected from disclosure under FOIA exemption (b)(4) (5 U.S.C. 552(b)(4)).
(2) Submitter means any person or entity outside the Federal Government from which the Department obtains business information, directly or indirectly. The term includes corporations; state, local and tribal governments; and foreign governments.
(c) Designation of business information. A submitter of business information must use good-faith efforts to designate, by appropriate markings, either at the time of submission or at a reasonable time thereafter, any portions of its submission that it considers to be protected from disclosure under FOIA exemption (b)(4). These designations will expire ten years after the date of the submission unless the submitter requests, and provides justification for, a longer period.
(d) Notice to submitters. A component shall provide a submitter with prompt written notice of a FOIA request or administrative appeal that seeks its business information whenever required under paragraph (e) of this section, except as provided in paragraph (h) of this section, in order to give the submitter an opportunity under paragraph (f) of this section to object to disclosure of any specified portion of that information. Such written notice shall be sent via certified mail, return receipt requested, or similar means. The notice shall either describe the business information requested or include copies of the requested records containing the information. If notification of a large number of submitters is required, notification may be made by posting or publishing the notice in a place reasonably likely to accomplish notification.
(e) When notice is required. Notice shall be given to the submitter whenever:
(1) The submitter has designated the information in good faith as protected from disclosure under FOIA exemption (b)(4); or
(2) The component has reason to believe that the information may be protected from disclosure under FOIA exemption (b)(4).
(f) Opportunity to object to disclosure. A component shall allow a submitter seven working days (i.e., excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) from the date of receipt of the written notice described in paragraph (d) of this section to provide the component with a statement of any objection to disclosure. The statement must identify any portions of the information the submitter requests to be withheld under FOIA exemption (b)(4), and describe how each qualifies for protection under the exemption: that is, why the information is a trade secret, or commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential. If a submitter fails to respond to the notice within the time specified, the submitter will be considered to have no objection to disclosure of the information. Information a submitter provides under this paragraph may itself be subject to disclosure under the FOIA.
(g) Notice of intent to disclose. A component shall consider a submitter's objections and specific grounds under the FOIA for nondisclosure in deciding whether to disclose business information. If a component decides to disclose business information over a submitter's objection, the component shall give the submitter written notice via certified mail, return receipt requested, or similar means, which shall include:
(1) A statement of reason(s) why the submitter's objections to disclosure were not sustained;
(2) A description of the business information to be disclosed; and
(3) A statement that the component intends to disclose the information seven working days from the date the submitter receives the notice.
(h) Exceptions to notice requirements. The notice requirements of paragraphs (d) and (g) of this section shall not apply if:
(1) The component determines that the information is exempt and will be withheld under a FOIA exemption, other than exemption (b)(4);
(2) The information has been lawfully published or has been officially made available to the public;
(3) Disclosure of the information is required by statute (other than the FOIA) or by a regulation issued in accordance with Executive Order 12600; or
(4) The designation made by the submitter under paragraph (c) of this section appears obviously frivolous, except that, in such a case, the component shall provide the submitter written notice of any final decision to disclose the information seven working days from the date the submitter receives the notice.
(i) Notice to submitter of FOIA lawsuit. Whenever a requester files a lawsuit seeking to compel the disclosure of business information, the component shall promptly notify the submitter.
(j) Corresponding notice to requester. Whenever a component provides a submitter with notice and an opportunity to object to disclosure under paragraph (d) of this section, the component shall notify the requester that the request is being processed under the provisions of this regulation and, as a consequence, there may be a delay in receiving a response. The notice to the requester will not include any of the specific information contained in the records being requested. Whenever a submitter files a lawsuit seeking to prevent the disclosure of business information, the component shall notify the requester of such action and, as a consequence, there may be further delay in receiving a response.
[66 FR 65632, Dec. 20, 2001, as amended at 79 FR 62561, Oct. 20, 2014]
§4.10 Appeals from initial determinations or untimely delays.
(a)(1) If a request for records to a component other than the Office of Inspector General is initially denied in whole or in part, or has not been timely determined, or if a requester receives an adverse determination regarding any other matter listed under this subpart (as described in §4.7(c)), the requester may file an appeal. Appeals can be submitted in writing or electronically, as described in paragraph (b)(1) of this section. The appeal must be received by the Office of the General Counsel during normal business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday) within 30 calendar days of the date of the written denial of the adverse determination or, if there has been no determination, an appeal may be submitted any time after the due date, including the last extension under §4.6(d), of the adverse determination. Written or electronic appeals arriving after normal business hours will be deemed received on the next normal business day. If the 30th calendar day falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or a legal public holiday, an appeal received by 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time, the next business day will be deemed timely. Appeals received after the 30-day limit will not be considered.
(2) If a request for records to the Office of Inspector General is initially denied in whole or in part, or has not been timely determined, or if a requester receives an adverse determination regarding any other matter listed under this subpart (as described in §4.7(c)), the requester may file an appeal. Appeals can be submitted in writing or electronically, as described in paragraph (b)(2) of this section. The appeal must be received by the Office of Inspector General, Office of Counsel, during normal business hours (8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time, Monday through Friday) within 30 calendar days of the date of the written denial of the adverse determination or, if there has been no determination, an appeal may be submitted any time after the due date, including the last extension under §4.6(d), of the adverse determination. Written or electronic appeals arriving after normal business hours will be deemed received on the next normal business day. If the 30th calendar day falls on a Saturday, Sunday, or a legal public holiday, an appeal received by 5:00 p.m., Eastern Time, the next business day will be deemed timely. Appeals received after the 30-day limit will not be considered.
(b)(1) Appeals, other than appeals from requests made to the Office of Inspector General, shall be decided by the Assistant General Counsel for Litigation, Employment, and Oversight. Written appeals should be addressed to the Assistant General Counsel for Litigation, Employment, and Oversight, at U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of the General Counsel, Room 5875, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230. An appeal may also be sent via facsimile at 202-482-2552. For a written appeal, both the letter and the appeal envelope should be clearly marked “Freedom of Information Act Appeal.” Appeals may also be submitted electronically either by email to FOIAAppeals@doc.gov or online at the FOIAonline Web site, http://foiaonline.regulations.gov, if requesters have a FOIAonline account. In all cases, the appeal (written or electronic) should include a copy of the original request and initial denial, if any. All appeals should include a statement of the reasons why the records requested should be made available and why the adverse determination was in error. No opportunity for personal appearance, oral argument or hearing on appeal is provided. Upon receipt of an appeal, the Assistant General Counsel for Litigation, Employment, and Oversight ordinarily shall send an acknowledgement letter to the requester which shall confirm receipt of the requester's appeal.
(2) Appeals of initial and untimely determinations by the Office of Inspector General shall be decided by the Counsel to the Inspector General, except that appeals for records which were initially denied by the Counsel to the Inspector General shall be decided by the Deputy Inspector General. Written appeals should be addressed to the Counsel to the Inspector General, or the Deputy Inspector General if the records were initially denied by the Counsel to the Inspector General. The address of both is: U.S. Department of Commerce, Office of Counsel, Room 7898C, 14th and Constitution Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20230. An appeal may also be sent via facsimile at 202-501-7335. For a written appeal, both the letter and the appeal envelope should be clearly marked “Freedom of Information Act Appeal.” Appeals may also be submitted electronically either by email to FOIA@oig.doc.gov or online at the FOIAonline Web site, http://foiaonline.regulations.gov, if requesters have a FOIAonline account. In all cases, the appeal (written or electronic) should include a copy of the original request and initial denial, if any. All appeals should include a statement of the reasons why the records requested should be made available and why the adverse determination was in error. No opportunity for personal appearance, oral argument or hearing on appeal is provided. Upon receipt of an appeal, the Counsel to the Inspector General, or the Deputy Inspector General if the records were initially denied by the Counsel to the Inspector General, ordinarily shall send an acknowledgement letter to the requester which shall confirm receipt of the requester's appeal.
(c) Upon receipt of an appeal involving records initially denied on the basis of FOIA exemption (b)(1), the records shall be forwarded to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Security (DAS) for a declassification review. The DAS may overrule previous classification determinations in whole or in part if continued protection in the interest of national security is no longer required, or no longer required at the same level. The DAS shall advise the Assistant General Counsel for Litigation, Employment, and Oversight, the General Counsel, the General Counsel to the Inspector General, or Deputy Inspector General, as appropriate, of his or her decision.
(d) If an appeal is granted, the person who filed the appeal shall be immediately notified and copies of the releasable documents shall be made available promptly thereafter upon receipt of appropriate fees determined in accordance with §4.11.
(e) If no determination on an appeal has been sent to the requester within the twenty working day period specified in §4.6(b) or the last extension thereof, the requester is deemed to have exhausted all administrative remedies with respect to the request, giving rise to a right of judicial review under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(C). If the requester initiates a court action against the Department based on the provision in this paragraph, the administrative appeal process may continue.
(f) The determination on an appeal shall be in writing and, when it denies records in whole or in part, the letter to the requester shall include:
(1) A brief explanation of the basis for the denial, including a list of the applicable FOIA exemptions and a description of how they apply;
(2) A statement that the decision is final for the Department;
(3) Notification that judicial review of the denial is available in the district court of the United States in the district in which the requester resides, or has his or her principal place of business, or in which the agency records are located, or in the District of Columbia; and
(4) The name and title or position of the official responsible for denying the appeal.
[66 FR 65632, Dec. 20, 2001, as amended at 69 FR 49784, Aug. 12, 2004; 79 FR 62561, Oct. 20, 2014; 80 FR 70153, Nov. 13, 2015]
(a) In general. Components shall charge fees for processing requests under the FOIA in accordance with paragraph (c) of this section, except where fees are limited under paragraph (d) of this section or when a waiver or reduction is granted under paragraph (k) of this section. A component shall collect all applicable fees before processing a request if a component determines that advance payment is required in accordance with paragraphs (i)(2) and (i)(3) of this section. If advance payment of fees is not required, a component shall collect all applicable fees before sending copies of requested records to a requester. Requesters must pay fees by check or money order made payable to the Treasury of the United States.
(b) Definitions. For purposes of this section:
(1) Commercial use request means a request from or on behalf of a person who seeks information for a use or purpose that furthers his or her commercial, trade, or profit interests, which can include furthering those interests through litigation. Components shall determine, whenever reasonably possible, the use to which a requester will put the requested records. If it appears that the requester will put the records to a commercial use, or if a component has reasonable cause to doubt a requester's asserted non-commercial use, the component shall provide the requester a reasonable opportunity to submit further clarification.
(2) Direct costs means those expenses a component incurs in searching for and duplicating (and, in the case of commercial use requests, reviewing) records to respond to a FOIA request. Direct costs include, for example, the salary of the employee performing the work (the basic rate of pay for the employee, plus 16% of that rate to cover benefits) and the cost of operating computers and other electronic equipment, such as photocopiers and scanners. Direct costs do not include overhead expenses such as the costs of space, heating, or lighting of the facility in which the service is performed.
(3) Duplication means the making of a copy of a record, or of the information contained in it, necessary to respond to a FOIA request. Copies may take the form of paper, microform, audiovisual materials, or electronic records, among others. A component shall honor a requester's specified preference of form or format of disclosure if the record is readily reproducible with reasonable efforts in the requested form or format.
(4) Educational institution means a preschool, a public or private elementary or secondary school, an institution of undergraduate higher education, an institution of graduate higher education, an institution of professional education, or an institution of vocational education, that operates a program of scholarly research. A requester in this fee category must show that the request is authorized by, and is made under the auspices of, an educational institution and that the records are not sought for a commercial use, but rather are sought to further scholarly research. To fall within this fee category, a request must serve the scholarly research goal of the institution rather than an individual research goal.
Example 1. A request from a professor of geology at a university for records relating to soil erosion, written on letterhead of the Department of Geology, would be presumed to be from an educational institution.
Example 2. A request from the same professor of geology seeking drug information from the Food and Drug Administration in furtherance of a murder mystery he is writing would not be presumed to be an institutional request, regardless of whether it was written on institutional letterhead.
Example 3. A student who makes a request in furtherance of the completion of a course of instruction would be presumed to be carrying out an individual research goal, rather than a scholarly research goal of the institution, and would not qualify as part of this fee category.
(5) Noncommercial scientific institution means an institution that is not operated on a “commercial” basis, as that term is defined in paragraph (b)(1) of this section, and that is operated solely for the purpose of conducting scientific research, the results of which are not intended to promote any particular product or industry. To be in this category, a requester must show that the request is authorized by and is made under the auspices of a qualifying institution and that the records are sought to further scientific research rather than for a commercial use.
(6) Representative of the news media, or news media requester, means any person or entity organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public that actively gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. The term “news” means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public. Examples of news-media entities are television or radio stations broadcasting to the public at-large and publishers of periodicals that disseminate “news” and make their products available through a variety of means to the general public including news organizations that disseminate solely on the Internet. To be in this category, a requester must not be seeking the requested records for a commercial use. A request for records that supports the news-dissemination function of the requester shall not be considered to be for a commercial use. A freelance journalist shall be regarded as working for a news-media entity if the journalist can demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through that entity, whether or not the journalist is actually employed by the entity. A publication contract would be the clearest proof, but components shall also look to the past publication record of a requester in making this determination. A component's decision to grant a requester media status will be made on a case-by-case basis based upon the requester's intended use of the material.
(7) Review means the examination of a record located in response to a request in order to determine whether any portion of it is exempt from disclosure. Review time includes processing any record for disclosure, such as doing all that is necessary to prepare the record for disclosure, including the process of redacting it and marking any applicable exemptions. Review costs are recoverable even if a record ultimately is not disclosed. Review time includes time spent obtaining and considering any formal objection to disclosure made by a business submitter under §4.9, but does not include time spent resolving general legal or policy issues regarding the application of exemptions.
(8) Search means the process of looking for and retrieving records or information responsive to a request. It includes page-by-page or line-by-line identification of information within records and also includes reasonable efforts to locate and retrieve information from records maintained in electronic form or format. Components shall ensure that searches are done in the most efficient and least expensive manner reasonably possible.
(c) Fees. In responding to FOIA requests, components shall charge the fees summarized in chart form in paragraphs (c)(1) and (c)(2) of this section and explained in paragraphs (c)(3) through (c)(5) of this section, unless a waiver or reduction of fees has been granted under paragraph (k) of this section.
(1) The four categories and chargeable fees are:
(2) Uniform fee schedule.
(3) Search. (i) Search fees shall be charged for all requests—other than requests made by educational institutions, noncommercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media—subject to the limitations of paragraph (d) of this section. Components shall charge for time spent searching even if they do not locate any responsive records or if they withhold any records located as entirely exempt from disclosure. Search fees shall be the direct costs of conducting the search by the involved employees.
(ii) For computer searches of records, requesters will be charged the direct costs of conducting the search, although certain requesters (as provided in paragraph (d)(1) of this section) will be charged no search fee and certain other requesters (as provided in paragraph (d)(3) of this section) are entitled to the cost equivalent of two hours of manual search time without charge. These direct costs will include the costs of the operator/programmer salary apportionable to the search and any other tangible direct costs associated with a computer search.
(4) Duplication. Duplication fees shall be charged to all requesters, subject to the limitations of paragraph (d) of this section. A component shall honor a requester's preference for receiving a record in a particular form or format where it is readily producible by the component in the form or format requested. For either a photocopy or a computer-generated printout of a record (no more than one copy of which need be supplied), the fee shall be $.08 per page. Requesters may reduce costs by specifying double-sided duplication, except where this is technically not feasible. For electronic forms of duplication, other than a computer-generated printout, components will charge the direct costs of that duplication. Such direct costs will include the costs of the requested electronic medium on which the copy is to be made and the actual operator time and computer resource usage required to produce the copy, to the extent they can be determined.
(5) Review. Review fees shall be charged to requesters who make a commercial use request. Review fees shall be charged only for the initial record review, in which a component determines whether an exemption applies to a particular record at the initial request level. No charge shall be imposed for review at the administrative appeal level for an exemption already applied. However, records withheld under an exemption that is subsequently determined not to apply may be reviewed again to determine whether any other exemption not previously considered applies, and the costs of that review are chargeable. Review fees shall be the direct costs of conducting the review by the involved employees.
(d) Limitations on charging fees. (1) No search fees shall be charged for requests from educational institutions, non-commercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media.
(2) No search fee or review fee shall be charged for a quarter-hour period unless more than half of that period is required for search or review.
(3) Except for requesters seeking records for a commercial use, components shall provide without charge:
(i) The first 100 pages of duplication (or the cost equivalent); and
(ii) The first two hours of search (or the cost equivalent).
(4) If a total fee calculated under paragraph (c) of this section is $20.00 or less for any request, no fee shall be charged. If such total fee is more than $20.00, the full amount of such fee shall be charged.
(5) The provisions of paragraphs (d) (3) and (4) of this section work together. This means that for requesters other than those seeking records for a commercial use, no fee shall be charged unless the cost of search in excess of two hours plus the cost of duplication in excess of 100 pages totals more than $20.00.
(6) No search fees shall be charged to a FOIA requester when a component does not comply with the statutory time limits at 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6) in which to respond to a request, unless unusual or exceptional circumstances (as those terms are defined by the FOIA) apply to the processing of the request.
(7) No duplication fees shall be charged to requesters in the fee category of a representative of the news media or an educational or noncommercial scientific institution when a component does not comply with the statutory time limits at 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6) in which to respond to a request, unless unusual or exceptional circumstances (as those terms are defined by the FOIA) apply to the processing of the request.
(e) Notice of anticipated fees in excess of $20.00. (1) When a component determines or estimates that the fees for processing a FOIA request will total more than $20.00 or total more than the amount the requester indicated a willingness to pay, the component shall notify the requester of the actual or estimated amount of the fees, unless the requester has stated in writing a willingness to pay fees as high as those anticipated. If only a portion of the fee can be estimated readily, the component shall advise the requester that the estimated fee may be only a portion of the total fee. A notice under this paragraph shall offer the requester an opportunity to discuss the matter with Departmental personnel in order to modify the request in an effort to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost.
(2) When a requester has been notified that the actual or estimated fees will amount to more than $20.00, or amount to more than the amount the requester indicated a willingness to pay, the component will do no further work on the request until the requester agrees in writing to pay the actual or estimated total fee. The component will toll the processing of the request while it notifies the requester of the actual or estimated amount of fees and this time will be excluded from the twenty (20) working day time limit (as specified in §4.6(b)). The requester's agreement to pay fees must be made in writing, must designate an exact dollar amount the requester is willing to pay, and must be received within 30 calendar days from the date of the notification of the fee estimate. If the requester fails to submit an agreement to pay the anticipated fees within 30 calendar days from the date of the component's fee notice, the component will presume that the requester is no longer interested and notify the requester that the request will be closed.
(f) Charges for other services. Apart from the other provisions of this section, if a component decides, as a matter of administrative discretion, to comply with a request for special services, the component shall charge the direct cost of providing them. Such services could include certifying that records are true copies or sending records by other than ordinary mail.
(g) Charging interest. Components shall charge interest on any unpaid bill starting on the 31st calendar day following the date of billing the requester. Interest charges shall be assessed at the rate provided in 31 U.S.C. 3717 and accrue from the date of the billing until the component receives payment. Components shall take all steps authorized by the Debt Collection Act of 1982, as amended by the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996, to effect payment, including offset, disclosure to consumer reporting agencies, and use of collection agencies.
(h) Aggregating requests. If a component reasonably believes that a requester or a group of requesters acting together is attempting to divide a request into a series of requests for the purpose of avoiding fees, the component may aggregate those requests and charge accordingly. Among the factors a component shall consider in deciding whether to aggregate are the closeness in time between the component's receipt of the requests, and the relatedness of the matters about which the requests are made. A component may generally presume that multiple requests that involve related matters made by the same requester or a closely related group of requesters within a 30 calendar day period have been made in order to avoid fees. If requests are separated by a longer period, a component shall aggregate them only if a solid basis exists for determining that aggregation is warranted under all the circumstances involved. Multiple requests involving unrelated matters shall not be aggregated.
(i) Advance payments. (1) For requests other than those described in paragraphs (i)(2) and (3) of this section, a component shall not require the requester to make an advance payment (i.e., a payment made before a component begins to process or continues work on a request). Payment owed for work already completed (i.e., a pre-payment before copies of responsive records are sent to a requester) is not an advance payment.
(2) When a component determines or estimates that the total fee for processing a FOIA request will be $250.00 or more, the component shall notify the requester of the actual or estimated fee and require the requester to make an advance payment of the entire anticipated fee before beginning to process the request. A notice under this paragraph shall offer the requester an opportunity to discuss the matter with Departmental personnel in order to modify the request in an effort to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost.
(3) When a requester has previously failed to pay a properly charged FOIA fee to any component or other Federal agency within 30 calendar days of the date of billing, the component shall notify the requester that he or she is required to pay the full amount due, plus any applicable interest, and to make an advance payment of the full amount of any anticipated fee, before the component begins to process a new request or continues to process a pending request from that requester. A notice under this paragraph shall offer the requester an opportunity to discuss the matter with Departmental personnel in order to modify the request in an effort to meet the requester's needs at a lower cost.
(4) When the component requires advance payment or payment due under paragraphs (i)(2) and (i)(3) of this section, the component will not further process the request until the required payment is made. The component will toll the processing of the request while it notifies the requester of the advanced payment due and this time will be excluded from the twenty (20) working day time limit (as specified in §4.6(b)). If the requester does not pay the advance payment within 30 calendar days from the date of the component's fee notice, the component will presume that the requester is no longer interested and notify the requester that the request will be closed.
(j) Tolling. When necessary for the component to clarify issues regarding fee assessment with the FOIA requester, the time limit for responding to the FOIA request is tolled until the component resolves such issues with the requester.
(k) Other statutes specifically providing for fees. The fee schedule of this section does not apply to fees charged under any statute (except for the FOIA) that specifically requires an agency to set and collect fees for particular types of records. If records responsive to requests are maintained for distribution by agencies operating such statutorily based fee schedule programs, components shall inform requesters how to obtain records from those sources. Provision of such records is not handled under the FOIA.
(l) Requirements for waiver or reduction of fees. (1) Records responsive to a request will be furnished without charge, or at a charge reduced below that established under paragraph (c) of this section, if the requester asks for such a waiver in writing and the responsible component determines, after consideration of information provided by the requester, that the requester has demonstrated that:
(i) Disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the Government; and
(ii) Disclosure of the information is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
(2) To determine whether the first fee waiver requirement is met, components shall consider the following factors:
(i) The subject of the request: whether the subject of the requested records concerns the operations or activities of the Government. The subject of the requested records must concern identifiable operations or activities of the Federal Government, with a connection that is direct and clear, not remote or attenuated.
(ii) The informative value of the information to be disclosed: whether the disclosure is “likely to contribute” to an understanding of Government operations or activities. The disclosable portions of the requested records must be meaningfully informative about Government operations or activities in order to be “likely to contribute” to an increased public understanding of those operations or activities. The disclosure of information that already is in the public domain, in either a duplicative or a substantially identical form, would not be likely to contribute to such understanding.
(iii) The contribution to an understanding of the subject by the public likely to result from disclosure: whether disclosure of the requested information will contribute to the understanding of a reasonably broad audience of persons interested in the subject, as opposed to the individual understanding of the requester. A requester's expertise in the subject area and ability and intention to effectively convey information to the public shall be considered. It shall be presumed that a representative of the news media satisfies this consideration. Merely providing information to media sources is insufficient to satisfy this consideration.
(iv) The significance of the contribution to public understanding: whether the disclosure is likely to contribute “significantly” to public understanding of Government operations or activities. The public's understanding of the subject in question prior to the disclosure must be significantly enhanced by the disclosure.
(3) To determine whether the second fee waiver requirement (i.e., that disclosure is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester) is met, components shall consider the following factors:
(i) The existence and magnitude of a commercial interest: whether the requester has a commercial interest that would be furthered by the requested disclosure. Components shall consider any commercial interest of the requester (with reference to the definition of “commercial use request” in paragraph (b)(1) of this section), or of any person on whose behalf the requester may be acting, that would be furthered by the requested disclosure. Requesters shall be given an opportunity to provide explanatory information regarding this consideration.
(ii) The primary interest in disclosure: whether any identified commercial interest of the requester is sufficiently great, in comparison with the public interest in disclosure, that disclosure is “primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.” A fee waiver or reduction is justified if the public interest standard (paragraph (k)(1)(i) of this section) is satisfied and the public interest is greater than any identified commercial interest in disclosure. Components ordinarily shall presume that if a news media requester has satisfied the public interest standard, the public interest is the primary interest served by disclosure to that requester. Disclosure to data brokers or others who merely compile and market Government information for direct economic return shall not be presumed to primarily serve the public interest.
(4) If only some of the records to be released satisfy the requirements for a fee waiver, a waiver shall be granted for those records.
(5) Requests for the waiver or reduction of fees should address the factors listed in paragraphs (k)(2) and (3) of this section, insofar as they apply to each request.
[66 FR 65632, Dec. 20, 2001, as amended at 79 FR 62562, Oct. 20, 2014]