(a) Acknowledgements of FOIA requests. The Department promptly notifies the requester when it receives a FOIA request.
(b) Consultation and referrals. When the Department receives a FOIA request for a record or records created by or otherwise received from another agency of the Federal Government, it either responds to the FOIA request after consultation with the other agency, or refers the FOIA request to the other agency for processing. When the Department refers a FOIA request to another agency for processing, the Department will so notify the requester.
(c) Decisions on FOIA requests. The Department determines whether to comply with a FOIA request within 20 working days after the appropriate component of the Department first receives the request. This time period commences on the date that the request is received by the appropriate component of the Department, but commences no later than 10 calendar days after the request is received by the component of the Department designated pursuant to § 5.20(a) to receive FOIA requests for agency records. The Department's failure to comply with these time limits constitutes exhaustion of the requester's administrative remedies for the purposes of judicial action to compel disclosure.
(d) Requests for additional information. The Department may make one request for additional information from the requester and toll the 20-day period while awaiting receipt of the additional information.
(e) Extension of time period for processing a FOIA request. The Department may extend the time period for processing a FOIA request only in unusual circumstances, as described in paragraphs (e)(1) through (3) of this section, in which case the Department notifies the requester of the extension in writing. For extensions of more than 10 additional working days, the Department must also notify the requester, in writing, of the right to seek dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services. A notice of extension affords the requester the opportunity either to modify its FOIA request so that it may be processed within the 20-day time limit, or to arrange with the Department an alternative time period within which the FOIA request will be processed. For the purposes of this section, unusual circumstances include:
(1) 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.
(2) The need to search for, collect, and review and process voluminous agency records responsive to the FOIA request.
(3) The need to consult with another agency or two or more agency components having a substantial interest in the determination on the FOIA request.
(f) FOIA Public Liaison and FOIA Requester Service Center. The Department's FOIA Public Liaison assists in the resolution of disputes between the requester and the Department. The Department provides information about the status of a FOIA request to the requester through the Department's FOIA Requester Service Center. Contact information for the Department's FOIA Public Liaison and FOIA Requester Service Center may be found at http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/foia/contacts.html.
(g) Notification of determination. Once the Department makes a determination to grant a FOIA request in whole or in part, it notifies the requester in writing of its decision and of the right to seek assistance from the Department's FOIA Public Liaison.
(h) Denials of FOIA requests.
(1) Only Departmental officers or employees delegated the authority to deny a FOIA request may deny a FOIA request on behalf of the Department.
(i) The Department notifies the requester in writing of any decision to deny a FOIA request in whole or in part. Denials under this paragraph can include the following: A determination to deny access in whole or in part to any agency record responsive to a request; a determination that a requested agency record does not exist or cannot be located in the Department's records; a determination that a requested agency record is not readily retrievable or reproducible in the form or format sought by the requester; a determination that what has been requested is not a record subject to the FOIA; a determination on any disputed fee matter, including a denial of a request for a fee waiver; and a denial of a request for expedited processing.
(ii) All determinations denying a FOIA request in whole or in part are signed by an officer or employee designated under paragraph (h)(1) of this section, and include:
(A) The name and title or position of the denying officer or employee.
(B) A brief statement of the reason or reasons for the denial, including any exemptions applicable under the Act.
(C) An estimate of the volume of agency records or information denied, by number of pages or other reasonable estimate (except where the volume of agency records or information denied is apparent from deletions made on agency records disclosed in part, or providing an estimate would harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption under the Act).
(D) Where an agency record has been disclosed only in part, an indication of the exemption under the Act justifying the redaction in the agency record (unless providing this information would harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption under the Act).
(E) A statement notifying the requester of the right to seek assistance from the Department's FOIA Public Liaison.
(F) A statement notifying the requester of the right to seek dispute resolution services from the Department's FOIA Public Liaison or the Office of Government Information Services.
(G) A statement of appeal rights and a list of requirements for filing an appeal under § 5.40.
(i) Timing of responses to FOIA requests.
(1) Multitrack processing.
The Department may use two or more processing tracks to distinguish between simple and more complex FOIA requests based on one or more of the following: the time and work necessary to process the FOIA request, the volume of agency records responsive to the FOIA request, and whether the FOIA request qualifies for expedited processing as described in paragraph (i)(2) of this section.
(2) Expedited processing.
(i) The Department gives expedited treatment to FOIA requests and appeals whenever the Department determines that a FOIA request involves one or more of the following:
(A) A circumstance 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.
(B) The urgent need of a person primarily engaged in disseminating information to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity; or
(C) Other circumstances that the Department determines demonstrate a compelling need for expedited processing.
(ii) A requester may ask for expedited processing at the time of the initial FOIA request or at any time thereafter.
(iii) A request for expedited processing must contain a detailed explanation of the basis for the request, and must be accompanied by a statement certifying the truth of the circumstances alleged or other evidence of the requester's compelling need acceptable to the Department.
(iv) The Department makes a determination whether to grant or deny a request for expedited processing within 10 calendar days of its receipt by the component of the Department designated pursuant to § 5.20(a) to receive FOIA requests for agency records, and processes FOIA requests accepted for expedited processing as soon as practicable and on a priority basis.