As some of you may remember, in mid-December I called the DHS FOIA Customer Service Center to ask about my request because I had yet to receive a tracking number, or even an acknowledgement of my request. At that time I was told that there was no record of my request in the system, and was asked to please re-submit my request via email. Today I decided to check back in on my request with the Department of Homeland Security because I still had not gotten a tracking number, or any acknowledgement.
The good news? The FOIA Customer Service Center found my original request – according to their records, an acknowledgement letter had been sent out on October 16 – only a few days after I emailed my original request. It seems that letter must have been lost in the mail, however, since I have never seen it (and, by the way, I still don’t see any logic behind agencies answer FOIA requests submitted via email and explicitly requesting electronic copies of records in an electronic format with a paper letter sent via US mail). I even managed to get the tracking number assigned to the original request: 2013-HQFO-0091-JH.
The bad news? I still have no clue when I might actually receive a response to me request. I also have no idea why they could not find the record the first time I called the service center, or what happened to the second request. I’m also preparing myself to have to scan in any (hopefully) released documents before I can make them available for anyone else who might be interested in the text.
UPDATE: DHS finally emailed me a copy of the acknowledgement letter to my original request made on October 4 (still no word on the second request I submitted when DHS told me it had no record of my request in December…). I’m very glad to know DHS can email back requesters, but am all the more perplexed as to why they put the letter in the mail in the first place.
Annoyingly, the acknowledgement letter says that DHS will take additional time to process the request because my “request seeks numerous documents that will necessitate a thorough and wide-ranging search.” The request clearly seeks only a single document: we made such a significantly narrow request so that our project would not create an undue burden on FOIA offices.
We found similar language regarding “numerous documents” in the acknowledgement letter sent to us by DOD – when we called the FOIA processor to make sure there was not a misunderstanding about what we are seeking, he told us it was standard language they include in all letters. Using such language is disingenuous, at best, and – as our commenter Kel McClanahan has pointed out – not allowed under the FOIA.
Bennett Amy Ack ltr 1
Almost a full month after learning that our request to the Department of Justice had been referred to another division within the Department, we finally received a letter acknowledging that the Justice Management Division (JMD) had received our request and has assigned it a new tracking number (2582614). The letter, which can be downloaded below, was sent to us via US mail, and does not reference our request that all records be released electronically — hopefully the printed-out letter is not a sign of things to come.
DOJ – JMD tracking #
On 10/26 I walked into my office to find a letter sent by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Inside was a letter acknowledging my request and assigning me a tracking number (13-00159-F). The good news is that VA has classified my request as “simple,” which should mean that I get a response sooner than if it was placed in the “complex” track…I just hope that the final response does not come in the mail.
VA Tracking Number
On 10/22 we received an email letting us know that a response to our request with the Department of Justice had been sent to our “eFOIA Portal account.” It took us a few tries to log in to our account because first, the CAPTCHA words were not appearing; then, we had a hard time deciphering them once they did appear.
Once we were finally logged in, we saw that our request had been assigned a tracking number and that processing was “in progress.” We had not been assigned an estimated date of completion yet.
Our initial request had been directed to the Office of the Attorney General, and, as such, was handled by the Office of Information Policy (OIP). According to the letter we downloaded, OIP determined the record we are requesting is likely to be help the Justice Management Division (JMD), and they were forwarding our request on to them. Since DOJ has a de-centralized FOIA processing system, our request can no longer be tracked in the eFOIA Portal. We were told that we would “need to contact JMD to obtain information regarding the processing status of your request.”
At least we will not have to decipher any more CAPTCHA words…
NARA denied our request in full on 10/9/2012. NARA had by far the shortest response time. Download the denial letter below. Interestingly, the tracking number referenced in the letter (NGC13-011) is different than the tracking number assigned to us by the automatically generated email (NARA-NGC-2013-000016).
A few days after submitting our FOIA request to HHS, a postcard came in the mail with our tracking number – 2013-0021MT (see picture below). The postcard, which was also hand-addressed, included a phone number and mailing address for the FOIA office.
On 10/11/12 the Department of Defense sent us the following email:
This is an interim response to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
request dated October 4, 2012 which was received in this office on the same
day. Your request has been assigned case number 13-F-0016 and we ask that
you use that number when referring to your request.
We will be unable to respond to your request within the FOIA’s 20 day
statutory time period as there are unusual circumstances which impact on our
ability to quickly process your request. These unusual circumstances are:
(a) the need to search for and collect records from a facility
geographically separated from this Office; (b) the potential volume of
records responsive to your request; and (c) the need for consultation with
one or more other agencies or DoD components having a substantial interest
in either the determination or the subject matter of the records. For these
reasons, your request has been placed in our complex processing queue and
will be worked in the order the request was received. Our current
administrative workload is 1,199 open requests.
If you would like to discuss how to limit your request in order to
speed the processing time, we would be pleased to discuss how you might
modify your request. The action officer assigned to your request is Donald
Nichelson at (571) 372-0425. The toll free number for this Office is
You may not be aware that we maintain a website and electronic reading
room at: http://www.dod.mil/pubs/foi/.
We called and left a message the following day clarifying that we are looking for a single record and attempting to better describe the report.