B. Mechanics of Operation
FOIA provides that “any person,” including corporations, associations, and foreign persons, entities and governments, may request agency records. Agency compliance is subject to the requester's willingness to pay search, copying, and for commercial requesters, review fees unless waived by the agency. FOIA does not impose any “need to know” requirement on requesters, and an agency must disclose any requested information that is not exempted.
- Definition of Agency
FOIA applies to any “agency,” which is defined to include any executive department, military department, Government corporation, Government-controlled corporation, or other establishment in the executive branch of the Government (including the Executive Office of the President), including any independent regulatory agency. The RRB is an independent federal agency in the executive branch of the federal government charged with the administration of the Railroad Retirement and Railroad Unemployment Insurance Acts.
- Application to Agency Records
FOIA applies only to “agency records.” Agency records are documents that (1) are either created or obtained by an agency, and (2) are in that agency's physical possession and under its control at the time of the FOIA request.
Records held outside the government but subject to an agency right of access are not agency records. FOIA does not compel government agencies to create records. In very rare circumstances courts may require agencies to attempt to recreate destroyed records or to provide an explanation for records containing codes or notations that mask the meaning of the records. “Records” include electronic and other media.
- Specificity and Form of Request
Requesters must “reasonably describe” records sought so as to “enable a professional employee of the agency who is familiar with the subject area of the request to locate the records with a reasonable amount of effort.” Requesters must also comply with all published rules of the agency.
A FOIA request to the RRB must be made in writing and cannot be made electronically through the Internet. It is easy to make a written FOIA request by mail. No form is needed. Mark both the envelope and its contents: “Freedom of Information Request” or “Information Request.” Address your request to:
Chief FOIA Officer (General Counsel)
Railroad Retirement Board
844 North Rush Street
Chicago, Illinois 60611-1275
If you want to request a record which we do not publish or which we do not make available in one of our offices, give us a detailed description of the record(s) you want. You should give us as many details as you can, such as names, dates, subject matter and location. A vague description could delay our answer or prevent us from finding the records you want. We will ask you to revise your request if we need information to find the record(s). You should include a daytime telephone number where you can be reached in case we have questions about your request.
- FOIA Requester Service Center
The RRB has designated its Office of General Counsel as its FOIA Requester Service Center for the purpose of facilitating better agency communications with FOIA requesters. The telephone number is (312) 751-4948.
The RRB has designated its Assistant General Counsel, Marguerite P. Dadabo, as its FOIA Public Liaison who will serve as the supervisory official to whom a FOIA requester can raise concerns about the service a FOIA requester has received from the center following an initial response from the center staff. Ms. Dadabo may be contacted at (312) 751-4945.
Separate and distinct from the agency is the RRB's Office of Inspector General (OIG). The OIG is responsible for promoting economy, efficiency and effectiveness, and for identifying and preventing fraud, waste and abuse in agency programs. The OIG conducts audits, investigations and management reviews of agency operations. You may submit a FOIA request for records in the OIG by regular mail or fax mail at the following:
Office of Inspector General
Freedom of Information Officer
844 North Rush Street , Room 450
Chicago, IL 60611-1275
A request to the OIG must meet the following criteria before it can be processed:
(1) It must be in writing and signed by the person making the request. No telephone requests will be accepted.
(2) It must state that the request is being made under the FOIA. If the exact records are unknown, a reasonable description should be given. If a fee waiver is requested, the category of the requester must be Stated (i.e., commercial, media, educational, etc.).
If you have questions regarding a FOIA request to the OIG, please call the OIG FOIA Coordinator at (312) 751-4350.
- Fees and Fee Waivers
Subject to some limitations, agencies may charge fees, according to published fee schedules, for searching for, reviewing, and copying the requested agency records. If a noncommercial requester makes the request, fees may only be charged for search time and copying. If the request is made by an educational or noncommercial scientific institution or a representative of the news media, fees may normally only be charged for search time. Additionally, noncommercial requesters may not be charged for the first 100 pages of document copying or for the first two hours of search time. Agencies reduce or waive fees where the disclosure of information is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding or the government activities and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
The RRB's fee schedule for FOIA requests is contained within 20 CFR § 200.4.
- Time for Administrative Determinations; Administrative Expedition
An agency is ordinarily required to make its initial determination within 20 working days of a receipt of a request for information, and to make a determination on any appeal within 20 working days of receipt of the appeal. In “unusual circumstances,” an agency can extend these deadlines by an additional 10 working days. A requester can obtain expedited processing of a request upon a showing of “compelling need” or in other cases determined by the agency to be appropriate. An agency must act on a request for expedition within 10 working days of its receipt. Where an agency fails to comply with the statutory deadlines, the requester may treat the delay as a denial and either appeal administratively or litigate in federal courts.
- Search Required
Agencies must make reasonable efforts to conduct a search for requested records. The agency cannot limit its search to only certain places if additional sources are likely to turn up the information requested. If a requester challenges the adequacy or thoroughness of an agency's search for records, the agency bears the burden of proving the reasonableness of its efforts and must provide details of the procedures used in its search.
- Segregation Requirement
Where a requested record contains exempt and nonexempt information, an agency must disclose nonexempt, reasonably segregable portions of the record. Determinations of whether record portions are reasonably segregable are based on the intelligibility of the nonexempt material and the burden of editing or segregating it.
- Explanation Required
Where an agency denies a request in whole or in part, the agency must provide the requester with an indication of which information will not be released, a statement of the reasons for withholding the records, a notice of the requester's right to appeal to the head of the agency, and a statement of the names and titles or positions of each person responsible for the denial.
- Administrative Appeal
A requester may appeal to the head of the agency a denial of a request, an inadequate agency search for records, an agency failure to respond to a request within the statutory time limits, the imposition of excessive fees, or the agency's denial of a request for waiver or reduction of fees. A requester may obtain expedited review upon a showing of “exceptional need or urgency.”
The requester may appeal any of the matters mentioned in the previous paragraph to the three-member Railroad Retirement Board which heads the Agency by sending a written appeal to the Secretary to the Board, 844 North Rush Street , Chicago , Illinois 60611-1275.
A copy of the denial should accompany the appeal. The Board will respond to the appeal within 20 business days.
A denial by the Board may be appealed to the United States District Court.
A requester may seek judicial review of the agency actions mentioned in the preceding paragraph.