FOIA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
The FOIA was enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966. Since that time, Congress has regularly updated the original statute through legislative amendments. Most recently, Congress passed the OPEN Government Act of 2007, which addressed several procedural issues that concern FOIA administration, and the OPEN FOIA Act of 2009, which revised the requirements of FOIA Exemption 3. You can read the text of the FOIA and learn about both of these FOIA amendments through these links (Open Government Act or Open FOIA Act). Additional references can be found through the links below.
This FOIA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section is designed to familiarize you with the procedures for making a FOIA request to the Department of Energy (DOE) records. The process is neither complicated nor time consuming. Following the guidance will make it more likely that you will receive the information you are seeking in the shortest amount of time. In most cases this section will provide you with the basic information that you will need to make a FOIA request to the DOE. In addition, the DOE has a formal rule for making FOIA requests, which you can find at Part 1004 of Title 10 of the Code of Federal Regulations. The Code of Federal Regulations is available in all law libraries and federal depository libraries.
- How can I get records from the DOE?
- Do I need to file a written FOIA request to receive general information about the DOE?
- Where can I find examples of previous FOIA requests for DOE documents?
- What kind of records may I request from the DOE under the FOIA?
- How long will it take the DOE to respond to my FOIA request?
- How can I get expedited processing?
- What kinds of records may the DOE withhold from me?
- How will I know what records the DOE has withheld from me?
- What happens if the DOE does not have the records I want?
- How do I reach the FOIA Officer or the person who is handling my request?
- How do I get a copy of the DOE FOIA Annual Report?
- Must I use a special form to file a FOIA request and what information must my request include?
- Where do I send my written request for DOE records?
- Is there a fee for filing a FOIA request?
- Can I limit the amount of the fees?
- Is it possible to have a fee waiver?
- What can I do if I am not satisfied with the DOE response to my request?
The FOIA, which you can find at section 552 of Title 5 of the United States Code, is a federal law that provides any person a right of access to many federal agency records. Use this link to read the full text of the Freedom of Information (FOIA) Act on the Department of Justice's website. The DOE must disclose records upon receiving a written request for them, except for certain records that may be withheld from disclosure under a FOIA exemption. This right of access is enforceable in a court of law. Your FOIA request is releasable to the public under subsequent FOIA requests. In responding to these requests, the DOE does not release personal information, such as home address, telephone numbers, or email addresses of third party individuals, all of which are protected from disclosure under FOIA Exemption 6 (5 U.S.C. §552(b)(6)).
No. You can find a great deal of information about the DOE through the DOE's website. The website provides information including: DOE policies, initiatives, and programs; press releases; speeches; testimony; and publications.
You also can obtain records that are publicly available at the DOE’s FOIA Public Reading Room located in Room 1G-051 at 1000 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20585. Visitors to the Public Reading Room must call 202-586-5955 to make an appointment. The public reading room is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Monday to Friday, except for holidays.
Where can I find examples of previous FOIA requests for DOE documents?
You can find a copy of previous FOIA requests received under the Office of Management's Frequently Requested Documents web page.
You may obtain any non-exempt agency record. You should be aware that the FOIA does not require agencies to do research for you, analyze data, answer written questions, or create records in order to respond to a request.
Usually, you will receive a response within 20 working days of the date the DOE receives a complete request. You will receive a response more quickly certain requests, but if your request involves a large volume of records or records dispersed among several offices, additional time to respond may be required. Under the FOIA, the response time can be extended for an additional 10 working days. When an extension is needed, you will be notified in writing and will offer you the opportunity to modify or limit your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request. You can request an expedited response if you show a compelling need. You must certify that the reasons for expedited processing are true and correct.
You can get expedited processing if you show a “compelling need.” A compelling need is established when one of the following two criteria are met: (1) by establishing that your failure to obtain the records quickly could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual, or (2) if you are primarily engaged in disseminating information and can demonstrate an urgency to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activities exists. You must certify the reasons for expedited processing by articulating with specific examples of either criterion, which both must be true and correct.
The Freedom of Information Act generally provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, of access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions thereof) are protected from disclosure by one of nine exemptions, or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions.
Exemption (b)(1) protects from disclosure national security information concerning the national defense or foreign policy, provided that it has been properly classified in accordance with Executive Order 12958.
Exemption (b)(2) exempts from mandatory disclosure records "related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency."
Exemption (b)(3) covers information "specifically exempted from disclosure by statute."
Exemption (b)(4) protects "trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential."
Exemption (b)(5) protects "inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party ... in litigation with the agency."
Exemption (b)(6) permits the government to withhold all information about individuals in "personnel and medical files and similar files" when the disclosure of such information "would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
Exemption (b)(7)(A) authorizes the withholding of "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes, but only to the extent that production of such law enforcement records or information ... could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings."
Exemption (b)(7)(B) protects "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes (the disclosure of which) would deprive a person of a right to a fair trial or an impartial adjudication.
Exemption (b)(7)(C) provides protection for personal information in law enforcement records the disclosure of which "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
Exemption (b)(7)(D) provides protection for "records or information compiled for law enforcement purposes which could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source and information furnished by a confidential source."
Exemption (b)(7)(E) provides protection to all law enforcement information which "would disclose techniques and procedures for law enforcement investigations or prosecutions, or would disclose guidelines for law enforcements investigations or prosecutions if such disclosure could reasonably be expected to risk circumvention of the law."
Exemption (b)(7)(F) permits the withholding of information necessary to protect the physical safety of "any individual" when disclosure of information about him "could reasonably be expected to endanger his life or physical safety."
Exemption (b)(8) protects matter that are "contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions."
Exemption (b)(9) protects "geological and geophysical information an data, including maps, concerning wells."
The (c)(1) exclusion authorizes federal law enforcement agencies, under specified circumstances, to shield the very existence of records of ongoing investigations or proceedings by excluding them entirely from the FOIA's reach.
The (c)(2) exclusion provides that "whenever informant records maintained by a criminal law enforcement agency under an informant's name or personal identifier are requested by a third party, the agency may treat the records as not subject to the requirements of the FOIA unless the informant's status has been officially confirmed.
The (c)(3) exclusion pertains only to certain law enforcement records that are maintained by the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
When information is withheld from disclosure, the DOE’s written response ordinarily identifies what records have been withheld and specifies the FOIA exemption that permits the withholding.
You will be notified in writing that the DOE does not have any responsive records.
For FOIA requests for DOE records, contact the DOE’s FOIA Headquarters Office by regular mail at 1000 Independence Avenue, SW Washington DC 20585, by telephone at 202-586-5955, or by facsimile at 202-586-0575. The contact information of the FOIA analyst who is assigned to your request can be found on their written response(s) to you, which include their name and telephone number. The FOIA Officer can be reached by telephone at 202-586-3159. Please note that all mail sent to DOE via the United States Postal Service is routed through a national irradiation facility, a process that may delay delivery by approximately two weeks. For any time-sensitive correspondence, please plan accordingly.
Yes. A special form is required on which you can send your request by regular mail, facsimile or electronically online through the DOE Headquarters FOIA Request Form. Your request must include a clear and specific description of the records you are requesting to enable the DOE to locate any records with a reasonable amount of effort. Your request must include as much specific information as possible about each record you request, such as the date, title or name, author, recipient, subject matter and file designations. Your request must include your full name, your address and, if different, the address at which the DOE is to notify you about your request; a telephone number at which you can be reached during normal business hours; and a facsimile number and electronic mail address, if any. Your request is considered to be public information, except for any personal information provided.
Please include the notation "Freedom of Information Act Request" on the front of your envelope, at the beginning of your request, or in the subject line of the email to ensure that your request is received without delay. If you are requesting DOE records please include a notation to that effect. You must identify whether you are a commercial use requester, an educational institution, non-commercial scientific institution or representative of the news media. You must state that you are aware of and in agreement with the fees for duplication, search and/or review as may be levied in accordance with the FOIA and DOE’s FOIA regulations, along with the maximum amount of fees you are willing to pay. Requests that fees be reduced or waived must include the justification for such request. Your inability to pay a fee does not justify granting a fee waiver.
Where do I send my written request for DOE records?
For DOE records, you must send your FOIA request to the DOE Headquarters FOIA Office. You can reach the FOIA Office by regular mail at MA-46/Forrestal Building, 1000 Independence Avenues, SW, Washington DC 20585, by telephone at 202-586-5955, or by facsimile at 202-586-0575. Please note that all mail sent to FHFA via the United States Postal Service is routed through a national irradiation facility, a process that may delay delivery by approximately two weeks. For any time-sensitive correspondence, please plan accordingly.
Is there a fee for filing a FOIA request?
No. There is no initial fee to file a FOIA request. The FOIA, however, permits an agency to recover some of the costs of processing a FOIA request by charging for employee time spent searching for and reviewing records for release. Please note, that the DOE may charge fees even if no records are located, as well as for duplication. In certain circumstances, DOE may request advance payment of fees. DOE’s current fee schedule is:
|Manual searches||employee hourly wage, plus 16 percent|
|Computer searches||actual direct cost of providing the service|
|Review Time||employee hourly wage|
|Photocopies||$0.10 per page|
|Microfilms to paper||$0.10 per page|
|Computer-generated copies (tapes or printouts)||actual direct cost (operator time and production)|
|Other methods (diskettes, CD-ROMs, etc)||actual direct cost (operator time and production)|
Express delivery service................................................actual direct cost
Fees by Requester Categories:
1. Commercial use requesters. When DOE receives a request for document for commercial use, it will assess charges that recover the full direct cost of searching for, reviewing the release, and duplicating the records sought.
2. Educational and non-commercial scientific institution requests. DOE shall provide documents to requesters in this category for the cost of reproduction alone, excluding charges for the first 100 pages.
3. Representatives of the news media. DOE shall provide documents to requesters in this category for the cost of reproduction alone, excluding charges for the first 100 pages.
4. All other requesters. DOE shall charge requesters who do not fit into any of the categories above fees that recover the full reasonable direct cost of searching for and reproducing records that are responsive to the request, except that the first 100 pages of reproduction and the first two hours of search time shall be furnished without charge.
Yes. You can limit the amount that you are willing to pay in your request letter. If you do not do so, the DOE will assume that you are willing to pay fees of up to $25.00. If the estimated total fees for processing your request will exceed $25.00, you will be notified in writing of the estimate and offer you an opportunity to narrow your request in order to reduce the fees. If the cost is equal to or less than $15.00, no charges will be assessed. If you continue to want all of the records involved, you will be asked to agree, in writing, to pay the estimated fees. Processing your request will be suspended and the time to respond tolled until you agree to pay the estimated fees. You ordinarily will not have to pay the fees until after we have processed your request. If, however, you have failed to pay fees within 30 days of billing in the past, or if the estimated fees exceed $1000.00, we may require you to pay the estimated fees before we process the request. If you agree to pay fees and then fail to do so within 30 days of billing, we may charge interest on the overdue balance and we will not process any further requests from you until payment has been made in full.
EFFECT OF THE DEBT COLLECTION ACT OF 1982 (PUB. L.97-365): the DOE may use the authorities in the Debt Collection Act, including disclosure to consumer reporting agencies and use of collection agencies, where appropriate, to encourage repayment.
Yes. You can request the DOE to waive the FOIA fees. A fee waiver will not be granted unless the following two basic criteria are both met: (1) you can demonstrate that disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and (2) it is not primarily in your commercial interest. A fee waiver will only be granted if the requester can justify each criterion. Use this link to read more specific details on DOE’s requirements for a fee waiver. Requests for fee waivers from individuals who are seeking records pertaining to themselves are generally denied because disclosure usually will not result in any increase of the public's understanding of government operations and activities. In addition, a requester's inability to pay fees is not a basis for granting a fee waiver.
You will be advised of the right to file an administrative appeal within 90 calendar days of the date of the final response to your request. You may disagree with the withholding of information, a fee determination (including a fee waiver denial), or you may believe that there are additional records responsive to your request. You also may file an administrative appeal if your request for expedited processing is denied. All appeals must be made in writing and addressed to the FOIA Appeals Officer by electronic mail at OHA.firstname.lastname@example.org, by regular mail to the Director, Office of Hearings and Appeals, HG-1, Department of Energy, 1000 Independence Avenue SW, Washington DC 20585, or by telephone at 202-287-1400. Please note that all mail sent to FHFA via the United States Postal Service is routed through a national irradiation facility, a process that can delay delivery by approximately two weeks. For any time-sensitive correspondence, please plan accordingly.
No specific form or particular language is required. However, your appeal must include a copy of the initial request, a copy of the letter denying your request in whole or part, and an explanation of the reasons why you disagree with our action, along with your name, address, telephone number, facsimile number, and electronic mail address, if any. If you are appealing because you believe there are additional records, you must specify why you believe that records exist and, if possible, where you believe they might be located. Please include the notation "Freedom of Information Act Appeal" on the front of your envelope and at the beginning of your appeal to ensure that your appeal is received without delay. For appeals from decisions by the DOE, please add "DOE" after "Freedom of Information Act Appeal." Within 20 working days of receipt of a valid FOIA appeal, you will be informed in writing of the outcome of your appeal. If you still believe that the DOE has not handled your FOIA request in accordance with the law, you have the right to challenge the agency's action in federal court, or you may seek the assistance from the Office of Government Information Services of the National Archives and Records Administration.
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