62 FR 4154, Jan. 29, 1997, unless otherwise noted.
The rules in this part relate to the availability to the public, pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 5 U.S.C. 552, of records of the Social Security Administration (SSA). They describe how to make a FOIA request; who can release records and who can decide not to release; how much time it should take to make a determination regarding release; what fees may be charged; what records are available for public inspection; why some records are not released; and your right to appeal and then go to court if we refuse to release records. The rules in this part do not revoke, modify, or supersede the regulations of SSA relating to disclosure of information in part 401 of this chapter.
As a general policy, SSA follows a balanced approach in administering FOIA. We not only recognize the right of public access to information in the possession of SSA, but also protect the integrity of internal processes. In addition, we recognize the legitimate interests of organizations or persons who have submitted records to SSA or who would otherwise be affected by release of records. For example, we have no discretion to release certain records, such as trade secrets and confidential commercial information, prohibited from release by law. This policy calls for the fullest responsible disclosure consistent with those requirements of administrative necessity and confidentiality which are recognized in the FOIA.
(a) Coverage. The FOIA and the rules in this part apply to all SSA records. The Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. 552a, applies to records that are about individuals, but only if the records are in a system of records. “Individuals” and “system of records” are defined in the Privacy Act and in 20 CFR 401.25.
(b) Requesting your own records. If you are an individual and request records, then to the extent you are requesting your own records in a system of records, we will handle your request under the Privacy Act. If there is any record that we need not release to you under those provisions, we will also consider your request under the FOIA and this rule, and we will release the record to you if the FOIA requires it.
(c) Requesting another individual's record. Whether or not you are an individual, if you request records that are about an individual (other than yourself) and that are in a system of records, we will handle your request under the FOIA and the rules in this part. However, if our disclosure in response to your request would be permitted by the Privacy Act's disclosure provision, (5 U.S.C. 552a(b)), for reasons other than the requirements of the FOIA, and if we decide to make the disclosure, then we will not handle your request under the FOIA and the rules in this part. For example, when we make routine use disclosures pursuant to requests, we do not handle them under the FOIA and the rules in this part. (“Routine use” is defined in the Privacy Act and in 20 CFR 401.25.) If we handle your request under the FOIA and the rules in this part and the FOIA does not require releasing the record to you, then the Privacy Act may prohibit the release and remove our discretion to release.
(a) We will not handle your request under the FOIA and the regulations in this part to the extent it asks for records that are currently available, either from SSA or from another part of the Federal Government, under a separate statute that provides specific activity for charging fees for those records. For example, we will not handle your request under the FOIA and the regulations in this part to the extent it asks for detailed earnings statements under the Social Security program.
(b) We will not handle your request under the FOIA and the regulations in this part if you are seeking a record that is distributed by SSA as part of its regular program activity, for example, public information leaflets distributed by SSA.
If you request records that were created by, or provided to us by, another Federal agency, and if that agency asserts control over the records, we may refer the records and your request to that agency. We may likewise refer requests for classified records to the agency that classified them. In these cases, the other agency will process and respond to your request, to the extent it concerns those records, under that agency's regulation, and you need not make a separate request to that agency. We will notify you when we refer your request to another agency.
As used in this part,
Agency means any executive department, military department, government corporation, government controlled corporation, or other establishment in the executive branch of the Federal Government, or any independent regulatory agency. A private organization is not an agency even if it is performing work under contract with the Government or is receiving Federal financial assistance. Grantee and contractor records are not subject to the FOIA unless they are in the possession or under the control of SSA or its agents. Solely for the purpose of disclosure under the FOIA, we consider records of individual beneficiaries located in the State Disability Determination Services (DDS) to be agency records.
Commercial use means, when referring to a request, that the request is from or on behalf of one who seeks information for a use or purpose that furthers the commercial, trade, or profit interests of the requester or of a person on whose behalf the request is made. Whether a request is for a commercial use depends on the purpose of the request and the use to which the records will be put. The identity of the requester (individual, non-profit corporation, for-profit corporation) and the nature of the records, while in some cases indicative of that purpose or use, are not necessarily determinative. When a request is from a representative of the news media, a purpose or use supporting the requester's news dissemination function is not a commercial use.
Duplication means the process of making a copy of a record and sending it to the requester, to the extent necessary to respond to the request. Such copies include paper copy, microfilm, audio-visual materials, and magnetic tapes, cards, and discs.
Educational institution means a preschool, elementary or secondary school, institution of undergraduate or graduate higher education, or institution of professional or vocational education, which operates a program of scholarly research.
Freedom of Information Act or FOIA means 5 U.S.C. 552.
Freedom of Information Officer means an SSA official who has been delegated the authority to authorize disclosure of or withhold records and assess, waive, or reduce fees in response to FOIA requests.
Non-commercial scientific institution means an institution that is not operated substantially for purposes of furthering its own or someone else's business, trade, or profit interests, and that is operated for purposes of conducting scientific research whose results are not intended to promote any particular product or industry.
Records means any information maintained by an agency, regardless of forms or characteristics, that is made or received in connection with official business. This includes handwritten, typed, or printed documents (such as memoranda, books, brochures, studies, writings, drafts, letters, transcripts, and minutes) and material in other forms, such as punchcards; magnetic tapes; cards; computer discs or other electronic formats; paper tapes; audio or video recordings; maps; photographs; slides; microfilm; and motion pictures. It does not include objects or articles such as exhibits, models, equipment, and duplication machines, audiovisual processing materials, or computer software. It does not include personal records of an employee, or books, magazines, pamphlets, or other reference material in formally organized and officially designated SSA libraries, where such materials are available under the rules of the particular library.
Representative of the news media means a person actively gathering information for an entity organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. News media entities include television and radio broadcasters, publishers of periodicals who distribute their products to the general public or who make their products available for purchase or subscription by the general public, and entities that may disseminate news through other media (e.g., electronic dissemination of text). We will treat freelance journalists as representatives of a news media entity if they can show a likelihood of publication through such an entity. A publication contract is such a basis, and the requester's past publication record may show such a basis.
Request means asking for records, whether or not you refer specifically to the FOIA. Requests from Federal agencies and court orders for documents are not included within this definition.
Review means, when used in connection with processing records for a commercial use request, examining the records to determine what portions, if any, may be withheld, and any other processing that is necessary to prepare the records for release. It includes only the examining and processing that are done the first time we analyze whether a specific exemption applies to a particular record or portion of a record. It does not include examination done in the appeal stage with respect to an exemption that was applied at the initial request stage. However, if we initially withhold a record under one exemption, and on appeal we determine that that exemption does not apply, then examining the record in the appeal stage for the purpose of determining whether a different exemption applies is included in review. It does not include the process of researching or resolving general legal or policy issues regarding exemptions.
Search means looking for records or portions of records responsive to a request. It includes reading and interpreting a request, and also page-by-page and line-by-line examination to identify responsive portions of a document. However, it does not include line-by-line examination where merely duplicating the entire page would be a less expensive and quicker way to comply with the request.
(a) Methods of publication. Materials we are required to publish pursuant to the provisions of 5 U.S.C. 552 (a)(1) and (a)(2), we publish in one of the following ways:
(1) By publication in the Federal Register of Social Security Administration regulations, and by their subsequent inclusion in the Code of Federal Regulations;
(2) By publication in the Federal Register of appropriate general notices;
(3) By other forms of publication, when incorporated by reference in the Federal Register with the approval of the Director of the Federal Register; and
(4) By publication in the “Social Security Rulings” of indexes of precedential social security orders and opinions issued in the adjudication of claims, statements of policy and interpretations which have been adopted but have not been published in the Federal Register. The “Social Security Rulings” may be purchased through the Government Printing Office (See § 402.40).
(b) Publication of rulings. Although not required pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552 (a)(1) and (a)(2), we publish the following rulings in the Federal Register as well as by other forms of publication:
(1) We publish Social Security Rulings in the Federal Register under the authority of the Commissioner of Social Security. They are binding on all components of the Social Security Administration. These rulings represent precedent final opinions and orders and statements of policy and interpretations that we have adopted.
(2) We publish Social Security Acquiescence Rulings in the Federal Register under the authority of the Commissioner of Social Security. They are binding on all components of the Social Security Administration, except with respect to claims subject to the relitigation procedures established in 20 CFR 404.985(c), 410.670c, and 416.1485(c). For a description of Social Security Acquiescence Rulings, see 20 CFR 404.985(b), 410.670c(b), and 416.1485(b) of this title.
(c) Availability for inspection. To the extent practicable and to further assist the public, we make available for inspection at the address specified in § 402.135 those materials which are published in the Federal Register pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1).
(d) Availability by telecommunications. To the extent practicable, we will make available by means of computer telecommunications the indices and other records that are available for inspection.
The following publications containing information pertaining to the program, organization, functions, and procedures of the Social Security Administration may be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402:
(a) Title 20, parts 400-499 of the Code of Federal Regulations.
(b) Federal Register issues.
(c) Compilation of the Social Security Laws.
(d) Social Security Rulings.
(e) Social Security Handbook. The information in the Handbook is not of precedent or interpretative force.
(f) Social Security Bulletin.
(g) Social Security Acquiescence Rulings.
(h) SSA Publications on CD-ROM.
(a) What records are available. 5 U.S.C. 552, also known as the FOIA, permits any person to see, and get a copy of, any Federal agency's records unless the material is exempt from mandatory disclosure as described in § 402.70 of this part.
(b) FOIA. Under the FOIA, we are also required to make available to the public the instructional manuals issued to our employees, general statements of policy, and other materials which are used in processing claims and which are not published in the Federal Register, and an index of these manuals and materials.
(c) Record citation as precedent. We will not use or cite any record described in paragraph (b) of this section as a precedent for an action against a person unless we have indexed the record and published it or made it available, or unless the person has timely notice of the record.
(d) Electronic Reading Room. We will prepare an index of records which have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests. The index, and, to the extent practicable, the records will be made available on the Internet or by other computer telecommunications means.
(e) Federal employees. We will not disclose information when the information sought is lists of telephone numbers and/or duty stations of one or more Federal employees if the disclosure, as determined at the discretion of the official responsible for custody of the information, would place employee(s) at risk of injury or other harm. Also, we will not disclose the requested information if the information is protected from mandatory disclosure under an exemption of the Freedom of Information Act.
All administrative staff manuals of the Social Security Administration and instructions to staff personnel which contain policies, procedures, or interpretations that affect the public are available for inspection and copying. A complete listing of such materials is published in the Index of Administrative Staff Manuals and Instructions. These manuals are generally not printed in a sufficient quantity to permit sale or other general distribution to the public. Selected material is maintained at district offices and field offices and may be inspected there. See §§ 402.55 and 402.60 for a listing of this material.
(a) Materials available for inspection. The following are available or will be made available for inspection at the district offices and branch offices:
(1) Compilation of the Social Security Laws.
(2) Social Security Administration regulations under the retirement, survivors, disability, and supplemental security income programs, i.e., 20 CFR parts 401, 402, 404, 416, and 422; and the Social Security Administration's regulations under part B of title IV (Black Lung Benefits) of the Federal Coal Mine Health and Safety Act of 1969, 20 CFR part 410.
(3) Social Security Rulings.
(4) Social Security Handbook.
(5) Social Security Acquiescence Rulings.
(b) Materials available for inspection and copying. The following materials are available or will be made available for inspection and copying at the district offices and branch offices (fees may be applicable per §§ 402.155 through 402.185):
(1) SSA Program Operations Manual System.
(2) SSA Organization Manual.
(3) Handbook for State Social Security Administrators.
(5) Index of Administrative Staff Manuals and Instructions.
(a) Materials available for inspection. The following materials are available for inspection in the field offices of the Office of Hearings and Appeals:
(1) Regulations of the Social Security Administration (see § 402.55(a)(2)).
(2) Title 5, United States Code.
(3) Compilation of the Social Security Laws.
(4) Social Security Rulings.
(5) Social Security Handbook.
(6) Social Security Acquiescence Rulings.
We have some information about health care programs under titles XVIII and XIX (Medicare and Medicaid) of the Social Security Act. We follow the rules in 42 CFR part 401 in determining whether to provide any portion of it to a requester.
Section 552(b) of the Freedom of Information Act contains nine exemptions to the mandatory disclosure of records. We describe these exemptions in §§ 402.75 through 402.110 of this part and explain how we apply them to disclosure determinations. (In some cases more than one exemption may apply to the same document.) Information obtained by the agency from any individual or organization, furnished in reliance on a provision for confidentiality authorized by applicable statute or regulation, will not be disclosed, to the extent it can be withheld under one of these exemptions. This section does not itself authorize the giving of any pledge of confidentiality by any officer or employee of the agency.
We are not required to release records that, as provided by FOIA, are “(a) specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in the interest of national defense or foreign policy and (b) are in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive Order.” Executive Order No. 12958 (1995) (3 CFR, 1987 Comp., p. 235) provides for such classification. When the release of certain records may adversely affect U.S. relations with foreign countries, we usually consult with officials of those countries or officials of the Department of State. Also, we may on occasion have in our possession records classified by some other agency. We may refer your request for such records to the agency that classified them and notify you that we have done so.
We are not required to release records that are “related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency.” Under this exemption, we may withhold routine internal agency practices and procedures. For example, we may withhold guard schedules and rules governing parking facilities or lunch periods. Also under this exemption, we may withhold internal records whose release would help some persons circumvent the law or agency regulations. For example, we ordinarily do not disclose manuals that instruct our investigators or auditors how to investigate possible violations of law, to the extent that this release would help some persons circumvent the law.
We are not required to release records if another statute specifically allows or requires us to withhold them. We may use another statute to justify withholding only if it absolutely prohibits disclosure or if it sets forth criteria to guide our decision on releasing or identifies particular types of material to be withheld. We often use this exemption to withhold information regarding a worker's earnings which is tax return information under section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code.
We will withhold trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is obtained from a person and is privileged or confidential.
(a) Trade secrets. A trade secret is a secret, commercially valuable plan, formula, process, or device that is used for the making, preparing, compounding, or processing of trade commodities and that can be said to be the end product of either innovation or substantial effort. There must be a direct relationship between the trade secret and the productive process.
(b) Commercial or financial information. We will not disclose records whose information is “commercial or financial,” is obtained from a person, and is “privileged or confidential.”
(1) Information is “commercial or financial” if it relates to businesses, commerce, trade, employment, profits, or finances (including personal finances). We interpret this category broadly.
(2) Information is “obtained from a person” if SSA or another agency has obtained it from someone outside the Federal Government or from someone within the Government who has a commercial or financial interest in the information. “Person” includes an individual, partnership, corporation, association, State or foreign government, or other organization. Information is not “obtained from a person” if it is generated by SSA or another Federal agency. However, information is “obtained from a person” if it is provided by someone, including but not limited to an agency employee, who retains a commercial or financial interest in the information.
(3) Information is “privileged” if it would ordinarily be protected from disclosure in civil discovery by a recognized evidentiary privilege, such as the attorney-client privilege or the work product privilege. Information may be privileged for this purpose under a privilege belonging to a person outside the government, unless the providing of the information to the government rendered the information no longer protectable in civil discovery.
(4) Information is “confidential” if it meets one of the following tests:
(i) Disclosure may impair the government's ability to obtain necessary information in the future;
(ii) Disclosure would substantially harm the competitive position of the person who submitted the information;
(iii) Disclosure would impair other government interests, such as program effectiveness and compliance; or
(iv) Disclosure would impair other private interests, such as an interest in controlling availability of intrinsically valuable records, which are sold in the market by their owner.
(c) Analysis under tests in this section. The following questions may be relevant in analyzing whether a record meets one or more of the above tests:
(1) Is the information of a type customarily held in strict confidence and not disclosed to the public by the person to whom it belongs?
(2) What is the general custom or usage with respect to such information in the relevant occupation or business?
(3) How many, and what types of, individuals have access to the information?
(4) What kind and degree of financial injury can be expected if the information is disclosed?
(d) Designation of certain confidential information. A person who submits records to the government may designate part or all of the information in such records as exempt from disclosure under Exemption 4 of the FOIA. The person may make this designation either at the time the records are submitted to the government or within a reasonable time thereafter. The designation must be in writing. Where a legend is required by a request for proposals or request for quotations, pursuant to 48 CFR 352.215-12, then that legend is necessary for this purpose. Any such designation will expire ten years after the records were submitted to the government.
(e) Predisclosure notification. The procedures in this paragraph apply to records on which the submitter has designated information as provided in paragraph (d) of this section. They also apply to records that were submitted to the government where we have substantial reason to believe that information in the records could reasonably be considered exempt under Exemption 4. Certain exceptions to these procedures are stated in paragraph (f) of this section.
(1) When we receive a request for such records, and we determine that we may be required to disclose them, we will make reasonable efforts to notify the submitter about these facts. The notice will include a copy of the request, and it will inform the submitter about the procedures and time limits for submission and consideration of objections to disclosure. If we must notify a large number of submitters, we may do this by posting or publishing a notice in a place where the submitters are reasonably likely to become aware of it.
(2) The submitter has five working days from receipt of the notice to object to disclosure of any part of the records and to state all bases for its objections.
(3) We will give consideration to all bases that have been timely stated by the submitter. If we decide to disclose the records, we will notify the submitter in writing. This notice will briefly explain why we did not sustain its objections. We will include with the notice a copy of the records about which the submitter objected, as we propose to disclose them. The notice will state that we intend to disclose the records five working days after the submitter receives the notice unless we are ordered by a United States District Court not to release them.
(4) When a requester files suit under the FOIA to obtain records covered by this paragraph, we will promptly notify the submitter.
(5) Whenever we send a notice to a submitter under paragraph (e)(1) of this section, we will notify the requester that we are giving the submitter a notice and an opportunity to object. Whenever we send a notice to a submitter under paragraph (e)(3) of this section, we will notify the requester of this fact.
(f) Exceptions to predisclosure notification. The notice requirements in paragraph (e) of this section do not apply in the following situations:
(1) We decided not to disclose the records;
(2) The information has previously been published or made generally available;
(3) Disclosure is required by a regulation, issued after notice and opportunity for public comment, that specifies narrow categories of records that are to be disclosed under the FOIA, but in this case a submitter may still designate records as described in paragraph (d) of this section, and in exceptional cases, we may, at our discretion, follow the notice procedures in paragraph (e) of this section; or
(4) The designation appears to be obviously frivolous, but in this case we will still give the submitter the written notice required by paragraph (e)(3) of this section (although this notice need not explain our decision or include a copy of the records), and we will notify the requester as described in paragraph (e)(5) of this section.
This exemption covers internal government communications and notes that fall within a generally recognized evidentiary privilege. Internal government communications include an agency's communications with an outside consultant or other outside person, with a court, or with Congress, when those communications are for a purpose similar to the purpose of privileged intra-agency communications. Some of the most-commonly applicable privileges are described in the following paragraphs:
(a) Deliberative process privilege. This privilege protects predecisional deliberative communications. A communication is protected under this privilege if it was made before a final decision was reached on some question of policy and if it expressed recommendations or opinions on that question. The purpose of the privilege is to prevent injury to the quality of the agency decisionmaking process by encouraging open and frank internal policy discussions, by avoiding premature disclosure of policies not yet adopted, and by avoiding the public confusion that might result from disclosing reasons that were not in fact the ultimate grounds for an agency's decision. Purely factual material in a deliberative document is within this privilege only if it is inextricably intertwined with the deliberative portions so that it cannot reasonably be segregated, if it would reveal the nature of the deliberative portions, or if its disclosure would in some other way make possible an intrusion into the decisionmaking process. We will release purely factual material in a deliberative document unless that material is otherwise exempt. The privilege continues to protect predecisional documents even after a decision is made.
(b) Attorney work product privilege. This privilege protects documents prepared by or for an agency, or by or for its representative (typically, our attorneys) in anticipation of litigation or for trial. It includes documents prepared for purposes of administrative adjudications as well as court litigation. It includes documents prepared by program offices as well as by attorneys. It includes factual material in such documents as well as material revealing opinions and tactics. Finally, the privilege continues to protect the documents even after the litigation is closed.
(c) Attorney-client communication privilege. This privilege protects confidential communications between a lawyer and an employee or agent of the Government where there is an attorney-client relationship between them (typically, where the lawyer is acting as attorney for the agency and the employee is communicating on behalf of the agency) and where the employee has communicated information to the attorney in confidence in order to obtain legal advice or assistance.
(a) Documents affected. We may withhold records about individuals if disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy.
(b) Balancing test. In deciding whether to release records to you that contain personal or private information about someone else, we weigh the foreseeable harm of invading a person's privacy against the public interest in disclosure. In determining whether disclosure would be in the public interest, we will consider whether disclosure of the requested information would shed light on how a Government agency performs its statutory duties. However, in our evaluation of requests for records we attempt to guard against the release of information that might involve a violation of personal privacy because of a requester being able to “read between the lines” or piece together items that would constitute information that normally would be exempt from mandatory disclosure under Exemption Six.
(c) Examples. Some of the information that we frequently withhold under Exemption Six is: Home addresses, ages, and minority group status of our employees or former employees; social security numbers; medical information about individuals who have filed a claim for disability benefits; names and addresses of individual beneficiaries of our programs, or benefits such individuals receive; earnings records, claim files, and other personal information SSA maintains.
We are not required to disclose information or records that the government has compiled for law enforcement purposes. The records may apply to actual or potential violations of either criminal or civil laws or regulations. We can withhold these records only to the extent that releasing them would cause harm in at least one of the following situations:
(a) Enforcement proceedings. We may withhold information whose release could reasonably be expected to interfere with prospective or ongoing law enforcement proceedings. Investigations of fraud and mismanagement, employee misconduct, and civil rights violations may fall into this category. In certain cases - such as when a fraud investigation is likely - we may refuse to confirm or deny the existence of records that relate to the violations in order not to disclose that an investigation is in progress, or may be conducted.
(b) Fair trial or impartial adjudication. We may withhold records whose release would deprive a person of a fair trial or an impartial adjudication because of prejudicial publicity.
(c) Personal privacy. We are careful not to disclose information that could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy. When a name surfaces in an investigation, that person is likely to be vulnerable to innuendo, rumor, harassment, and retaliation.
(d) Confidential sources and information. We may withhold records whose release could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source of information. A confidential source may be an individual; a State, local, or foreign government agency; or any private organization. The exemption applies whether the source provides information under an express promise of confidentiality or under circumstances from which such an assurance could be reasonably inferred. Also, where the record, or information in it, has been compiled by a law enforcement authority conducting a criminal investigation, or by an agency conducting a lawful national security investigation, the exemption also protects all information supplied by a confidential source. Also protected from mandatory disclosure is any information which, if disclosed, could reasonably be expected to jeopardize the system of confidentiality that assures a flow of information from sources to investigatory agencies.
(e) Techniques and procedures. We may withhold records reflecting special techniques or procedures of investigation or prosecution, not otherwise generally known to the public. In some cases, it is not possible to describe even in general terms those techniques without disclosing the very material to be withheld. We may also withhold records whose release would disclose guidelines for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions if this disclosure could reasonably be expected to create a risk that someone could circumvent requirements of law or of regulation.
(f) Life and physical safety. We may withhold records whose disclosure could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual. This protection extends to threats and harassment as well as to physical violence.
Exemption eight permits us to withhold records about regulation or supervision of financial institutions. Exemption nine permits the withholding of geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.
Except as otherwise provided by regulation, only the Deputy Executive Director for the Office of Public Disclosure, Office of the General Counsel, SSA, or her or his designee may determine whether to release any record in SSA's control and possession. This official is SSA's Freedom of Information Officer. Sections 402.40, 402.55, and 402.60 list some of the materials which we have determined may be released.
You may request a record in person or by mail or by electronic telecommunications. To the extent practicable, and in the future, we will attempt to provide access for requests by telephone, fax, Internet, and e-mail. Any request should reasonably describe the record you want. If you have detailed information which would assist us in identifying that record, please submit it with your request. We may charge fees for some requests (§§ 402.145-402.175 explain our fees). You should identify the request as a Freedom of Information Act request and mark the outside of any envelope used to submit your request as a “Freedom of Information Request.” The staff at any Social Security office can help you prepare this request.
[63 FR 35132, June 29, 1998]
You may send your request for a record to: The Deputy Executive Director for the Office of Public Disclosure, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21235.
(a) In general, we will make a determination as to whether a requested record will be provided within 20 days (excepting Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) after receipt of a request by the appropriate official (see § 402.135). This 20-day period may be extended in unusual circumstances by written notice to you, explaining why we need additional time, and the extension may be for up to 10 additional working days when one or more of the following situations exist:
(1) The office processing the request needs to locate and then obtain the record from another facility;
(2) We need to locate, obtain, and appropriately examine a large number of records which are requested in a single request; or
(3) The office processing the request needs to consult with another agency which has a substantial interest in the subject matter of the request. This consultation shall be conducted with all practicable speed.
(b) If we cannot process your request within 10 additional days, we will notify you and provide you an opportunity to limit the scope of the request so that it may be processed within the additional 10 days, or we will provide you with an opportunity to arrange with us an alternative time frame for processing the request, or for processing a modified request.
(c) Multi-tracking procedures. We will establish four tracks for handling requests and the track to which a request is assigned will depend on the nature of the request and the estimated processing time:
(1) Track 1 - Requests that can be answered with readily available records or information. These are the fastest to process.
(2) Track 2 - Requests where we need records or information from other offices throughout the Agency but we do not expect that the decision on disclosure will be as time consuming as for requests in Track 3.
(3) Track 3 - Requests which require a decision or input from another office or agency and a considerable amount of time will be needed for that, or the request is complicated or involves a large number of records. Usually, these cases will take the longest to process.
(4) Track 4 - Requests that will be expedited.
(d) We will provide for expedited access for requesters who show a “compelling need” for a speedy response. The EFOIA describes compelling need as when the failure to obtain the records on an expedited basis could reasonably be expected to pose “an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual,” or when the request is from a person primarily engaged in disseminating information (such as a member of the news media), and there is an “urgency to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activity.” We also will expedite processing of a request if the requester explains in detail to our satisfaction that a prompt response is needed because the requester may be denied a legal right, benefit, or remedy without the requested information, and that it cannot be obtained elsewhere in a reasonable amount of time. We will respond within 10 days to a request for expedited processing and, if we decide to grant expedited processing, we will then notify you of our decision whether or not to disclose the records requested as soon as practicable.
[63 FR 35133, June 29, 1998]
(a) Retrieving records. We are required to furnish copies of records only when they are in our possession or we can retrieve them from storage. We will make reasonable efforts to search for records manually or by automated means, including any information stored in an electronic form or format, except when such efforts would significantly interfere with the operation of our automated information system. If we have stored the records you want in the National Archives or another storage center, we will retrieve and review them for possible disclosure. However, the Federal Government destroys many old records, so sometimes it is impossible to fill requests. Various laws, regulations, and manuals give the time periods for keeping records before they may be destroyed. For example, there is information about retention of records in the Records Disposal Act of 1944, 44 U.S.C. 3301 through 3314; the Federal Property Management Regulations, 41 CFR 101-11.4; and the General Records Schedules of the National Archives and Records Administration.
(b) Furnishing records. We will furnish copies only of records that we have or can retrieve. We are not required to create new records or to perform research for you. We may decide to conserve Government resources and at the same time supply the records you need by consolidating information from various records rather than copying them all. For instance, we could extract sections from various similar records instead of providing repetitious information. We generally will furnish only one copy of a record. We will make reasonable efforts to provide the records in the form or format you request if the record is readily reproducible in that form or format.
(c) Deletions. When we publish or otherwise make available any record, we may delete information that is exempt from disclosure. For example, in an opinion or order, statement of policy, or other record which relates to a private party or parties, the name or names and other identifying details may be deleted. When technically feasible, we will indicate the extent of deletions on the portion of the record that is released or published at the place of the deletion unless including that indication would harm an interest protected by an exemption. If we deny a request, in whole or in part, we will make a reasonable effort to estimate the volume of any requested matter that is not disclosed, unless such an estimate would harm an interest protected by an exemption.
(d) Creation of records. We are not required to create new records merely to satisfy a request. However, we will search manually or by automated means to locate information that is responsive to the request. If extensive computer programming is needed to respond to a request, we may decline to commit such resources, or if we agree to do so, we may charge you for the reasonable cost of doing so. We do not mean that we will never help you get information that does not already exist in our records. However, diverting staff and equipment from our other responsibilities may not always be possible.
[63 FR 35133, June 29, 1998]
(a) Records previously released. If we have released a record, or a part of a record, to others in the past, we will ordinarily release it to you also. However, we will not release it to you if a statute forbids this disclosure, and we will not necessarily release it to you if an exemption applies in your situation and it did not apply, or applied differently, in the previous situation(s) or if the previous release was unauthorized. See § 402.45(d) regarding records in electronic reading rooms.
(b) Poor copy. If we cannot make a legible copy of a record to be released, we do not attempt to reconstruct it. Instead, we furnish the best copy possible and note its poor quality in our reply.
Paragraphs (a) through (c) of this section state, for each category of request, the type of fees that we will generally charge. However, for each of these categories, the fees may be limited, waived, or reduced for the reasons given below or for other reasons.
(a) Commercial use request. If your request is for a commercial use, we will charge you the costs of search, review, and duplication.
(b) Educational and scientific institutions and news media. If you are an educational institution or a non-commercial scientific institution, operated primarily for scholarly or scientific research, or a representative of the news media, and your request is not for a commercial use, we will charge you only for the duplication of documents. Also, we will not charge you the copying costs for the first 100 pages of duplication.
(c) Other requesters. If your request is not the kind described by paragraph (a) or (b) of this section, then we will charge you only for the search and the duplication. Also, we will not charge you for the first two hours of search time or for the copying costs of the first 100 pages of duplication.
(a) We may charge search fees even if the records we find are exempt from disclosure, or even if we do not find any records at all.
(b) If we are not charging you for the first two hours of search time, under paragraph (c) of § 402.155, and those two hours are spent on a computer search, then the two free hours are the first two hours of the time needed to access the information in the computer.
(c) If we are not charging you for the first 100 pages of duplication, under paragraph (b) or (c) of § 402.155, then those 100 pages are the first 100 pages of photocopies of standard size pages, or the first 100 pages of computer printout.
(d) We will charge interest on unpaid bills beginning on the 31st day following the day the bill was sent.
The following is our fee schedule for providing records and related services under the FOIA:
(a) Manual searching for or reviewing of records. When the search or review is performed by employees at grade GS-1 through GS-8, we will charge an hourly rate based on the salary of a GS-5, step 7, employee; when done by a GS-9 through GS-14, an hourly rate based on the salary of a GS-12, step 4, employee; and when done by a GS-15 or above, an hourly rate based on the salary of a GS-15, step 7, employee. In each case, we will compute the hourly rate by taking the current hourly rate for the specified grade and step, adding 16% of that rate to cover benefits, and rounding to the nearest whole dollar. As of January 5, 1997, these rates were $14, $28, and $50 respectively. These rates are adjusted as Federal salaries change. When a search involves employees at more than one of these levels, we will charge the rate appropriate for each.
(b) Computer searching and printing. We will charge the actual cost of operating the computer plus charges for the time spent by the operator, at the rates given in paragraph (a) of this section.
(c) Photocopying standard size pages. We will charge $0.10 per page. The Freedom of Information (FOI) Officer may charge lower fees for particular documents where -
(1) The document has already been printed in large numbers;
(2) The program office determines that using existing stock to answer this request, and any other anticipated FOI requests, will not interfere with program requirements; and
(3) The FOI Officer determines that the lower fee is adequate to recover the prorated share of the original printing costs.
(d) Photocopying odd-size documents. For photocopying documents such as punchcards or blueprints, or reproducing other records such as tapes, we will charge the actual costs of operating the machine, plus the actual cost of the materials used, plus charges for the time spent by the operator, at the rates given in paragraph (a) of this section.
(e) Certifying that records are true copies. This service is not required by the FOIA. If we agree to provide it, we will charge $10 per certification.
(f) Sending records by express mail, certified mail, or other special methods. This service is not required by the FOIA. If we agree to provide it, we will charge our actual costs.
(g) Other special services. For performing any other special service that you request and we agree to, we will charge the actual costs of operating any machinery, plus actual cost of any materials used, plus charges for the time of our employees, at the rates given in paragraph (a) of this section.
(h) Billing exceeds cost of service. Generally we will not charge you a fee when the cost of the service is less than the cost of sending you a bill. However, where an individual, organization, or governmental unit makes multiple separate requests, we will total the costs incurred and periodically bill the requester for the services rendered.
(i) Fee for copies of printed materials. When extra copies of printed material are available, the charge is generally 1 cent per page. If the material may be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, the charge is that set by the Superintendent. The Superintendent's address is in § 402.40.
(j) When not applicable. This fee schedule does not apply to requests for records of Social Security number holders, wage earners, employers, and claimants when the requests are governed by section 1106 of the Social Security Act and by §§ Sections 402.170 and 402.175.
(a) Program purposes described.
(1) We consider a request to be program related if the information must be disclosed under the Social Security Act. For example, section 205(c)(2)(A) of the Act (42 U.S.C. 405(c)(2)(A)) requires that we provide certain information upon request to a worker, her or his legal representative, her or his survivor, or the legal representative of the worker's estate. That information is the amounts of the worker's wages and self-employment income and the periods during which they were paid or derived, as shown by our records.
(2) We also consider a request to be program related if the requester indicates the needed information will be used for a purpose which is directly related to the administration of a program under the Social Security Act.
(i) The major criteria we consider in deciding whether a proposed use is so related are:
(A) Is the information needed to pursue some benefit under the Act?
(B) Is the information needed solely to verify the accuracy of information obtained in connection with a program administered under the Act?
(C) Is the information needed in connection with an activity which has been authorized under the Act?
(D) Is the information needed by an employer to carry out her or his taxpaying responsibilities under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act or section 218 of the Act?
(ii) We will consider on a case by case basis those requests which do not meet these criteria but are claimed to be program related.
(b) When we charge. If we determine the request for information is program related, we may or may not charge for the information. For example, as stated in paragraph (a) of this section, we generally will not charge you for information needed to assure the accuracy of our records on which your present or future Social Security benefits depend. In addition, we generally will not charge for furnishing information under section 205(c)(2)(A) of the Act. However, if we do charge for a program related request (for example, if more detailed information or special services are requested) we will use the fee schedule in § 402.165 if information is being disclosed under the FOIA and the fee schedule in 20 CFR 401.95 if access to the information is being granted under the Privacy Act. (Exception: If the request is for purposes of administering employee benefits covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), even if the request is covered by section 205(c)(2)(A) of the Act, we will charge under § 402.175.)
(a) General. Section 1106(c) of the Social Security Act permits the Commissioner to require requesters of information to pay the full cost of supplying the information where the information is requested to comply with the ERISA, or “* * * for any other purpose not directly related to the administration of the program or programs under * * *” the Social Security Act. This may be done notwithstanding the fee provisions of the FOIA and the Privacy Act or any other provision of law. As used in this section -
(1) Full cost includes the direct and indirect costs to SSA (including costs of duplication) of providing information and related services under section 1106(c) of the Act; and
(2) Full cost of an employee's time includes fringe benefits and overhead costs such as rent and utilities.
(b) Non-program related requests. We consider a request for information which does not meet or equal any of the criteria in § 402.170 to be non-program related. (Whether a request for information about an individual is made by that individual or by someone else is not a factor.) In responding to these requests, or requests for ERISA purposes, we will charge the full cost of our services as described in paragraph (c) of this section.
(c) Fee schedule. Our fee schedule for non-program related requests is:
(1) Manual searching for records. Full cost of the employee's time.
(2) Photocopying, or reproducing records such as magnetic tapes or punch cards. Full cost of the operator's time plus the full cost of the machine time and the materials used.
(3) Use of electronic data processing equipment to obtain records. Our full cost for the service, including computer search time, computer runs and printouts, and the time of computer programmers and operators and other employees.
(4) Certification or authentication of records. Full cost of certification or authentication.
(5) Forwarding materials to destination. If you request special arrangements for forwarding the material, we will charge you the full cost of this service (e.g., you request express mail or a commercial delivery service). If no special forwarding arrangements are requested, we will charge you the full cost of the service, including the U.S. Postal Service cost.
(6) Performing other special services. If we agree to provide any special services you request, we will charge you the full cost of the time of the employee who performs the service, plus the full cost of any machine time and materials that the employee uses.
(7) Billing exceeds cost of service. Generally we will not charge you a fee when the cost of the service is less than the cost of sending you a bill. However, where an individual, organization, or governmental unit makes multiple separate requests, we will total the costs incurred and bill the requester for the services rendered.
(d) Fee for copies of printed materials. When extra copies of printed material are available, the charge is generally 1 cent per page. If the material may be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, the charge is that set by the Superintendent. The Superintendent's address is in § 402.40.
(e) Charging when requested record not found. We may charge you for search time, even though we fail to find the records. We may also charge you for search time if the records we locate are exempt from disclosure.
(a) We will generally assume that when you send us a request, you agree to pay for the services needed to locate and send that record to you. You may specify in your request a limit on the amount you are willing to spend. If you do that or include with your request a payment that does not cover our fee, we will notify you if it appears that the fee will exceed that amount and ask whether you want us to continue to process your request. Also, before we start work on your request under § 402.140, we will generally notify you of our exact or estimated charge for the information, unless it is clear that you have a reasonable idea of the cost.
(b) If you have failed to pay previous bills in a timely fashion, or if our initial review of your request indicates that we will charge you fees exceeding $250, we will require you to pay your past due fees and/or the estimated fees, or a deposit, before we start searching for the records you want. If so, we will let you know promptly upon receiving your request. In such cases, administrative time limits (i.e., ten working days from receipt of initial requests and 20 working days from receipt of appeals from initial denials, plus permissible extensions of these time limits) will begin only after we come to an agreement with you over payment of fees, or decide that fee waiver or reduction is appropriate.
(c) We will normally require you to pay all fees before we furnish the records to you. We may, at our discretion, send you a bill along with or following the furnishing of the records. For example, we may do this if you have a history of prompt payment. We may also, at our discretion, aggregate the charges for certain time periods in order to avoid sending numerous small bills to frequent requesters, or to businesses or agents representing requesters. For example, we might send a bill to such a requester once a month. Fees should be paid in accordance with the instructions furnished by the person who responds to your requests.
(d) Payment of fees will be made by check or money order payable to “Social Security Administration”.
(1) It is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government; and
(2) It is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
(b) Public interest. The disclosure passes the first test only if it furthers the specific public interest of being likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations or activities, regardless of any other public interest it may further. In analyzing this question, we will consider the following factors:
(1) How, if at all, do the records to be disclosed pertain to the operations or activities of the Federal Government?
(2) Would disclosure of the records reveal any meaningful information about government operations or activities? Can one learn from these records anything about such operations that is not already public knowledge?
(3) Will the disclosure advance the understanding of the general public as distinguished from a narrow segment of interested persons? Under this factor we may consider whether the requester is in a position to contribute to public understanding. For example, we may consider whether the requester has such knowledge or expertise as may be necessary to understand the information, and whether the requester's intended use of the information would be likely to disseminate the information among the public. An unsupported claim to be doing research for a book or article does not demonstrate that likelihood, while such a claim by a representative of the news media is better evidence.
(4) Will the contribution to public understanding be a significant one? Will the public's understanding of the government's operations be substantially greater as a result of the disclosure?
(c) Not primarily in the requester's commercial interest. If the disclosure passes the test of furthering the specific public interest described in paragraph (b) of this section, we will determine whether it also furthers the requester's commercial interest and, if so, whether this effect outweighs the advancement of that public interest. In applying this second test, we will consider the following factors:
(1) Would the disclosure further a commercial interest of the requester, or of someone on whose behalf the requester is acting? “Commercial interests” include interests relating to business, trade, and profit. Not only profit-making corporations have commercial interests - so do nonprofit corporations, individuals, unions, and other associations. The interest of a representative of the news media in using the information for news dissemination purposes will not be considered a commercial interest.
(2) If disclosure would further a commercial interest of the requester, would that effect outweigh the advancement of the public interest defined in paragraph (b) of this section? Which effect is primary?
(d) Deciding between waiver and reduction. If the disclosure passes both tests, we will normally waive fees. However, in some cases we may decide only to reduce the fees. For example, we may do this when disclosure of some but not all of the requested records passes the tests.
(e) Procedure for requesting a waiver or reduction. You must make your request for a waiver or reduction at the same time you make your request for records. You should explain why you believe a waiver or reduction is proper under the analysis in paragraphs (a) through (d) of this section. Only FOI Officers may make the decision whether to waive, or reduce, the fees. If we do not completely grant your request for a waiver or reduction, the denial letter will designate a review official. You may appeal the denial to that official. In your appeal letter, you should discuss whatever reasons are given in our denial letter. The process prescribed in § 402.190 of this part will also apply to these appeals.
Only the Deputy Executive Director for the Office of Public Disclosure, Office of the General Counsel, SSA, or her or his designee is authorized to deny a written request to obtain, inspect, or copy any social security record.
(a) Oral requests. If we cannot comply with your oral request because the Deputy Executive Director for the Office of Public Disclosure, Office of the General Counsel (or designee) has not previously made a determination to release the record you want, we will tell you that fact. If you still wish to pursue your request, you must put your request in writing.
(b) Written requests. If you make a written request and the information or record you requested will not be released, we will send you an official denial in writing. We will explain why the request was denied (for example, the reasons why the requested document is subject to one or more clearly described exemptions), will include the name and title or position of the person who made the decision, and what your appeal rights are.
(c) Unproductive searches. We make a diligent search for records to satisfy your request. Nevertheless, we may not be able always to find the records you want using the information you provided, or they may not exist. If we advise you that we have been unable to find the records despite a diligent search, this does not constitute a denial of your request.
(a) How to appeal. If all or part of your written request was denied, you may request that the Commissioner of Social Security, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, MD 21235 review that determination. Your request for review:
(1) Must be in writing;
(2) Must be mailed within 30 days after you received notification that all or part of your request was denied or, if later, 30 days after you received materials in partial compliance with your request; and
(3) May include additional information or evidence to support your request.
(b) How the review is made. After reviewing the prior decision and after considering anything else you have submitted, the Commissioner or his or her designee will affirm or revise all or part of the prior decision. The Commissioner (or a designee) will affirm a denial only after consulting with the appropriate SSA official(s), including legal counsel. The decision must be made within 20 working days after your appeal is received. The Commissioner or a designee may extend this time limit up to 10 additional working days if one of the situations in § 402.140(a) exists, provided that, if a prior extension was used to process this request, the sum of the extensions may not exceed 10 working days. You will be notified in writing of any extension, the reason for the extension, and the date by which your appeal will be decided.
(c) How you are notified of the Commissioner's decision. The Commissioner or a designee will send you a written notice of the decision explaining the basis of the decision (for example, the reasons why an exemption applies) which will include the name and title or position of the person who made the decision. The notice will tell you that if any part of your request remains unsatisfied, you have the right to seek court review.
If the Commissioner or a designee, upon review, affirms the denial of your request for records, in whole or in part, you may ask a U.S. District Court to review that denial. See 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(B). If we fail to act on your request for a record or for review of a denial of such a request within the time limits in § 402.140(a) or in § 402.190(b), you may ask a U.S. District Court to treat this as if the Commissioner had denied your request.