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:
USDA FOIA Service Center
1400 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC 20250
USDA FOIA Service Center email:USDAfoia@da.usda.gov
NRCS FOIA Service Center email: NRCS-FOIA@wdc.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).
There is no initial fee to file a FOIA request, however, an agency is entitled to charge certain fees, which depend on the category of requester you fall into.
For the purposes of fees only, the FOIA divides requesters into three categories. Commercial requesters may be charged fees for searching for records, processing the records, and photocopying them. Educational or noncommercial scientific institutions and representatives of the news media are charged only for photocopying expenses, after the first 100 pages of copies. Requesters who do not fall into either of these two categories are not charged for processing; they are charged only for record searches and photocopying - and there is no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of photocopies. USDA currently charges .20 cents per page for photocopying. In all cases, if the total fee does not exceed a minimum amount, currently $25.00, USDA will not charge any fee at all.
You may always include in your request letter a specific statement limiting the amount that you are willing to pay in fees. If you do not do so, you will be asked to express your commitment to pay the estimated fees and the processing of your request will be suspended until you agree to do so. You ordinarily will not be required to actually pay the fees until the records have been processed and are ready to be sent to you. If, however, you have failed to pay fees within 30 days of billing in the past, or if the estimated fees exceed $250, you may be required to pay the estimated fees in advance, that is, before the records are processed. If you agree to pay fees and then fail to do so within 30 days of billing, you may be charged interest on your overdue balance and USDA will not process any further requests from you until payment has been made in full. If you agree to pay fees for searching for records, be aware that you may be required to pay such fees even if the search does not locate any responsive records or, if records are located, they are withheld as entirely exempt.
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.
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.
National FOIA Officer
Natural Resources Conservation Service
United States Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave., S.W.
Washington, DC 20250
Fax. (202) 720-9030