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, President Obama signed the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which addressed several procedural issues, codified the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) “foreseeable harm” standard, and created a FOIA Council.  DOJ’s summary of 2016 changes can be found at the following: OIP Summary of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016

This FOIA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section is designed to familiarize you with the procedures for making a FOIA request to the NNSA.  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 NNSA.  In addition, the Agency 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 also available in all law libraries and federal depository libraries.

How can I get records from the NNSA?

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 NNSA 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 NNSA 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)).

Do I need to file a written FOIA request to receive general information about the NNSA?

No.  You can find a great deal of information about the NNSA through the NNSA's website.  The website provides information including: NNSA policies, initiatives, and programs; press releases; speeches; testimony; and publications.

Where can I find examples of previous FOIA requests for NNSA documents?

You can find a copy of previous FOIA requests received under the NNSA's Frequently Requested Documents web page.

What kind of records may I request from the NNSA under the FOIA?

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.

How long will it take the NNSA to respond to my FOIA request?

Usually, you will receive a response within 20 working days of the date the NNSA receives a complete request.  You will receive a response more quickly for 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 receive an 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.

How can I get expedited processing?

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 must be true and correct.

What kinds of records may the NNSA withhold from me?

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.

How will I know what records the NNSA has withheld from me?

When information is withheld from disclosure, the NNSA’s written response ordinarily identifies what records have been withheld and specifies the FOIA exemption that permits the withholding.

What happens if the NNSA does not have the records I want?

You will be notified in writing that the NNSA does not have any responsive records.

How do I reach the FOIA Officer or the person who is handling my request?

For FOIA requests for NNSA records, contact the NNSA’s FOIA Office by regular mail at PO Box 5400, Albuquerque, NM 87185, by telephone at 866-747-5994, or by facsimile at 505-284-7512.  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 866-747-5994.  Please note that all mail sent to NNSA 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.

How do I get a copy of the Agency's Annual FOIA Report?

Must I use a special form to file a FOIA request and what information must my request include?

Yes.  A special form is required on which you can send your request by regular mail, facsimile or electronically online through the NNSA FOIA Request Form.  Your request must include a clear and specific description of the records you are requesting to enable the NNSA 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 NNSA 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 NNSA 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 NNSA records?

For NNSA records, you must send your FOIA request to the NNSA FOIA Office.  You can reach the FOIA Office by regular mail at PO Box 5400, Albuquerque, NM 87185, by telephone at 866-747-5994, or by facsimile at 505-284-7512.  Please note that all mail sent to NNSA 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 NNSA may charge fees even if no records are located, as well as for duplication. In certain circumstances, NNSA may request advance payment of fees.  NNSA’s current fee schedule is:

Search and Review Services

SERVICE

COST

Manual searches

employee hourly wage, plus 16 percent

Computer searches

actual direct cost of providing the service

Review Time

employee hourly wage

 

Duplication Services

SERVICE

COST

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)

Delivery

Express delivery service................................................actual direct cost

Fees by Requester Categories

1. Commercial use requesters.  When NNSA 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.  NNSA 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.  NNSA 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.  NNSA 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.

Can I limit the amount of the fees?

Yes.  You can limit the amount that you are willing to pay in your request letter.  If you do not do so, the NNSA 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 NNSA 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.

Is it possible to have a fee waiver?

Yes.  You can request the NNSA 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 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.

What can I do if I am not satisfied with the NNSA response to my request?

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 (preferred method) at OHA.filings@hq.doe.gov, 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 OHA 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.

FOIA Resources