The Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552, and the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a, together contain the general principles under which executive agencies, such as the Department of Energy, make information in their possession available to the public and at the same time protect the privacy interest of individuals about whom the agency has obtained information. Each of these statutes requires the agencies to promulgate regulations that specify how these principles will be implemented. The Department of Energy's FOIA and Privacy Act regulations, 10 C.F.R. Parts 1004 and 1008, respectively, provide that individuals may request information from the Department of Energy (and in some instances correct it). The FOIA requires that documents held by federal agencies generally be released to the public upon request. Pursuant to an appropriate request, agencies are required to search their records for responsive documents. If responsive documents cannot be located, the requester must be told whether the requested record is known to have been disposed of or never to have existed. 10 C.F.R. § 1004.4(d). The FOIA lists nine exemptions that set forth the types of information which may be withheld at the discretion of an agency. 5 U.S.C. § 552(b); 10 C.F.R. § 1004.10(b). The DOE regulations further provide that a document exempt from mandatory disclosure under the FOIA shall nonetheless be released to the public, whenever the DOE determines that disclosure is not contrary to federal law and in the public interest. 10 C.F.R. § 1004.1.
A requester of information must receive a written response to each request. These initial agency determinations may be appealed to the Office of Hearings and Appeals. Decisions of the Office of Hearings and Appeals constitute the agency's final determinations on requests made under either statute.