Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) allows access to almost all federal agency records. The Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), like other federal agencies, is required to make records accessible to requesters. Many documents are available to the public without having to file a FOIA request. These include press releases, speeches, congressional testimony, program regulations, and some letters and memoranda. Much of this information can be found here on the FAS website: www.fas.usda.gov.
About The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552)
The Freedom of Information Act (5 U.S.C. 552) establishes a presumption that U.S. Government records should be generally available to the public. The act sets standards for determining when Government records must be made available and what kind of records may be withheld. The act also gives requesters specific legal rights and provides administrative and judicial remedies when access to records is denied or portions of records are withheld. The statute requires that federal agencies provide access to and disclosure of information pertaining to the Government's business to the fullest extent possible.
Certain records may be withheld in full or in part if the information involved falls within one of nine FOIA exemptions. Six of these are the most often considered in determining whether FAS should or must withhold all or any part of any requested document:
- Exemption 2: Protects certain records related solely to FAS internal rules and practices.
- Exemption 3: Protects information that is prohibited from disclosure by other laws.
- Exemption 4: Protects trade secrets and confidential commercial or financial information.
- Exemption 5: Protects certain interagency and intra-agency communications.
- Exemption 6: Protects information about individuals in personnel, medical, and similar files when disclosure would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy.
- Exemption 7: Protects records or information relating to legal proceedings or similar investigations under certain conditions.
FOIA Guidance and Resources
- USDA FOIA Regulations
- USDA FOIA Reference Guide
- FAS FOIA Regulations
- FAS FOIA Fees
- U.S. Department of Justice Guide to the FOIA
- Open Government Act
- Your Right to Federal Records
Foreign Agricultural Service
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W., Stop 1004
Washington, DC 20250- 1004
For additional assistance, you may also contact the FAS FOIA ombudsman, Ellen Dougherty, at (202) 720-7115 or email@example.com.
What Fees are Involved?
The FOIA permits government agencies to charge fees for processing FOIA requests. FAS charges nothing if the cost of compiling the records you request is $25 or less. Fees are charged at actual salary plus 16 percent overhead. The charge for copying documents is 20 cents per page. We will notify you if the fees will be higher, unless your written request states your willingness to pay higher fees. If fees are expected, you may request a waiver if you can meet certain conditions (please see fee waivers, below).
The FOIA requires that requesters be placed in one of the following four categories:
- Commercial use requesters
- News media
- Educational or noncommercial scientific institutions
- All others.
Commercial requesters are charged the full cost of search, review, and duplication. Scientific, educational, and news media requesters are charged the cost of duplication only; however, the first 100 pages are provided free of charge. All other requesters are charged only the direct costs of search, and duplication, with the first two hours of search and the first 100 pages of duplication are free of charge.
Requesters must send checks to FAS made payable to the "U.S. Treasury."
Fees may be waived if "disclosure of the 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 it is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester." S U.S.C. § 552 (a)(4)(A)(iii)
Requests for fee waivers must be fully documented and justified by written explanation when the request is submitted.
FAS FOIA Reading Room
The FAS FOIA Reading Room includes a description of the kinds of documents FAS maintains based on our program activities, and specifically identified for inclusion by FOIA, as well as other documents of interest about the FOIA itself. If you should need assistance using the FAS electronic reading room, please contact the FAS FOIA officer.
How Does the Privacy Act Relate to the FOIA?
Under the Privacy Act, a person may seek access to records that are retrieved by that person's name or another personal identifier, such as social security number or date of birth. These records will be made available only to the person to whom the records refer. Generally, you cannot obtain copies of records concerning another person without the written permission of that person.
If you have questions about FAS Privacy Act requests, contact Carol Remmers, Privacy Act Officer, at (202) 720-2369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.