On December 3 the Department of Transportation joined the growing list of federal agencies that agreed to release their report to the National Archives on recommendations for records management in full. The email sent to us by Transportation included PDF versions of the release letter, the memo accompanying the report, and the report (all available below).
As luck would have it, I got to talk about my request and this project with Transportation’s FOIA officer at a recent meeting of the American Society of Access Professionals (ASAP), a nongovernmental organization that brings together FOIA professionals from the government and the requester community (the report had landed in my email in-box prior to this discussion). As we expected when we first formulated this project, Transportation’s initial impulse was to withhold at least some of the material under exemption b5, which protects inter- and intra- governmental information. B5 exists at least in part to make sure that people within the government feel free to offer a full range of advice and opinions prior to a decision being made. Before making a final determination, however, the FOIA officer assessed whether the release of its recommendations to NARA would actually have a chilling effect on their willingness to provide input in the future. Transportation ultimately decided that it would not, and released the report in full.
The analysis Transportation described going through before applying the B5 exemption is exactly the kind of action all agencies need to go through in order to live up to the current Administration’s FOIA policy. As some of you may remember, a few months after taking office, Attorney General Holder directed agencies to use their discretion in applying FOIA exemptions. We hope all agencies are following in Transportation’s footsteps.
On 11/1 we received an email from the USDA with two pdfs attached: a letter (dated August 15 – before we submitted our request- and stamped October 31) telling us they were releasing the requested record in full, and the report.
On 10/18 Treasury sent us an email with two attachments: the agency’s response letter and the released record.
Treasury released the full 12 page document. See the response letter and the report below.
Treasury Response Letter
Treasury – Released RM Report
On 10/18 the SEC sent us an email with two pdfs attached: the agency’s response and the redacted record.
The response letter explained that the name of the employee who prepared the report was being withheld under FOIA Exemption 6 – personal privacy. The substance of the report was released in full. The letter also explained that since there were no fees associated with the request, my request for a fee waiver was moot.
See the Agency’s response and the record below.
SEC Response Letter
SEC- Released RM Report
On 10/12/2012 we were sent an email with a letter attached in pdf format that confirmed receipt of our request. The letter included contact information for the FOIA processor, but no tracking number.
On 10/11/2012 the SEC emailed us a PDF of a letter. The letter said that we they had categorized us as a “commercial” requester with regards to our fee status and letting us know of our right to appeal the determination. Commercial requesters are charged more fees than any of the other categories of requesters. As a non-profit 501(c)3 organization, we would not be using any responsive records for our commercial benefit, and should be categorized as an “other” requester. After emailing the FOIA processor to ask where we should send our appeal (the letter only indicated that appeals could be made to the General Counsel), we were told that the appeal must be sent in using the mail.
See the SEC’s fee letter here: (No. 13-00420-FOIA) Presidential Memorandum on Managing Government Records
We filed our request with the Securities Exchange Commission via email on 10/5/2012. We were emailed a PDF of a confirmation letter with contact information and the tracking number 10-00420-FOIA.