§ 5.4 Responsibility for responding to requests.

(a) In general. Except in the instances described in paragraphs (c) and (d) of this section, the component that first receives a request for a record and maintains that record is the component responsible for responding to the request. In determining which records are responsive to a request, a component ordinarily will include only records in its possession as of the date that it begins its search. If any other date is used, the component shall inform the requester of that date. A record that is excluded from the requirements of the FOIA pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(c), shall not be considered responsive to a request.

(b) Authority to grant or deny requests. The head of a component, or designee, is authorized to grant or to deny any requests for records that are maintained by that component.

(c) Re-routing of misdirected requests. Where a component's FOIA office determines that a request was misdirected within DHS, the receiving component's FOIA office shall route the request to the FOIA office of the proper component(s).

(d) Consultations, coordination and referrals. When a component determines that it maintains responsive records that either originated with another component or agency, or which contains information provided by, or of substantial interest to, another component or agency, then it shall proceed in accordance with either paragraph (d)(1), (2), or (3) of this section, as appropriate:

(1) The component may respond to the request, after consulting with the component or the agency that originated or has a substantial interest in the records involved.

(2) The component may respond to the request after coordinating with the other components or agencies that originated the record. This may include situations where 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 responding to a request for records on a living third party locates records within its files originating with a law enforcement 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 locates material within its files 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.

(3) The component may refer the responsibility for responding to the request or portion of the request to the component or agency best able to determine whether to disclose the relevant records, or to the agency that created or initially acquired the record as long as that agency is subject to the FOIA. Ordinarily, the component or agency that created or initially acquired the record will be presumed to be best able to make the disclosure determination. The referring component shall document the referral and maintain a copy of the records that it refers.

(e) Classified information. On receipt of any request involving classified information, the component shall determine whether information is currently and properly classified and take appropriate action to ensure compliance with 6 CFR part 7. Whenever a request involves a record containing information that has been classified or may be appropriate for classification by another component or agency under any applicable executive order concerning the classification of records, the receiving component shall refer the responsibility for responding to the request regarding that information to the component or agency that classified the information, or should consider the information for classification. Whenever a component's record contains information classified by another component or agency, the component shall coordinate with or refer the responsibility for responding to that portion of the request to the component or agency that classified the underlying information.

(f) Notice of referral. Whenever a component refers any part of the responsibility for responding to a request to another component or agency, it will notify the requester of the referral and inform the requester of the name of each component or agency to which the records were referred, unless disclosure of the identity of the component or agency would harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption, in which case the component should coordinate with the other component or agency, rather than refer the records.

(g) Timing of responses to consultations and referrals. All consultations and referrals received by DHS will be handled according to the date that the FOIA request initially was received by the first component or agency, not any later date.

(h) Agreements regarding consultations and referrals. Components may establish agreements with other components or agencies to eliminate the need for consultations or referrals with respect to particular types of records.

(i) Electronic records and searches -

(1) Significant interference. The FOIA allows components to not conduct a search for responsive documents if the search would cause significant interference with the operation of the component's automated information system.

(2) Business as usual approach. A “business as usual” approach exists when the component has the capability to process a FOIA request for electronic records without a significant expenditure of monetary or personnel resources. Components are not required to conduct a search that does not meet this business as usual criterion.

(i) Creating computer programs or purchasing additional hardware to extract email that has been archived for emergency retrieval usually are not considered business as usual if extensive monetary or personnel resources are needed to complete the project.

(ii) Creating a computer program that produces specific requested fields or records contained within a well-defined database structure usually is considered business as usual. The time to create this program is considered as programmer or operator search time for fee assessment purposes and the FOIA requester may be assessed fees in accordance with § 5.11(c)(1)(iii). However, creating a computer program to merge files with disparate data formats and extract specific elements from the resultant file is not considered business as usual, but a special service, for which additional fees may be imposed as specified in § 5.11. Components are not required to perform special services and creation of a computer program for a fee is up to the discretion of the component and is dependent on component resources and expertise.

(3) Data links. Components are not required to expend DHS funds to establish data links that provide real time or near-real-time data to a FOIA requester.