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FIA-13-0061 - In the Matter of Hanford Atomic Metals Trades Council

On November 14, 2013, the Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) issued a decision denying an appeal (Appeal) from a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) determination issued by the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Richland Operations Office (ROO) . The Hanford Atomic Metals Trades Council (Appellant), sought categories of records concerning communications between DOE employees and DOE-contractor employees at the DOE’s Hanford facility regarding collective bargaining, desired changes in wages, terms and conditions of employment, potential strikes, or closures. In its response, ROO withheld portions of a number of documents pursuant to Exemption 4 and 5. After reviewing the documents, OHA determined that Exemption 4 did not apply to any of the withheld information because the information itself did not consist of commercial of financial information. Nonetheless, OHA found that most of the remaining withheld information was properly withheld under Exemption 5. OHA found that with regard to information originating from non-governmental personnel, such communications could still be considered “intra-agency” communications because of the “common interest” doctrine. Further, most of the information withheld pursuant to Exemption 5 was properly withheld because the information would be protected under the deliberative process privilege. The material consisted of recommendations, opinions, and assessments which were predecisional and deliberative. OHA remanded the matter to ROO to issue a new determination regarding information withheld in three documents where OHA found that the deliberative process privilege and Exemption 5 did not apply.