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Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act Reference Guide

Freedom of Information Act and Privacy Act Reference Guide
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—FOIA services for USDA's Research, Education, and Economics (REE) agencies:

  • Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
  • Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES)
  • National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)
  • Economic Research Service (ERS)

This website is a reference guide that outlines specific procedures for making a FOIA request to the REE agencies. ARS is responsible for administering the FOIA for all four REE agencies.

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides that any person has the right to request access to Federal documents and other information. Agencies of the Federal Government are required to disclose documents after receiving a FOIA request for them, unless those documents are protected from disclosure by one of nine exemptions of the FOIA.


"Nothing could be more irrational than to give the people power and to withhold from them information, without which power is abused. A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both." —James Madison  



How to access non-FOIA records

Each REE agency maintains a website on the Internet and provides direct access to information available from their agency. Certain information maintained by the REE agencies is public information and readily available for distribution upon request by an individual. If you are unable to locate the information you are seeking, you can file a FOIA request.

Links to REE Agency websites:


How to make a FOIA request

FOIA requests must be in writing and are accepted by mail, facsimile, or e-mail. In making an electronic request, you may want to use the REE FOIA Request Form.

Submit your request to:

FOIA Officer
5601 Sunnyside Avenue
Bldg. 1, Rm. 2248
Beltsville, MD 20705-5128
Telephone: 301-504-1640 or 301-504-1655
Facsimile: 301-504-1647; TTY: 301-504-1743

In making your request, it is important to identify the records you want as accurately as possible, with as much detail that would be helpful for locating the information. The more precise and accurate the request, the more likely you are to get a complete response. We suggest you include the following:

  • The specific documents you are seeking
  • The name of the individual(s), staff(s) or location name(s) and the location(s) where the documents are maintained
  • Time period covered by your request
  • Grant or contract numbers, if applicable
  • Your telephone number, e-mail address, and mailing address
  • Fee information (see below)

A request may only seek records that are in existence at the time that the FOIA request is received. The FOIA does not require that new records be created in response to the request and does not require agencies to do research for you, to analyze data, or to answer written questions.

Fees: Agencies are authorized by law to recover the direct costs of providing information to a FOIA requester. The FOIA requires that requesters be placed in one of the following three categories:

  1. Commercial requesters may be charged the full fees for searching, reviewing, and duplicating the documents.
  2. Educational or noncommercial scientific institutions and representatives of the news media may be charged only for duplication, minus the first 100 pages.
  3. All other requesters may be charged fees for searching for documents and duplication, minus the first 2 hours of search time and the first 100 pages.

The costs associated with searching for and reviewing records responsive to a request are: the salary rate of the employee conducting the search, plus 16 percent of the employee’s basic pay; or where a homogeneous class of personnel is used exclusively, $10.00 per hour for clerical time and $20.00 per hour for supervisory or professional time. Duplication of pages 8 ½” x 14” or smaller is $0.20 per page. Duplication of pages larger than 8 ½” x 14” is $0.50 per page. Certifications are $5.00 each.

No fee will be charged if the amount is less than $25. In cases where no documents are located, the Agency is entitled to charge the requester for any applicable search time involved.

Fee Waivers: Fee waivers may be granted when disclosure of the documents is in the public interest and is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the Government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

When making a fee waiver request, the following six factors must be addressed in sufficient detail:

  1. The subject of the request, i.e., whether the subject of the requested records concerns the operations or activities of the government.
  2. The informative value of the information to be disclosed, i.e., whether the disclosure is likely to contribute to public understanding of government operations or activities.
  3. The contribution to an understanding of the subject by the general public likely to result from disclosure, i.e., whether disclosure of the requested information will contribute to public understanding.
  4. The significance of the contribution to public understanding, i.e., whether disclosure is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of government operations or activities.
  5. The existence and magnitude of a commercial interest, i.e., whether the requester has a commercial interest that would be furthered by the requested disclosure; and if so,
  6. The primary interest in disclosure, i.e., whether the magnitude of the identified commercial interest of the requester is sufficiently large in comparison with the public interest in disclosure.

Appeals: A person whose initial FOIA request for documents has been denied, either in part or in whole, or who has received a no records response, or whose request for a fee waiver has been denied, has the right to appeal the denial to the appropriate REE administrator within 45 days after receipt of notification of the denial.

Exemptions: A request for records may be denied if the requested record contains information that falls into one or more of the 9 exemptions listed below. If the requested record contains both exempt and nonexempt information, the nonexempt portions that may reasonably be segregated from the exempt portions will be released to the requester.

  • Exemption 1 - Records which are specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in interest of national defense or foreign policy and are in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive Order.
  • Exemption 2 - Records related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of the agency.
  • Exemption 3 - Records specifically exempted from disclosure by statute, provided that such statute: a. Requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issues; or b. Establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld.
  • Exemption 4 - Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential.
  • Exemption 5 - Interagency or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.
  • Exemption 6 - Personnel, medical, and similar files when the disclosure of such information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
  • Exemption 7 - Records compiled for law enforcement purposes.
  • Exemption 8 - Records that are contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.
  • Exemption 9 - Geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.

Time Limits: Agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. This period does not begin until the request is actually received by the FOIA office. In specific situations, an additional 10-day extension may be granted in responding to a request. The FOIA provides for extensions of initial time limits under unusual circumstances, which are defined as (1) the need to search for and collect records from separate offices; (2) the need to examine a voluminous amount of records required by the request; and (3) the need to consult with another agency or agency component.

Privacy Act: The Privacy Act (PA), 5 U.S.C. 552a, protects individuals against clearly unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy. The PA informs individuals as to what information is maintained on them and where the information is stored and allows an individual to access documents maintained in a PA System of Records (records retrievable by an individual's name or other personal identifier) and to request an amendment of the records. Documents maintained in a PA System of Records are available to first-party requesters (individuals that the record pertains to) or their representatives unless they fall within the exemptions of both the PA and the FOIA. An individual submitting a PA request shall be asked to provide proof of identity, i.e., photo identification or a notarized statement confirming your identity. This requirement ensures that personal information will not be wrongfully disclosed. Agencies are required to respond to a PA request within 10 business days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. This period does not begin until the request is actually received by the PA Office. In specific situations, an additional 10-day extension may be granted in responding to a request.


Contact Information

Valerie Herberger
Stasia Hutchison
FOIA/PA Office
5601 Sunnyside Ave.
Bldg. 1, Rm. 2248
Beltsville, MD 20705-5128
Telephone: 301-504-1640 or 301-504-1655
Facsimile: 301-504-1647
TTY: 301-504-1743


Reading Room

REE maintains both electronic and conventional reading rooms required under subsection (a)(2), which includes final opinions and orders made in adjudicating cases, final statements of policy and interpretations that have not been published in the Federal Register, administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect members of the public, and an index of records released by FOIA that are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records. Paper copies of (a)(2) documents are available for inspection and copying at Room 2248, Building 1, 5601 Sunnyside Avenue, Beltsville, Maryland. Electronic copies of (a)(2) documents can be accessed through the links provided below:

  • USDA Annual Report contains information on the administration of FOIA activities for all of USDA and includes information for the REE agencies.  
  • USDA FOIA Improvement Plan as required under Executive Order 13392, Improving Agency Disclosure of Information, provides a review of FOIA operations for USDA and includes information for the REE agencies.  



FOIA Service Center

The FOIA Service Center is the first place a FOIA requester can contact to seek information concerning the status of their FOIA request and information about the agency’s FOIA response. Any concerns about the service a requester has received from the Service Center can be addressed to the FOIA Public Liaison.

  • FOIA Requester Service Center:
    Telephone 301-504-1743
  • FOIA Public Liaisons:
    Valerie Herberger and Stasia Hutchison
    Telephone 301-504-1743






Text of Freedom of Information Act
USDA FOIA website
Text of Privacy Act
USDA Privacy Act regulations
FOIA and PA policies and procedures for REE personnel
REE FOIA Request Form
REE Privacy Act systems of records for—
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES)
National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)
FOIA regulations for—
USDA: 7 CFR Part 1
ARS: 7 CFR Part 510
CSREES: 7 CFR Part 3404
ERS: 7 CFR Part 3701
NASS: 7 CFR Part 3601
Last Modified: 10/10/2008
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