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Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Background

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, as amended, is based on the principle of openness in government and 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. Under the spirit and provisions of the FOIA, Federal agencies are to make their records available to the public to the greatest extent possible.

FOIA request for a copy of U. S. Geological Survey (USGS) records can be made by any individual or public or private organization other than a Federal agency. The request must: (1) be in writing, (2) specifically cite the Freedom of Information Act, (3) reasonably describe the records sought, and (4) indicate a willingness to pay fees, (specify the amount they are willing to pay) or ask for a fee waiver. The request should be sent to the USGS FOIA Officer, Mail Stop 807, National Center, Reston, VA 20192.

Process

Upon receipt, the FOIA Officer will direct the request to the appropriate USGS discipline FOIA Representative. The FOIA representative or an assigned action officer will respond to the request no later than 20 workdays after receipt, as required by the FOIA statute. When it is necessary to forward a request to another installation such as a field office for response, the time limit begins upon receipt by the field office. A time extension, not to exceed an additional 10 workdays, may be taken in certain circumstances. However, the requester must be notified in writing that an extension is being taken, the reason(s) for taking the extension, and the anticipated date of the FOIA response.

A FOIA response must advise the requester of the records that the bureau intends to disclose or to withhold, the exemption(s) authorizing the withholding (including a citation or summary of each exemption), and a strong justification for withholding the record(s). Normally the records to be disclosed will be provided with the response letter. If the records are not provided with the letter, they will be sent as soon as possible thereafter.

Denials

Headquarters USGS FOIA responses involving a denial or partial denial of records must be coordinated with the FOIA Officer. In the central, eastern and western regions, denials are usually signed by the Chief, Office of Regional Services, after consultation with the regional solicitor. A denial or partial denial letter will contain a paragraph advising the requester of the right to file an appeal with the Department of the Interior’s FOIA Appeals Officer.