Where and How to Submit a Freedom of Information Act Request
In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations at 7 C.F.R. Part 1, Subpart A, any person can request access to USDA Office of Adjudication (OA), (formerly the Office Civil Rights) records. The FOIA requires OA to allow the public to have access unless the information is exempt under FOIA from mandatory disclosure (e.g., classified national security, business proprietary, personal privacy, investigative).
Your request must be in writing. Indicate that you are making a request under FOIA, and send the request to the following address:
Ms. Shawn S. McGruder
Director, Office of Adjudication/USDA
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20250-9410
VIA FACSIMILE: (202) 720-0953
VIA E-MAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
(NOTE: While e-mail attachments are often an important and legitimate means of conducting business, they also have the potential to cause great harm to our e-mail infrastructure, as well as to individual workstations. Please place the text of your FOIA request into the 'body' of the email message.)
Identify Records Requested:
Indicate clearly the records you are seeking, including subject matter, relevant names, locations, and dates. Be both as specific and as concise as possible. Your request may only seek records that are in existence at the time that the FOIA request is received; the FOIA does not require that Agencies create records in order to respond to FOIA requests. Be sure to date your request and provide your mailing address. Your phone number is optional, but including it can speed the processing of your request if the FOIA Specialist needs to contact you for clarification of your request.
Indicate whether or not OAC should consider your FOIA request for expedited processing. Expedited requests must show a compelling need such as: (1) imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual; (2) an urgency to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal Government activity if the request is made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information; (3) loss of substantial due process rights; or (4) a matter of widespread and exceptional media interest in which there exists possible questions affecting public confidence in the government's integrity.
Your Willingness to Pay:
Indicate in your FOIA request the amount that you are willing to pay without prior notification by OAC. Agencies are authorized by law to recover the direct costs of providing records to FOIA requesters. A requester may be required to pay fees for searching, reviewing, and copying records. Indicating this information in your request letter will speed the processing of your request. While many requests cost nothing to process, not providing the amount you will pay without notification may delay the processing of your request.
Indicate the fee category in which you feel your request falls. The 1986 FOIA amendment mandates reduced or waived fees if disclosure "is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the Government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester." 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(A)(iii).
Requests for fee waivers must be fully documented and justified by written explanation. For fee purposes, the FOIA requires that requesters be placed in one of the following four categories to determine how a requester should be charged:
- Commercial use requesters are charged the full direct cost of search, review and duplication, associated with processing their requests.
- News media are charged the cost of duplication alone, except that the first 100 pages are provided free of charge.
- Educational and noncommercial scientific institutions are charged the cost of duplication alone, except that the first 100 pages are provided free of charge.
- All other requesters are charged the direct costs of search and duplication, except that the first 2 hours of search and the first 100 pages of duplication are free of charge. No review charges are assessed for requesters in this category.
The Department of Agriculture has published FOIA guidelines for agencies to follow in making fee waiver determinations. The guidelines, found at 7 C.F.R, Subtitle A, Part 1, Subpart A, Appendix A, Section 6(a)(1), list six factors to be taken into consideration when assessing fee waiver requests. In order to be considered for a fee waiver, you must respond to each of the fee waiver factors.