FOIA Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
To obtain information about the FOIA process at the FLRA, set forth below are answers to frequently asked questions (FAQs). Before filing a FOIA request with the FLRA, please consult the full text of the FLRA's regulations implementing the FOIA, found at 5 C.F.R. §§ 2411.1 – 2411.15. In addition, you may wish to consult the United States Department of Justice's annual guide to the FOIA entitled Freedom of Information Act Guide and Privacy Overview that contains an extensive analysis of the FOIA statute and case law. If these reference guides do not provide you the information you need to submit your FOIA request, you can also contact the FLRA via phone, email, or surface mail. Get contact information at: http://www.flra.gov/hdbook4.html
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the Freedom of Information Act?
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, as implemented by the FLRA's regulations at Part 2411, is a law that requires Federal agencies to disclose records after receiving a written request for them, except for those records, or portions of records, which are protected from disclosure by one of the Exemptions contained in the FOIA. The language of the FOIA and the FLRA's regulations governs any conflict that may arise between the guidance offered here and those provisions.
What should your request for information contain?
Your request must be in writing. You should clearly mark your envelope as a "FOIA Request." Your letter should identify what record, or parts of a record, that you are seeking as legibly and concisely as possible. Describe the records in sufficient detail that they will be able to be located with due diligence. Please include a telephone number where you may be reached during the day in case it is necessary to contact you to clarify your request. Our experience has shown that personal contact with the requester helps to clarify the request, which, in turn, decreases the time taken to respond to the request.
Where should you send your FOIA request?
Section 2411.5 outlines the procedure for requesting information. Requests for information, documents, and records located in the offices of: (1) the FLRA in Washington, D.C. should be submitted to the FLRA’s Solicitor; (2) the General Counsel in Washington, D.C. should be submitted to the FOIA Officer, Office of the General Counsel (OGC); (3) the Federal Service Impasses Panel should be submitted to the Executive Director of FSIP, Washington, D.C.; (4) the Office of the Inspector General should be addressed to the Inspector General; and (3) in a Regional Office should be submitted to the Regional Director.
What happens if you send your request to the wrong office within the FLRA?
The office that first receives the request will forward the request to the office where the records are located for a response. For example, if a request is for a record that is maintained in the Office of the General Counsel, the request will be forwarded to the FLRA's General Counsel for response. In any event, the time period for responding to the request begins to run no later than ten days after the request is received by any Authority component responsible for receiving FOIA requests . See section 2411.8(a).
When can you expect to receive a response to your request?
The FOIA requires that all Federal agencies respond to requests within 20 business days. The Authority makes every effort to act on a request with this time frame. If we determine that your request will take longer than 20 days to process, we will notify you in writing explaining the circumstances requiring the extension and establishing a date for response not more than 10 working days beyond the initial 20-day deadline.
However, if the FOIA processing office determines that the request cannot be processed within this 10-day extension, we will provide you with an opportunity to modify your request so that it may be processed within the extended time limit, or provide you with an opportunity to arrange an alternative timeframe for processing the original or modified request. FLRA personnel will either call you to discuss this matter or send you a letter apprising you of these options and a date by which you can expect a response.
You may also seek expedited processing of you FOIA request if you have a compelling need for the documents.
What types of information may be withheld from you and why?
The FLRA is an adjudicatory agency, one of whose principal tasks is to decide cases arising under the Federal Service Labor-Management Relations Statute (the Statute). In order to perform the many and varied functions in administering and enforcing the Statute, the FLRA is organized into three distinct components. The Authority adjudicates disputes concerning negotiability of collective bargaining proposals, unfair labor practice allegations and representation petitions, and exceptions to grievance arbitration awards. The General Counsel investigates unfair labor practice (ULP) charges and prosecutes ULP complaints and is delegated authority to process representation petitions. The Federal Service Impasses Panel resolves bargaining impasses arising from negotiations over conditions of employment.
As such, some information in agency files may be covered by one of several disclosure Exemptions contained in the FOIA. The most frequently relied upon Exemptions to withhold information in agency files are:
Exemption 5: This Exemption allows an agency to withhold "inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency." The attorney work-product privilege and deliberative process privilege are privileges that are covered by this Exemption. Examples of documents that are covered by this Exemption are final investigative reports, various memoranda and notes to the file, chronology logs, and witness statements.
Exemption 6: This Exemption permits the withholding of information about individuals in "personnel and medical files and similar files" when the disclosure of such information "would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy."
Exemptions (7)(A), (C), and (D): This Exemption protects information "compiled for law enforcement purposes" that could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings (7(A)), that "could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy" (7(C)), or that "could reasonably be expected to disclose the identity of a confidential source" (7(D)).
In addition to Exemption 5, 6, and 7, there are other FOIA exemptions which protect information. For a more extensive listing of the FOIA Exemptions protecting the release of information, please consult the United States Department of Justice's FOIA Guide.
Are there privacy considerations which must be considered in granting your FOIA request?
In addition to FOIA Exemption 6’s privacy protections noted above, the Privacy Act also provides privacy protections. The Act applies to records about individuals maintained by agencies in the executive branch of the Federal government and guarantees three primary rights: 1) the right to see records about oneself, unless the information is subject to a Privacy Act exemption; 2) the right to request the amendment of records that are not accurate, relevant, timely or complete; and 3) the right of individuals to be protected against unwarranted invasion of their privacy resulting from the collection, maintenance, use, and disclosure of personal information. Based on these protections, the FLRA may withhold the disclosure of information about an individual from a system of records if the written consent of the individual to whom the record pertains has not been obtained.
Can you appeal a denial of your FOIA request?
Yes. If the Solicitor, FOIA Officer, OGC, Executive Director of FSIP, Inspector General, or Regional Director issues a denial in whole or in part of your FOIA request, pursuant to section 2411.10 of the regulations, you have 30 days from the date you received notification of the denial of your request to appeal that determination. Your appeal should be addressed to the Chairman of the Authority, the General Counsel, or the Chairman of FSIP, as appropriate, and mailed to the following address:
Federal Labor Relations Authority
1400 K Street NW
Washington, DC 20424-0001
You should clearly mark "FOIA Appeal" on the outside of the envelope. The grounds for the appeal should clearly state why you believe the Solicitor, FOIA Officer, OGC, Executive Director of FSIP, or the Regional Director erred in denying your FOIA request. Appeals are generally resolved within 20 business days.
If your appeal is denied, do you have other appeal rights?
Yes. If the Chairman of the Authority, the General Counsel, or the Chairman of FSIP denies your appeal in whole or in part, you have a right to judicial review in a United States Federal District Court. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B).
Will you be assessed fees for any information that you obtain pursuant to your FOIA request?
Possibly. Under the FOIA, we allowed to charge for our research and reproduction services under certain conditions. Your FOIA request should specify the amount of FOIA fees you are willing to pay. FOIA provides for three levels of fees, set forth below, that may be assessed in response to FOIA requests according to categories of FOIA requesters. See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(ii).
1. The first level of fees pertains to Commercial use requesters, who will be assessed charges that recover the full direct costs associated with the search, review, and duplication of records. A "commercial use" is "a use or purpose that furthers the commercial, trade, or profit interests of the requester or the person on whose behalf the request is being made." See Uniform Freedom of Information Act Fee Schedule and Guidelines (OMB Fee Guidelines), 52 Fed. Reg. 10,012 (Mar. 27, 1987).
2. The second level of fees pertains to Educational institutions, representatives of the news media, and non-commercial scientific institution requesters, who must pay for duplication only, and will not be charged for the first 100 pages. News media requesters, however, are entitled to a reduced assessment only when the request is for the purpose of disseminating information. To fit in the "educational institution" fee category, the request must be from a school or institution of higher learning or vocational education and must serve a scholarly research goal of the institution, not an individual goal. OMB Fee Guidelines, 52 Fed. Reg. at 10,014. For inclusion in the "noncommercial scientific institution" fee category the request must be from a "noncommercial" institution that is "operated solely for the purpose of conducting scientific research the results of which are not intended to promote any particular product or industry.” See OMB Fee Guidelines, 52 Fed. Reg. at 10,018. The "representative of the news media" fee category applies to any person actively gathering information of current interest to the public for an organization that is organized and operated to publish or broadcast news to the general public. "News" relates to "information that is about current events or that would be of current interest to the public." See Id.
3. The third category, All other requesters who do not fit into any of the categories above will be assessed fees which cover the full, reasonable direct cost of searching for and reproducing records that are responsive to the request, except that the first 100 pages of the reproduction and the first two hours of search time shall be free of charge.
Can you request a waiver of fees?
Yes. If you believe that you qualify for a waiver or reduction in the fee amount, i.e., the criteria set forth at section 2411.13(b)(4) are met, you must state this in your initial FOIA request. Under the FOIA and the criteria set forth in the FLRA’s regulations, fees shall be waived or reduced “if disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it 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.” See 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(iii); 5 C.F.R. § 2411.13(b)(4)(i). In determining whether this standard is met, the six factors set forth in section 2411.10(b)(4)(ii) & (iiii) are considered. A waiver request must satisfy all six factors to be granted. See 5 C.F.R. § 2411.10(b)(4)(iv).
Where can you obtain a copy of FOIA Annual Reports?
FLRA FOIA Annual Reports can be obtained from two different places. Listed in the FLRA’s Electronic Reading Room are the Annual Reports according to fiscal year. In addition, the Department of Justice maintains a listing of agencies' FOIA Annual Reports.
Where on the Internet can you learn more about the FOIA?
As mentioned earlier, you can consult the United States Department of Justice's FOIA Guide. Also, visit DOJ’s FOIA home page which has a wealth of information. In addition, you may find labor-related information at one of many other Federal agencies.