Guide for Obtaining Information Using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) & Privacy Act (PA)
Disclaimer: To the extent that anything included in this guide may be or could be construed as inconsistent with the law or Department of Homeland Security directives, the law and directives will control the FLETC's responsibilities under the FOIA.
Table of Contents
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
4. Introduction to the FOIA.
5. What information is generally available by submitting a FOIA request?
6. What types of records does the FLETC maintain?
7. Whom do I contact in the Federal Government with my FOIA request?
8. How do I request information from the FLETC under the FOIA?
9. What about costs for getting records under the FOIA?
10. What are the fee categories?
11. Will the FLETC waive or reduce fees?
12. How long will it take to answer my FOIA request?
13. Does the FLETC provide expedited processing?
14. If I’m dissatisfied with the processing of my request, what are my rights?
15. How do I submit an appeal?
16. What can I do if my appeal is rejected?
17. FOIA Annual Report to Congress.
The Privacy Act (PA)
18. What is the PA?
19. Whom do I contact in the Federal Government with my PA request?
20. How do I know if the FLETC has a file on me?
21. How do I request information under the PA?
22. What about costs for getting records under the PA?
23. How long will it take to answer my PA request?
24. Can I be denied access to information under the PA?
25. What can I do if my PA request is denied?
26. If I discover that the FLETC is maintaining inaccurate information on me, what can I do?
We intend this reference guide to assist you in obtaining information from the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) under the FOIA, the PA, and by other means. The process is neither complicated nor time-consuming. Following the guidance below will make it more likely that you will receive the information you are seeking in the shortest amount of time. It is important to understand that there is no central office in the government that processes FOIA requests for all federal agencies. Each agency responds to requests for its own records. Therefore, before sending a request to the FLETC, you should determine whether we are likely to have the records you are seeking. Each agency already has or will soon issue its own FOIA reference guide. Therefore, if another agency maintains the records you seek, you may wish to request a copy of that agency's guide from its FOIA office. A list of principal FOIA contacts at other Federal agencies may be found at http://www.usdoj.gov/foia/foiacontacts.htm.
The information you are seeking may be available already in our Electronic Library. If it is not, you will need to submit a FOIA request. If you have questions on what information is available without submitting a FOIA request or where the information may be found, contact the FLETC Disclosure Office.
To obtain specific information about FLETC records, you may also refer to the Electronic Library.
Basically, the FOIA is an information access law, whereas the PA is an information protection law with limited access provisions. Anyone may submit a FOIA request for any type of record, but a PA request may only be made by the individual (or their legally authorized representative) covered by the requested records.
However, regardless of which act you cite in your request, we will process the request under the act that provides the greatest amount of access.
The Freedom of Information Act
The purpose of this part of the guide is to familiarize you with the specific procedures for making a FOIA request to the FLETC. You also may wish to click here for additional information regarding our FOIA program.
The information contained in this guide is not exhaustive or definitive. Further, to the extent that anything in the guide may be or could be construed as inconsistent with the law or Department of Homeland Security directives, the law and directives will control the FLETC’s responsibilities under the FOIA.
FOIA requests will be processed under 5 U.S.C. 552, as amended and the Department of Homeland Security directives implementing the Act (Management Directive 0460.1).
The FOIA (5 U.S.C. 552) generally provides that any person has a right to obtain access to Federal agency records unless they are protected from disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions. The FOIA requires agencies to: (1) provide automatic public access to certain information covered under sections 552(a)(1) and (a)(2) of the Act; and (2) make other records promptly available to any person in response to a FOIA request.
Under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(1), Federal agencies publish certain information in the Federal Register for the guidance of the public such as descriptions of their organization, functions, procedures, and substantive rules and statements of general policy.
In addition, under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(2), bureaus and offices will make other information available for inspection and copying in their reading rooms or at a time and location specified by the bureau/office. This information includes final opinions rendered in the adjudication of cases; policy statements and interpretations not published in the Federal Register; administrative staff manuals and instructions affecting a member of the public; copies of records frequently requested under the FOIA and an index of those documents. Bureaus and offices will make records covered under section 552(a)(2) of the FOIA that they create on or after November 1, 1996, available by Internet, or by other telecommunication or electronic means by November 1, 1997. The bureau/office may make other records available for inspection, copying, or via Internet at the their discretion.
The records described above are not necessarily made available in their entirety. Some identifying details and other privileged or sensitive information may be deleted prior to making records available for inspection and copying. If you would like access to the entire record, you must submit a written FOIA request and your request will be processed in accordance with the procedures described below. However, submission of a FOIA request does not guarantee that the entire record will be released. Portions may be withheld pursuant to a FOIA exemption if (1) a statute or Executive order prohibits disclosure or (2) grounds exist for invoking an exemption.
In keeping with the spirit of the FOIA, our policy is to make records available to the public to the greatest extent possible. We will provide you with the records requested, if they exist, unless the information in those records is protected from disclosure by one or more of the nine specific exemptions (reasons an agency may withhold records from a requester) and (1) a statute or Executive order prohibits disclosure or (2) grounds exist to withhold the requested records (i.e., disclosure of the material could potentially result in harm to an individual, a submitter of commercial or financial information, or the Government).
FOIA exemptions cover such material as:
(1) matters of national defense and foreign policy;
(2) internal personnel rules and practices;
(3) information exempted by other statutes;
(4) trade secrets, commercial or financial information (confidential business information);
(5) privileged interagency or intra-agency communications;
(6) personal information affecting an individual’s privacy;
(7) records compiled for law enforcement purposes;
(8) records of financial institutions; and
(9) geological and geophysical information concerning wells.
When you make a FOIA request, you must describe the material you want as specifically as possible. Your request will apply only to records in existence at the time your request is received. The FOIA does not require us to create records to respond to a request. Further, the FOIA does not require us to do research for requesters, analyze data, or to answer questions.
The FLETC is a training organization providing law enforcement training to many Federal agencies. Naturally, the majority of our records pertain to training. We maintain student training records as well as course records. In addition, we also maintain administrative records common to most Federal agencies. These include personnel, contract, and maintenance records to name a few.
The FLETC does not have an operational law enforcement mission. We do not conduct criminal investigations nor do we conduct police activities. Therefore, we do not maintain records pertaining to these activities.
It is important to understand that there is no central office in the Government that processes FOIA requests for all Federal agencies. Each department and agency responds to requests for its own records. Therefore, the FLETC is responsible for responding to FOIA requests for records under its purview only. If you are interested in records that may be found at another agency, a list of principal FOIA contacts at other Federal agencies may be found at http://www.usdoj.gov/oip/foia_updates/Vol_XIX_2/xix2page3.htm.
A number of Federal agencies have offices at the FLETC. However, we cannot process requests for information created or maintained by these offices. Send requests for this information to the agency's FOIA office.
You may request information in writing by mailing or faxing a letter to the FLETC Disclosure Office. You may also submit a request electronically by completing and submitting the FLETC Electronic FOIA Request Form found on this site. However, if the requested records contain personal information, we may ask you to establish your identity by requesting the information in writing and signing the request by hand. We will not accept telephone requests.
Before making a request under the FOIA, make sure we have not already made the information you seek available to the public in the FLETC Electronic Library.
When submitting a FOIA request, you must:
(1) Describe the requested records in enough detail so that they can be located with a reasonable amount of effort. Be as specific as possible in identifying the records you are seeking. Any facts or clues that you can furnish about the time, place, persons, events, subjects, or other details of the information or records you seek, will be helpful in deciding where to search and in determining which records pertain to your request. This can save you and the Government time and money as well as improve your prospects for getting what you want.
(2) Include a firm agreement to pay fees for search, duplication, or review, as appropriate. You may wish to specify the maximum amount of fees that you are willing to pay. You may request a waiver or reduction of fees. However, you must include a justification for such a request.
(3) Specify the fee category (commercial-use, news media, educational institution, non-commercial scientific institution, or other). The fee categories are explained below.
Ensure you make your request to the FLETC Disclosure Office. Submitting your request to another FLETC office may cause delays in the processing of your request. The statutory time limits for FOIA processing do not begin until the FOIA Office receives the request.
For written requests, we recommend including the words “FOIA REQUEST” on the request letter and the envelope and your name and telephone number (or an appropriate contact) in case we need additional information or clarification of your request.
The FLETC charges fees to recover the direct costs of searching for, reviewing (commercial-use requesters only), and duplicating documents to respond to a FOIA request (see Figure 1). However, we may waive or reduce fees when appropriate. We will not charge any requester if the fee is $25 or less.
|Duplication - Up to 8-1/2 by 14 inches||$.15 per page|
|Duplication - Greater than 8-1/2 by 14 inches||Actual direct cost|
|Duplication - Documents requiring special handling||Actual direct cost|
|Search||Salary rate of the employee performing the search|
|Review||Salary rate of the employee performing the review|
|Computer Costs||Actual direct cost|
We may charge for the time spent in trying to locate the requested records, whether documents responsive to the request are located or not (this includes computer search time). We may also charge commercial-use requesters for the time we spend examining a record to see if it may be released to the public in whole or in part, and the time we spend deleting information that we must protect from disclosure.
Duplication refers to the process of making a copy of a document in response to a FOIA request. We will provide the records you seek in whatever form/format you wish if the records are readily reproducible with reasonable effort in the requested form/format.
Depending on your previous payment history and the volume of records you are seeking, we may ask you to submit an advance payment (where the estimated fee is more than $250 or if you owe a balance on a previous request). Outstanding balances that are not paid within 30 calendar days are considered overdue. We will take appropriate action to collect the debt. Failure to pay FOIA fees can be the basis for our refusal to process future requests. We will not process your request until we have resolved the fee issue.
NOTE: You may specify the maximum amount of fees that you are willing to pay. However, if we reach the maximum prior to completion, we will stop processing your request. We will then notify you that we have reached the maximum and provide you an estimate of the amount of fees we will require you to pay should we complete the processing of your request. You will then have two options: (1) If we were able to process any information prior to reaching the maximum, you may elect to receive that information; or (2) You may increase the maximum amount of fees that you are willing to pay.
There are five categories of requesters for the purposes of assessing fees. You should tell us what category you believe you fall under in your request.
COMMERCIAL REQUESTS. A requester seeking information for a use or purpose that furthers a commercial, trade, or profit interest is considered to make a commercial use request. We will assess fees for search, review, and duplication incurred in processing the request.
EDUCATIONAL INSTITUTION REQUESTS. If a requester demonstrates that they are making a request on behalf of an educational institution and in furtherance of the institution's program of scholarly research rather than individual research or commercial use, we assess duplication fees only. Further, the first 100 pages are free. Preschools, public or private elementary or secondary schools; institutions of undergraduate higher education, graduate higher education, professional education, or institutions of vocational education operating programs of scholarly research qualify as educational institutions.
NON-COMMERCIAL SCIENTIFIC INSTITUTION REQUESTS. If a requester demonstrates that they are making a request on behalf of a non-commercial scientific institution operating solely for conducting scientific research, the results of which are not intended to promote any particular product or industry, we assess duplication fees only. Further, the first 100 pages are free.
NEWS MEDIA REQUESTS. A representative of the news media who is actively gathering news for an entity organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the public. If a representative of the news media requests information for news media purposes we will assess duplication fees only . Further, the first 100 pages are free. "News" means information about current events or of current interest to the public. Examples of news media entities include television or radio stations broadcasting to the public at large, and publishers of periodicals who are disseminators of "news," who make their products available for purchase or subscription by the general public. "Freelance" journalists may be considered representatives of the media if they demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication through a news organization, even if they are not actually employed by the organization. Proof may be by publication contract or assignment. A requester's publication record may also indicate expectation of publication.
ALL OTHER REQUESTS. Requests that do not qualify in another category are considered "other" requests for fee purposes. Examples are requests from nonprofit organizations and persons having a personal interest in an accident or incident in which they were directly involved. "Other" requesters receive two hours search, all review, and the first 100 pages free.
|CATEGORY||SEARCH FEES||REVIEW FEES||DUPLICATION FEES|
Yes (100 pages free)
|Non-Commercial Scientific Institution||No||No||Yes (100 pages free)|
|News Media||No||No||Yes (100 pages free)|
|All Other||Yes (2 hours free)||No||Yes (100 pages free)|
If we advise you or you expect that we will charge fees, you may request a waiver of fees. However, fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested 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 is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. Requests for fee waivers from individuals who are seeking records pertaining to themselves are usually denied under this standard because such disclosures will not usually result in any increase of the public's understanding of government operations and activities. In addition, a requester's inability to pay fees is not a legal basis for granting a fee waiver. The fact that we may have granted you a fee waiver in the past does not mean you are entitled to receive an automatic fee waiver for future requests. Requests for waiver or reduction of fees should be submitted with requests for records under the FOIA and should include any facts or arguments that might support the request. We will not start processing your request until the fee waiver issue is resolved and you have provided written assurance of payment in full if the fee waiver is denied.
Under the FOIA, you have a right to a decision within 20 workdays of receipt of your inquiry by the FOIA Office. This excludes weekends and holidays. We make every effort to meet this timeframe. If you have not received a reply by the end of that time (be sure to allow for mailing time), you may write a follow-up letter or telephone the FOIA Office to ask about the delay. Under the FOIA, we may extend the response time for an additional 10 workdays when: (1) we need to collect responsive records from field offices; (2) the request involves a "voluminous" amount of records that must be located, compiled, and reviewed; or (3) we must consult with another agency that has a substantial interest in the responsive material. When we need such an extension, we will notify you of this in writing and offer you the opportunity to modify or limit the scope of your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request.
Due to the complexity of certain requests and legal reviews, it may take a substantially longer time to fully respond to a request. In these instances, we will keep you informed about the status of your request.
Normally, there is little or no need to request expedited processing for a FOIA request to the FLETC. We are able to process 80% of our requests within 10 workdays and 90% within 20 workdays. Those requests that we are unable to process within 20 workdays are typically request for contract records that require us to provide the submitter of the commercial information the opportunity to object to its release.
However, you may request expedited processing and under certain conditions you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis. You should realize that whenever we expedite a FOIA request for a particular requester, it may result in an additional delay for previous requesters who have been waiting for a response. Therefore, in an effort to treat all requesters equitably, we ordinarily will process a FOIA request ahead of others only in cases in which there will be a threat to someone's life or physical safety, or where an individual will suffer the loss of substantial due process rights if the records are not processed on an expedited bases. In most cases, we will not expedite a request simply because the requester is facing a court deadline in a judicial proceeding. In both criminal prosecutions and civil litigation there is a process known as "discovery," which gives the parties certain rights to obtain relevant information apart from the FOIA. These discovery rights are usually sufficient to protect the requester's due process rights. In administrative proceedings that do not include such procedures for obtaining access to necessary information, we may grant expedited access when time is of the essence.
We may also expedite the processing of your request if you are primarily engaged in disseminating information to the public and you urgently need the requested information to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity. We will not expedite requests merely because the requester is a representative of the news media. Similarly, we may expedite requests when the subject is of widespread and exceptional media interest and the information sought involves possible questions about the government's integrity which effect public confidence.
A statement setting forth the reasons why we should expedite your request must accompany requests for expedited processing. You should certify that the reasons you give are true and correct. We will notify you of our decision about whether to grant expedited processing within no more than ten days after receiving your letter. If we deny your request for expedited processing, we will advise you of your right to submit an administrative appeal, which we will handle expeditiously.
We will deny a FOIA request, in whole or in part, only if the information is covered by one of the nine exemptions listed above, and (1) a statute or Executive order prohibits disclosure or (2) release of the information could be harmful to an individual, a business, or the Government. We may also deny your request for a fee waiver (or reduction) if we determine that disclosure of the information is not in the public interest. In either instance, we will give you the reason for the denial in writing, the name of the person(s) responsible for the denial, and inform you of your right to appeal the decision. In addition, if the records you seek are not located or do not exist at the FLETC, we will notify you in writing of your right to appeal. You also have a right to appeal, if you have not heard from us within 20 workdays or if we deny your request for expedited processing.
You have the right to appeal a decision to withhold records, a "no records" response, a denial of a request for a fee waiver (or reduction), or a denial of a request for expedited processing. You must submit any such appeal 60 days of our decision.
You should send a letter to the FLETC FOIA Appeals Officer within 35 days at the following address:
Federal Law Enforcement Training Center
Building #681, Suite 187B
Glynco, GA 31524
The appeal should contain the basis for disagreement with the initial denial. You must include copies of the original request for information and our letter of denial (or final response). You do not need to enclose copies of any documents released to you.
We have 20 workdays to respond to your appeal after we receive it. Under certain circumstances, we may also require an extension of up to 10 workdays. If, however, we took an additional 10 days to respond to your initial request, we are not entitled to an extension of the appeal. However, we may contact you and invite you to agree to a voluntary extension of time. The voluntary extension will not exceed 10 workdays, unless exceptional circumstances require a longer period.
If you are dissatisfied with our response to your appeal, you can file a FOIA lawsuit in the U.S. District Court where you live, where you have your principal place of business, where the documents are kept, or in the District of Columbia. If you win a substantial portion of your case, the court may require the Government to pay court costs and reasonable attorney's fees for you.
Under 5 U.S.C. 552(e), we are required to submit an annual report to the Department of Homeland Security on our FOIA activities. This report is consolidated with the reports of other DHS bureaus and submitted to Congress. The report includes statistical information about FOIA requests, appeals, and litigation against the FLETC. You may obtain copies of our annual FOIA report by writing to the FLETC Disclosure Office. A copy of our most recent report is available electronically in our Library. In accordance with the "Electronic FOIA Amendments of 1996," future annual FOIA reports will also be accessible through our Library. (Please note that beginning with the 1998 report, the reporting period changed from calendar year to fiscal year.)
The Privacy Act
18. What is the PA?
The PA, 5 U.S.C. 552a, passed by Congress in 1974, provides safeguards against an invasion of privacy through the misuse of records by Federal agencies. The PA allows you to learn how the Federal Government collects, maintains, uses, and disseminates information pertaining to you. If you are a United States citizen or permanent resident, you can use the PA to obtain records about yourself. The PA only applies to records about you that are contained in a “system of records,” meaning that notice has been published in the Federal Register that the records are being maintained by a Federal agency and that the records are retrieved by your name, social security number, or some other personal identifier. In other words, the PA does not apply to information about individuals in records that are filed under other subjects, such as organizations or events, unless the agency also indexes and retrieves them by individual names or other personal identifiers. Like the FOIA, the PA applies to records held by Federal agencies.
The PA guarantees your right to see records about yourself, unless the information in those records is protected by one of the PA’s ten exemptions. If your record is not exempt, the PA gives you the right to obtain a copy, amend a record if it is inaccurate, irrelevant, untimely, or incomplete. In addition, the PA also gives you the right to know to whom your records have been disclosed. If we deny you access, improperly disclose your record, or otherwise violate the PA, the PA gives you the right to sue in Federal Court. If you are interested in more details, you should read the PA.
As with the FOIA, there is no central office in the Government that processes PA requests for all Federal agencies. Each department and agency responds to requests for its own records. Therefore, the FLETC is responsible for responding to PA requests for records under its purview only.
At the present time, we maintain four systems of records. Most of the records systems pertain only to FLETC employees, current and former FLETC students, and other individuals who have access to the Center. If you are interested in records that may be maintained by other Federal agencies, you must contact them directly.
If you think the FLETC has a file pertaining to you, write to the FLETC Disclosure Office. The FLETC, like other Federal agencies, generally is required to inform you, upon request, whether or not it has PA files on you. In addition, we are required to publish all systems of records they keep on individuals in the Federal Register. We have also included our systems of records notices on this site.
You may request information under the PA in writing or by appearing in person. We cannot accept electronic PA requests. If you choose to request the information in writing, mail a request to the FLETC Disclosure Office. However, we cannot process a request unless you establish your identity. This can be done by providing a signature, address, and one other item of identification such as a photocopy of a driver's license or other document bearing your signature. Alternatively, you may provide a notarized statement affirming your identity and the fact that you understand the penalties provided in the PA for requesting or obtaining access to records under false pretenses.
If you know the systems of records involved, you may visit the system manager (see the system of records notices) for that system or the FLETC Disclosure Office. Just like written requests, we will ask you to establish your identity. You can do this by presenting one document bearing a photograph (driver's license, passport, identification badge, etc.), presenting two items of identification that do not bear a photograph but do bear both a name and address, or providing a notarized statement similar to the one described above.
When making a request, please provide sufficient details about yourself and the records you are seeking so that a search of the files may be conducted. Give as much information as possible as to why you believe the FLETC has records about you.
For written requests, be sure to write "Privacy Act Request" clearly on both the letter and the envelope. You should state that you are seeking records pertaining to you and provide any additional identifying information as necessary. Remember to sign your request for information, since your signature identifies you as the individual to whom the records apply. If you think information pertaining to you may be filed under a name other than the one you are currently using, you should include this information in the request and provide supporting documentation.
If we need additional proof of identity before releasing your files, we will let you know.
Under the PA, the FLETC charges only for the cost of copying records for you, not for time spent locating or reviewing them. We will waive the cost of the first 100 pages and charge $.15 per page thereafter. We will also waive fees if the total is less than $25.00.
Under the PA, the FLETC is not required to reply to a request for access to records within a given period of time. However, we are able to respond to most requests within 10 workdays. Department of Homeland Security directives require that we respond not later that 30 workdays after receipt of a valid request. If we cannot make a response within 30 workdays, we will advise you in writing of the reason(s) for the delay and the approximate date when we will respond to your request.
When you request access to your own record maintained in a system of records, we must have both a PA exemption and a FOIA exemption in order to withhold the record. However, if we do not grant access because you have not provided sufficient identifying information or otherwise not cooperated by furnishing a proper request, you may not consider your request for access denied.
If an deny your request for access, we will notify you of the reasons for denial, including the citation of appropriate exemptions of the PA and the FOIA.
The PA does not provide for appeal rights when access to records is denied. However, since the information must be protected by both the PA and FOIA in order for us to withhold it, you may use the FOIA appeal process to appeal our decision to withhold records. Alternatively, you may file suit in an appropriate court pursuant to Subsection 552a(g)(1) of the PA.
Under the provisions of the PA, you may request that we amend any record, or portion of a record, if you are the subject of the record, the record is a part of a system of records, and you can present evidence or arguments to support your claim that the record is not accurate, complete, timely, or relevant.
Should you wish to amend a record, please contact the FLETC Disclosure Office.