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FOIA Frequently Asked Questions

HISTORY

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) was enacted in 1966. In 1996 the Act was amended by the passing of the Electronic Freedom of Information (E-FOIA) Act Amendments. In December 2005, the FOIA was amended again by Executive Order (E.O.) 13,392, “Improving Agency Disclosure of Information.”  However, the spirit and the intent have remained the same. The intent of the FOIA is based on openness to citizens and the informed consent of the governed. The BLM is continuing to strive to meet goals established by the Department Of Interior E.O. 13,392 Action Plan to improve its FOIA program.


What Information Is Available Under FOIA?

The FOIA gives you the right to request access to any agency record. This does not mean, however, that an agency will disclose every record requested. There are statutory exemptions that authorize the withholding of information of an appropriately sensitive nature.  When BLM withholds information, it must specify which exemption of the FOIA permits the withholding. The FOIA does not require agencies to do research for you, to analyze data, to answer questions, or to create records in order to respond to a request. 

When exempted material is found in requested records, we will inform you of our decision in writing. Our response will tell you how much material we found and the charges due. If the records are being released only in part, we will estimate the amount of the withheld information. If we deny any part of your request, we will explain the reasons for the denial, which FOIA exemptions apply, and your right to appeal our decisions.

 
The BLM will deny a FOIA request in whole or in part only when we determine that information may be withheld under one of nine exemptions. The nine exemption categories that authorize government agencies to withhold information are:
 
Exemption 1 -Classified National Security Information Concerning National Defense or Foreign Policy
Exemption 2 - Internal Personnel Rules and Practices of an Agency
Exemption 3 - Matters Specifically Exempted From Disclosure by Statute
Exemption 4 - Trade Secrets and Confidential Business Information
Exemption 5 - Internal Memoranda Privileges
Exemption 6 - Personal Privacy
Exemption 7 - Investigatory Files
Exemption 8 - Records of Financial Institutions
Exemption 9 - Geological and Geophysical Information 

We will only withhold information when we have a sound legal basis to do so. If only part of a record must be withheld, the BLM will provide access to the rest of the record. 

Who May File A FOIA Request? Members of the public, including foreign citizens, military and civilian personnel acting as private citizens, organizations and businesses, and individual members of the Congress for themselves or constituents, may request records in writing. It is important to remember that the FOIA applies only to federal agencies. Government employees submitting requests should not use government equipment, supplies, stationery, postage, telephones, or official mail channels to make FOIA requests, as this practice is considered unethical. 

What About Costs For Records Under The FOIA?

See the following charts for information on allowable fees established by the Department of the Interior.

Chart Showing Applicable Fees by Category for FOIA Requests

REQUESTER'S CATEGORY

SEARCH

REVIEW

DUPLICATION

Commercial Use
Actual direct costs
Actual direct costs
Actual direct costs
Non-commercial (educational or scientific institution
No Charge
No Charge
Actual direct costs1
New MediaNo ChargeNo ChargeActual direct costs1
All others
Actual direct costs2
No charge
Actual direct costs1

1 First 100 pages of paper copies or reasonable equivalent, such
as a microfiche containing the equivalent of 100 pages, are copied free.
2 First 2 hours of manual search time are free. 

Chart Showing Fee Costs for FOIA Requests
SERVICE
RATE
Photocopying: (Up to 8 1/2" X 14")
$ .15 per page
Photocopying: (Over 8 1/2" X 14")
Actual Direct Cost or Reproduction2
Computer Costs
Actual Direct Cost1, 2
Certification
$ .25 per certificate
Supplies and Other Materials
Actual Direct Cost2
Documents Requiring Special Handling
Actual Direct Cost2
Other Than First-Class Postage
Mailing Charges are Added for Special Mailing
1 Depending on the requesters fee category, requesters entitled to the first 2 hours of manual search time for free, will not be charged for that equivalent.

2 Depending on the requesters fee category, requesters entitled to the first 100 pages of copies free, will not be charged for the equivalent of 100 pages at $ .15/page or $15.00. 

 Department of the Interior FOIA Search and Review Fees

 How I Qualify for a Fee Waiver?

When statutory fee waivers are approved copies of documents are sent to you without charge or at a reduced charge. Fee waivers are provided when disclosure is in the public interest because it: (a) Is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government (Does the record concern the operations or activities of the government? Is disclosure likely to contribute to the public understanding of these operations and activities? Will that contribution be significant?); and (b) is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

When Can I Appeal A BLM Response To My FOIA Request?

You may file an appeal with the Department of the Interior FOIA Appeals Officer if: (a) A requested record is withheld; (b) a FOIA response delayed (responses are due within 20-working days or 30-working days when an extension is justified); (c) a fee waiver denied; or (d) a request has been denied for failure to describe requested records or for other procedural deficiency, or because requested records cannot be located.

Appeal language and the address to file your appeal will be provided in the response you receive from the Bureau.

What is meant by Multi-track Processing? 

Effective January 8, 2007, all bureaus/offices in the Department of the Interior (DOI) are required to use multitrack processing.  This means that bureaus/offices will be using tracks to process your FOIA requests. The availability of multitrack processing does include a tract for Expedited process. Bureaus/offices will ensure that requests are processed fairly by treating similarly situated requests in a like manner.

FOIA requests are placed in one of four tracks based on the amount of time needed to process the request. These tracks are listed below:  

1.  Simple: 1-5 workdays.
2. Normal: 20 workdays.
3. Complex: over 20 workdays.
4. Exceptional/Voluminous: requests in this track involve very complex processing challenges, which may include a large number of potentially responsive records, and will take over sixty workdays to process.
 
 Requesters should assume, unless notified by the bureau/office that their request is in the “Normal” track.

The FOIA coordinator will notify you as soon as possible if we have placed your request in the "Complex" track.  If you limit the scope of your request, it may result in faster processing (43 CFR 2.26(b)). We will contact you by telephone or in writing, whichever is more efficient in each case. In the event the requester is contacted by telephone, the bureau/office will confirm in writing.

How do I know when I can expect a response to my request?

The action office will respond to an initial FOIA request no later than 20 workdays after the appropriate bureau FOIA Contact receives the request and it is perfected (i.e., all issues regarding fees and the scope of the request are resolved), unless the request is in the complex track.

The 20-workday time limit begins to run the workday after a request complying with DOI procedures is received by the FOIA Contact at the bureau office that has the requested records. If a request is received that is unperfected, the action office or the FOIA Contact will contact the requester as soon as possible to resolve the issues and perfect the request.

What does the term "Perfected FOIA Request" mean?

This term describes a FOIA request for records which adequately describes the records sought, which has been received by the FOIA office of the agency or agency component in possession of the records, and for which there is no remaining question about the payment of applicable fees.  FOIA coordinators may contact requesters multipile times to discuss fees in accordance with the Open Government Act. 

What is Expedited Processing?

Expedited Processing means giving a FOIA request priority, and processing it ahead of other non-expedited requests pending in the bureau because a requester has demonstrated that there is a "compelling need or urgency to obtaining the records." If a requester asks for Expedited Processing, BLM FOIA specialists are required to contact the requester within 10 calendar days of receipt of the request to approve or deny the desire for expedited processing. FOIA requests may be taken out of order and processed on an expedited basis only if a BLM FOIA Specialist determines that the request involves  (1) circumstances in which the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to someone’s life or physical safety, or (2) an urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal government activity and the request is made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information. 

Every request for expedited processing must be accompanied by a statement from the requester setting forth in detail the reasons why expedited processing is warranted.  The requester must also certify that the reasons given in support of expedited processing are true and correct to the best of the requester’s knowledge and belief. If a request for expedited treatment is granted, the FOIA request will be given priority and processed as soon as practicable.  If the request for expedited processing is denied, the requester may appeal the decision.