(a) In general. Except for the instances described in paragraphs (c) and (d) of this section, the component that first receives a request for a record is responsible for responding to or referring the request.
(b) Authority to grant or deny requests. The head of a component or his or her designee is authorized to grant or to deny any requests for records originating with or maintained by that component.
(c) Handling of misdirected requests. When a component's FOIA office receives and determines that a request was misdirected within the Department's components or should be directed to additional Department component(s), the receiving component's FOIA office will route the request to the FOIA office of the proper component(s).
(d) Coordination of requests involving multiple components. When a component becomes aware that a requester has sent a request for records to multiple USDA components, the component will notify the Departmental FOIA Officer to determine if some form of coordination is warranted.
(e) Consultations and referrals in the process of records review.
(1) Consultation. When records originated with the component processing the request but contain within them information of interest to another USDA component or other Federal Government office, the component processing the request should consult with that other entity prior to making a release determination.
(2) Referral. When the component processing the request believes that another USDA component or Federal Government office is best able to determine whether to disclose the record, the component typically should refer the responsibility for responding to the request regarding that record to that USDA component or Federal Government office. Ordinarily, the component or agency that originated the record is presumed to be the best able to make the disclosure determination. However, if the component processing the request and the originating component or agency jointly agree that the former is in the best position to respond regarding the record, then the record may be handled as a consultation.
(3) Coordination. The standard referral procedure is not appropriate where disclosure of the identity of the component or agency to which the referral would be made could harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption, such as the exemptions that protect personal privacy or national security interests. For example, if a non-law enforcement component or agency responding to a request for records on a living third party locates within its files records originating with a law enforcement component or agency, and if the existence of that law enforcement interest in the third party was not publicly known, then to disclose that law enforcement interest could cause an unwarranted invasion of the personal privacy of the third party. Similarly, if a component or agency locates within its file's material originating with an Intelligence Community agency, and the involvement of that agency in the matter is classified and not publicly acknowledged, then to disclose or give attribution to the involvement of that Intelligence Community agency could cause national security harms. In such instances, in order to avoid harm to an interest protected by an applicable exemption, the component that received the request should coordinate with the originating component or agency to seek its views on the disclosability of the record. The release determination for the record that is the subject of the coordination should then be conveyed to the requester by the component that originally received the request.