This page answers Frequently Asked Questions about FOIA requests. Please also see How to make a FOIA request.
Who can make a request under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)?
Any person can make a request for Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) records – individuals, foreign citizens, partnerships, corporations, associations, foreign, state, or local governments. Exceptions to this rule are federal agencies, fugitives and, as a result of the Intelligence Authorization Act of 2003, foreign government or international governmental organizations or their representatives.
What is a reasonable description of records?
Generally, requests for records must describe the records in reasonably sufficient detail to enable an employee familiar with the subject to locate the records. The description should include the name, investigation case number, subject matter, date or timeframe, location of the records, along with any other information which would help an employee clearly identify the requested records. If the scope is too broad, you may incur large fees for search, review and duplication. If you are asked to modify your request to narrow its scope, you must resubmit it in writing.
What authorization is required if i make a FOIA requests about myself?
You must provide a copy of your driver’s license or other form of government issued identification bearing your signature. Alternatively, a notarized statement swearing or affirming the requester’s identity may be provided.
What authorization is required for FOIA information to be released to a third party?
If an individual requests records pertaining to another person, authorization from that other (third party) person must be provided. A common example of this type of request is an attorney requesting records on behalf of a Requester. The Requester must provide authorization for Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) records pertaining to him to be released to his attorney (the requester). The authorization must include verification of the third party’s identity by providing a copy of his driver’s license bearing his signature.
What the FOIA does not require.
The FOIA does not require agencies to answer questions or interrogatories; analyze and/or interpret documents for a requester; create records; conduct research; initiate investigations; or provide statutes, regulations, publications, or other documents that are otherwise made available to the public.
When can I expect a response?
The FOIA requires that the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) will respond in writing within 20 working days of receipt of your request. Under unusual circumstances, the agency may extend the response time by 10 more working days. These include requests that require a search for records from a facility other than the one processing the request, requests that require consultation with other agencies or agency components having an interest in disclosure, and requests that require a large volume of records to be processed.
How and under what circumstances may I receive expedited processing?
Request expedited treatment of your request in the FOIA request and demonstrate in writing why you assert your request deserves such treatment. Review the standards in the regulation at 38 CFR 1.551 to show your reasons. Requests for expedited processing will be considered according to Department of Veterans Affairs FOIA disclosure regulations at 38 CFR 1.551 and implementing procedures. Denials of expedited processing requests may be appealed.
What is the 30-day rule?
If a requester does not respond within 30 days to a communication from the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) to amend the request so that it’s in conformance with regulations, the request file can be considered closed in accordance with VA’s FOIA implementing regulation at 38 CFR 1.554. The requester will be advised of this rule at the time of such communication.
What will cause a delay in the processing of a request?
Delays can be caused by: lack of verification of identity for records maintained about you; failure to provide a fee agreement; lack of signature (needed even on requests sent by fax); addressing a request to the office in VA; or an inadequate description of the records sought. See 38 CFR 1.554, “Description of records sought.”
What if I can’t specify exactly where the records are located, but I have some information?
Include all the information you have about the records you want access to. If you wish access to records maintained about you, you should state why such records may exist in the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP), and where, if known. However, you should be prepared for an interim letter or phone call if an office still has trouble determining the exact location of records. You can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for clarification before submitting your request.
Will the FOIA allow me to see records on my coworker or supervisor who is being investigated by the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP)?
No. Exemption 7 (C) of the FOIA protects the personal privacy of individuals whose names may appear in law enforcement files. If the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) has issued a report after a particular investigation, a FOIA requester may obtain a copy of the report that has been determined releasable to all requesters. Exemption 6 protects the personal privacy of individuals whose names may appear in other files. Additional exemptions may apply.
Why should a request sent by fax also contain my signature?
the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP)’s regulations implementing the FOIA require a signature in writing on a FOIA request for agency records, whether sent by mail or by fax. The signature serves to validate identity verification when Privacy Act records are requested and allows comparison of signatures with personal identification documents.
Why should I send my request for the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) records directly to the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection and not another VA component office?
FOIA processing within the VA is “decentralized” which means there is no central location containing an index of records on every subject for all VA components records. FOIA requests should be routed directly to the VA office which is reasonably expected to maintain the records being sought. Â Sending a request to the proper VA component office saves time.
Are there fees associated with a FOIA request and what are they?
If you are making a FOIA or Privacy Act request for records about yourself, the request will be processed under fee category “All other” fee provisions in VA’s FOIA regulations, 38 C.F.R. Â§ 1.561(b).
What are the various requester fee categories?
Commercial use request
From or on behalf of one who seeks information for a use or purpose that furthers the commercial, trade, or profit interests of the requester or the person on whose behalf the request is made.
A preschool, a public or private elementary or secondary school, an institution of graduate higher education, an institution of undergraduate higher education, an institution of professional education, and an institution of vocational education, which operates a program or programs of scholarly research. This category does not include requesters wanting records for use in meeting individual academic research or study requirements.
Non-commercial scientific institution
An institution that is not operated on a commercial basis and which is operated solely for the purpose of conducting scientific research the results of which are not intended to promote any particular product or industry.
Representative of the news media
A person actively gathering news for an entity that is organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. The term “news” means information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public. In the case of “freelance” journalists, they may be regarded as working for a news organization if they can demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication though not actually employed by one.
All other requesters
Requesters not fitting into any of the above categories will belong to a group called all other requesters.
What services are free and what are chargeable for the various fee categories?
- Free: None
- Chargeable: search, review, and duplication
Educational Institution, Non-commercial scientific institution, News Media
- Free: search, review, duplication of 100 pages
- Chargeable: duplication over 100 pages
All other requestors
- Free: 2 hours search, all review, duplication of 100 pages.
- Chargeable: search and duplication over 100 pages
How are fees determined?
To recover costs of copying records by photocopy at a fixed rate per page (15 cents per page.
Searches for other than electronic records
Search charges are calculated by using the salary rate of the employee(s) making the search (basic pay plus 16 percent). (See 38 CFR § 1.561)
Searches for electronic records
Actual direct cost of the search, including computer search time, runs, and the operator’s salary, will be charged. The fee for computer printouts will be actual costs. (See 38 CFR § 1.561).
Can a fee be waived?
If a requester desires a waiver of fees, this must be done in writing. Fee waivers are not automatically granted. Fees may be waived or reduced if disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
Determinations about fees charged are separate and apart from determinations about the eligibility for fee waivers. For example, a news reporter will be charged for duplication fees after the first l00 pages but may ask that these fees be waived. Duplication fees, therefore, are the only fees to be considered.
Under what circumstances may records be withheld?
While it is the policy of the Office of Accountability and Whistleblower Protection (OAWP) to make requested records available to the maximum extent allowable, there are certain considerations that may limit what we are able to provide to the public.
There are actually nine exemptions that would limit the information that the public could receive. They generally pertain to material classified for national security purposes, protection of privacy rights of individuals, and protection of trade secrets or commercial or financial information that could be considered privileged or confidential.
Can I appeal a denial of request?
If any records or parts of records are withheld from the request, you have the right to appeal the denial of your request in writing within 90 days of the denial letter. The letter of appeal should include statements concerning the denial, the reasons you believe them to be in error, and the relief along with copies of the original request, the denial letter, and any other related correspondence. Send the appeal letter to:Department of Veterans Affairs
Office of General Counsel (OGC) (Appeals)
810 Vermont Avenue, N.W. (024)
Washington, DC 20420-0001