2000 THE BROADCASTING BOARD OF GOVERNORS GUIDELINES ON REQUESTING RECORDS UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT (FOIA) AND HANDBOOK ON RECORDS MAINTAINED BY THE BBG THAT MAY BE REQUESTED UNDER THE FOIA.
THE BBG GUIDELINES ON REQUESTING RECORDS UNDER THE FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, is a Federal law only. It does not apply to States, local governments or private entities, although some States have similar laws. Its purpose is to provide a statutory basis for public access to official Federal agency information, so that the public may scrutinize its government. The FOIA may be used by anyone.
The law provides access to Federal government documents, except for records or portions of records that are protected from disclosure by one or more of nine specific exemptions. There are also three special law enforcement exclusions. The law requires all agencies to respond to requests within 20 working days, and if information is withheld, the requester is provided appeal rights; fees may be charged for processing a request.
There is no central government office that responds to FOIA requests. Each executive office of the Federal government responds to FOIA requests for only its own agency’s records. Therefore, a FOIA request must be addressed to a specific agency.
If you are unsure as to which Agency has records of interest to you, you should consult the United States Government Manual, which is a government directory. It is sold by the Superintendent of Documents of the U.S. Government Printing office. Every public library should have a copy of it.
About the BBG
The BBG is an independent broadcasting agency within the executive branch of the U.S. government. BBG transmits almost 900 hours a week of programming in 47 languages to tens of millions of weekly listeners worldwide.
Radio Marti broadcasts 24 hours a day in Spanish to Cuba and TV Marti broadcasts 4-1/2 hours a week to Cuba. The programming consists of news, information and entertainment acquired from a variety of sources.
The International Broadcast Act of 1994 reorganized and consolidated all non-military U.S. Government international broadcasting and established a broadcasting Board of Governors to oversee the elements of the BBG, as well as Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Radio Free Asia and the Middle East Broadcast Networks.
How to Make a FOIA Request
FOIA requests to the BBG should be made in writing and addressed to:
BBG FOIA Office
330 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, D.C. 20237
You may also write to that address to receive a copy of the Agency’s Regulation (22 CFR Part 503) implementing the FOIA.
BBG’s “Home Page” Internet address is: http://www.bbg.gov. The following elements should be included in your FOIA letter of request:
- The identify, and as specific as possible, of the records you are seeking, including the time frame you believe they were created
- the location of the records, if known (e.g., the Office of the General Counsel)
- your name, address and a telephone number where you can be contacted. Although the telephone number is optional, it is helpful in case we need to clarify your request.
- While it is not necessary to specifically identify the FOIA in your request, it is helpful.
Fees may be charged for FOIA services. You may request a limitation on the fees you are willing to pay, or you may ask to be notified in advance for an estimation of the fees that may accrue in responding to your request.
BBG search and review fees are $10, $20 and $36 per hour, depending upon the salary of the employee conducting the search and review; duplication is $0.15 per page.
There are three types of requesters for FOIA fee purposes:
- Category I
Commercial Use Requesters are charged for search, review and duplication
- Category II
Educational and Scientific Institutions and News Media are charged for reproduction costs, but only after the first 100 pages, which are free of charge
- Category III
Other requesters (those not included in I or II above) are charged for search and duplication of the records but only after the first two hours of search and the first 100 pages, which are free of charge.
Waiver of Fees
An individual must request a waiver or reduction of the FOIA fee in the initial letter of request.
The FOIA provides that the fee may be waived or reduced if disclosure of the information is considered to be of primary benefit to the general public because it is likely to contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
Matters that are considered include such things as the size of the public that will be reached, the requester’s expertise in the subject area and the ability and intention of the requester to disseminate the information to the public.
Reasons access to records may be denied
Following are the FOIA reasons access to records may be denied – There are nine exemptions that may be applied in order to withhold records under the FOIA, if it is warranted. The USIA uses only seven of these nine exemptions, and they are to withhold:
- classified documents
- internal personnel rules and practices
- other statutes (other than the FOIA), that require withholding
- trade secrets and commercial or financial information
- internal, predecisional information
- personal privacy
- investigatory material
The Agency may only withhold those portions of a document that are exempt from the disclosure requirements of the law. The Agency may also determine to release a document or portions of a document that are normally exempt from disclosure, when it is determined that no harm would result from its disclosure.
BBG is prohibited by the U.S. Information and Educational Exchange Act of 1948 (22 U.S.C. 1461) to disseminate within the United States records or information about the U.S., its people, and its policies, when those records or information have been prepared by the Agency for audiences abroad (Exemption 3).
The most recent court case challenging this Smith-Mundt ban on domestic dissemination of BBG program materials, Essential Information, et al. v. USIA, was decided in the Agency’s favor in 1996, and the case was upheld on appeal in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
When the Agency determines to withhold information under one of the seven exemptions discussed above, you are informed of your appeal rights.
The Agency’s FOIA Regulation requires requesters to file appeals within 30 days from the date of the denial letter. Not only can you appeal the denial of information, you may also appeal any denial of a fee waiver or reduction of the fee. And generally, if given a “no records” response by the Agency, a requester will also be provided the right to appeal the adequacy of the Agency’s search for the records.
When it is obvious that the requester is seeking information not maintained by BBG, the right to appeal the adequacy of the search will not be given. There is no risk or difficulty in filing an appeal, nor is there a charge for filing an appeal. The requester need only state in writing that she or he wishes to appeal the denial of the information, including the initial FOIA case number, their name and address.
The Agency must respond to the appeal within 20 working days from receipt of the appeal. BBG’s appeal procedure includes an Access Appeal Committee that reviews the initial denial of information to determine whether it was properly withheld. The Committee is comprised of four Agency officials.
Upon a determination of a majority of the Committee members to uphold the denial, the Committee Chairperson will send the appellant a letter giving the reasons why the information, or portions of the information, continues to be withheld and of the appellant’s right to appeal the administrative denial in court. However, if the Committee determines that the information is releasable in whole or in part, the information will be enclosed with the letter to the appellant.
Public Reading Room
FOIA Documentation previously released and other Agency information may be viewed in the BBG’s Public Reading Room (PRR), or on the Internet in the PRR; to make an appointment, please call (202) 203-4550.