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How to Make a FOIA Request

How to Make a FOIA Request


In accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and USDA regulations at 7 CFR, any person can request access to NRCS records. The FOIA requires the NRCS to allow the public to have access unless the information is exempt under the 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 the Freedom of Information Act, and address the request to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. If you are not sure which agency within USDA has the information you want, send your request to the USDA FOIA Officer at the following address:

Carol Vartuli - State Administrative Officer (NH-VT)
USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service
356 Mountain View Drive
Suite 105
Colchester, Vermont 05446
carol.vartuli@vt.usda.gov

Identify the records you want as accurately as possible, with as much detail that would be helpful for locating the information (subject matter, date, place where the record was created, the person or office that created it, the present custodian of the record, etc). A request may only seek records that are in existence at the time that the FOIA request is received, and may not require that new records be created in response to the request.

Provide your phone number and mailing address so that NRCS employees may contact you if needed (for clarification of your request, etc).

FOIA Fees

NRCS is authorized by law to recover the direct costs of providing information to a FOIA requester. A requester may be required to pay fees for searching, reviewing, and copying records. You will be notified in advance if fees will exceed $25.

Fee Categories

For fee purposes, the FOIA requires that requesters be placed in one of the following four categories: (1) commercial use requesters; (2) news media, (3) educational institution, noncommercial scientific institution, and (4) all others. Commercial use requesters are charged the full direct cost of search, review and duplication, associated with processing their requests. Scientific, educational, and news media requesters 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 duplications are free of charge. No review charges are assessed for requesters in this last category.

Specify the fee category in which you feel your request falls. State the maximum amount of fees that you are willing to pay, or include a request for a fee waiver.

Fee Waivers

The FOIA permits agencies to waive fees if disclosure of the records is in the public interest because it: (a) is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government (Does the record concern the operations or activities of the government? Is disclosure likely to contribute to the public understanding of these operations and activities? Will that contribution be significant?); and (b) is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

Requests for fee waivers must be fully documented and justified by written explanation. The U.S. Department of Justice, which oversees FOIA compliance throughout the federal government, sets out a six-part test for agencies to follow when evaluating a request for fee waivers.

Privacy Act: Under the Privacy Act (PA), a person may seek access to records that are retrieved by that person's name or other personal identifier, such as social security number or employee identification number. Such records will be made available unless they fall within the exemptions of the PA and the FOIA.

Detailed information concerning USDA policies and procedures for obtaining access to information under the FOIA and the PA is available in 7 CFR Part 1, Subpart A, or by calling the NRCS FOIA Officer between the hours of 8 a.m. and 4 p.m.

Mary A. Alston
FOIA/PA Program Manager
5601 Sunnyside Ave.
Room 1-2156
Beltsville, Maryland 20705-5000
mary.alston@wdc.usda.gov
Tel. (301) 504-2286
Fax. (301) 504-0424