Part II. FOIA Requests

  1. Introduction

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires the Postal Service to make Postal Service records available to the public, subject to certain exemptions, exclusions, and other laws allowing the Postal Service to withhold certain types of records and information. It is the policy of the Postal Service to make its official records available to the public to the maximum extent consistent with the public interest. Individuals (“Requesters”) may request Postal Service records by following the procedures in Part II of this Addendum. Additional information about these procedures can be found in the Postal Service’s FOIA regulations, 39 CFR 265, which should be read together with the FOIA, 5 U.S.C. 552. For purposes of Part II, component means any department or facility within the Postal Service that maintains records.

  1. FOIA Reading Room
  2. The records available to the general public in the Postal Service’s public and electronic reading rooms in compliance with the FOIA or within the discretion of the Postal Service include, but are not limited to, the following:

    Public Reading Room. The following records are available for inspection and copying by the general public in the public reading room of the Postal Service Headquarters library:

    1. All final opinions and orders made in the adjudication of cases by the judicial officer and administrative law judges.
    2. All final determinations, pursuant to 39 U.S.C. 404(b), to close or consolidate a Post Office or to disapprove a proposed closing or consolidation.
    3. All advisory opinions about the private express statutes issued under 39 CFR 310.6.
    4. All supplier disagreement decisions.
    5. Postal Service manuals, instructions, and other publications that affect the general public that are not listed for sale to the general public.
    6. Records that were or were likely to be routinely processed and disclosed under the FOIA after March 31, 1997.

Electronic Reading Room. Records available in the public reading room described above that were created on or after November 1, 1996, are also maintained in the electronic reading room. In addition, indexes of certain records are maintained in the public and electronic reading rooms, and otherwise made available to the general public to the extent required by the FOIA or within the discretion of the Postal Service.

The Postal Service’s electronic reading room may be accessed at http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/foia/readroom/welcome.htm.

Postal Service manuals, instructions, and other publications that affect the general public that are available to the general public in the public and electronic reading rooms are also available for inspection by the general public in many Post Offices and other Postal Service facilities. Postal Service publications that are not available to the general public in the public and electronic reading rooms of Postal Service facilities or listed for sale to the general public may be requested by the general public pursuant to the FOIA disclosure provisions (see 4-4).

Note: Records available to the general public may contain redactions to the extent permitted by the FOIA.

  1. Resources
    1. Access the Postal Service’s FOIA website at http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/foia/welcome.htm.
    2. Access the Postal Service’s FOIA Annual Reports at http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/foia/annual-foia-reports/welcome.htm.
    3. Access the Postal Service’s FOIA regulations at https://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2017-title39-vol1/pdf/CFR-2017-title39-vol1-part265.pdf.
  2. Categories of Records

Requesters are encouraged to search usps.com and other Postal Service public websites before submitting a FOIA request to the Postal Service because the Postal Service publicly posts a vast array of Postal Service data and information. Some of the categories of Postal Service records can be found in the Appendix of this Handbook. Direct questions about whether the Postal Service has a certain type of record to:

PRIVACY AND RECORDS MANAGEMENT OFFICE
U.S. POSTAL SERVICE
475 L’ENFANT PLAZA SW
WASHINGTON, DC 20260

202-268-2608

  1. Submission of Requests

A requester must submit a FOIA request to the appropriate FOIA Requester Service Center (RSC). Descriptions of, and contact information for, the various FOIA RSCs can be found at: http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/foia/service-centers.htm. For assistance in determining the appropriate FOIA RSC, requesters may contact the USPS HQ FOIA RSC at:

PRIVACY AND RECORDS MANAGEMENT OFFICE
U.S. POSTAL SERVICE
475 L’ENFANT PLAZA SW
WASHINGTON, DC 20260

202-268-2608

Also, send requests for listings of Postal Service employee names to the USPS HQ FOIA RSC. 39 CFR 265.3.

  1. Form of Requests

A requester must submit a FOIA request to inspect or to obtain a copy of an identifiable Postal Service record in writing and bear the caption “Freedom of Information Act Request” or otherwise be clearly and prominently identified as a request for records pursuant to the FOIA, both on the letter and on the envelope or other cover. Requests for records that are labeled incorrectly may be delayed in reaching the appropriate FOIA RSC. A requester must provide his or her full name and mailing address. A requester may also provide a daytime telephone number or email address to facilitate communication regarding his or her request. 39 CFR 265.3.

  1. Content of Requests

Requesters must describe the records sought in sufficient detail to enable Postal Service personnel to locate them with a reasonable amount of effort. Whenever possible, requesters must include specific information about each record sought, such as the type of record (e.g., contract, report, or memorandum); the title or case number of a specific document or report; the topic or subject matter; the name of the office, facility, functional unit, or employees most likely to possess the record; the geographical location, such as a city and state, where the records are thought to exist; the date or general timeframe of the record‘s creation; and any details related to the purpose of the record. Requests for email records must specify the likely senders and recipients, key words, and a range of dates. If seeking information about a company, requesters must provide the exact name and address of the company (many companies use similar names). Before submitting requests, requesters may contact the relevant Postal Service FOIA RSC to discuss the records they are seeking and to receive assistance in describing the records. The request may state the maximum amount of fees for which the requester is willing to accept liability without prior notice. If no amount is stated, the requester will be deemed willing to accept liability for fees not to exceed $25.00. The request may also specify the preferred form or format (including electronic formats) of the requested records. 39 CFR 265.3.

  1. First-Party Requests

Before release of a record, a requester who is making a request for records about himself or herself must provide verification of identity sufficient to satisfy the component as to his or her identity or by completing the Certification of Identity available at http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/foia/welcome.htm. 39 CFR 265.3.

  1. Third-Party Requests

Where a FOIA request seeks disclosure of records that pertain to a third party, a requester may receive greater access by submitting a written authorization signed by that individual authorizing disclosure of the records to the requester, by submitting proof that the individual is deceased (e.g., a copy of a death certificate or an obituary), or by completing the Privacy Waiver available at http://about.usps.com/who-we-are/foia/welcome.htm. 39 CFR 265.3.

  1. Improper Requests

A request that does not reasonably describe the records sought, or does not comply with the published rules regarding the procedures to be followed for submitting a request, will be deemed an improper FOIA request. If after receiving a request, the Postal Service determines that it is improper, the Postal Service will inform the requester as to why the request is improper. If the requester fails to respond to the Postal Service‘s request for clarification or additional information within 30 calendar days, the Postal Service will assume the requester is no longer interested in pursuing the request and close its file. The FOIA RSCs and the FOIA Public Liaisons are available to assist requesters in correcting a request that does not reasonably describe the records sought. 39 CFR 265.3.

  1. Timing of Responses to Requests

Requests will ordinarily be responded to according to their order of receipt. A request that is not initially submitted to the appropriate FOIA RSC will be deemed to have been received by the Postal Service at the time that it is actually received by the appropriate FOIA RSC; but in any case, a request will be deemed to have been received no later than 10 business days after the request is first received by a FOIA RSC. 39 CFR 265.5.

  1. Acknowledgment of Requests
  2. A request will be acknowledged in writing with an individualized tracking number and brief description of the records sought if it will take longer than 10 working days to process. 39 CFR 265.4.

  3. Statutory Time Limit
  4. Under the FOIA, the Postal Service is required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 working days of receipt of the request, unless unusual circumstances or exceptional circumstances are applicable. 5 U.S.C. 552. The complexity of the request, number of records potentially responsive to the request, number of facilities with responsive records, and the need to consult with other agencies are factors that could cause delays in processing the request. Requesters are encouraged to narrow the scope of a FOIA request with the assistance of the Privacy and Records Management Office.

  5. Aggregation of Requests
  6. If a requester submits multiple requests or acts in concert with others to submit multiple requests and such requests are determined to constitute a single request, the requests will be aggregated. 39 CFR 265.5.

  7. Multitrack Processing
  8. Unless expedited processing has been granted, the Postal Service places each request in simple or complex tracks based on the amount of work and time involved in processing the request. Within each track, the Postal Service processes requests in the order in which they are received. When appropriate, the FOIA RSC or the component will notify the requester if it has placed the request in the “Complex” track, and provide the requester with an opportunity to limit the scope of the request. If the requester limits the scope of the request, it may result in faster processing. 39 CFR 265.5.

  9. Expedited Processing
  10. Requests and appeals will be processed on an expedited basis whenever it is determined that they involve:

    1. Circumstances in which the lack of expedited processing could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual; or
    2. An urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity, if made by a person who is primarily engaged in disseminating information.

    A requester who seeks expedited processing must submit a statement, certified to be true and correct, explaining in detail the basis for making the request for expedited processing. A requester will receive notification within 10 calendar days of the receipt of a request for expedited processing of the decision whether to grant or deny expedited processing. If expedited processing is granted, the request will be given priority, placed in the processing track for expedited requests, and processed as soon as practicable. If a request for expedited processing is denied, any appeal of that decision will be acted on expeditiously. 39 CFR 265.5.

  11. Unusual Circumstances
  12. If unusual circumstances, as defined in the FOIA, apply to a request, the requester will receive notification of the unusual circumstances before the expiration of the 20-day statutory time limit with an extension of 10 working days. Where the extension exceeds 10 working days, the requester will receive notification that offers the opportunity to modify the request and arrange an alternative processing time period, and provides information about the availability of the Office of Government Information Services dispute resolution services. 39 CFR 265.5.

  • Responses to Requests
    1. Grants of Requests
    2. A requester will receive a written determination granting a request in whole or in part and stating if any fees were charged. Upon payment of any applicable fees, the requester will promptly receive the requested records. 39 CFR 265.6.

    3. Adverse Determinations of Requests
    4. A requester will receive an adverse determination denying a request in writing. Adverse determinations or denials of requests include decisions that:

      1. The requested record is exempt, in whole or in part;
      2. The request does not reasonably describe the records sought;
      3. The information requested is not a record subject to the FOIA;
      4. The requested record does not exist, cannot be located, or has been destroyed; or
      5. The requested record is not readily reproducible in the form or format sought by the requester.

      Adverse determinations also include denials involving fees or fee waiver matters, or denials of requests for expedited processing. 39 CFR 265.6

  • Administrative Appeals
    1. Requirements for Making an Appeal
    2. Requesters may appeal adverse decisions rendered by the Postal Inspection Service or any Postal Service component by mail to:

    GENERAL COUNSEL
    U.S. POSTAL SERVICE
    475 L’ENFANT PLAZA SW
    WASHINGTON, DC 20260

    foiaappeal@usps.gov

    The requester must make the appeal in writing. To be considered timely, it must be postmarked, or in the case of electronic submissions, transmitted within 90 calendar days after the date of the response or within a reasonable time if the appeal is from a failure of the component to act. A letter of appeal must include, as applicable:

    1. A copy of the request, of any notification of denial or other action, and of any other related correspondence;
    2. The FOIA tracking number assigned to the request;
    3. A statement of the action, or failure to act, from which the appeal is taken;
    4. A statement identifying the specific redactions to responsive records that the requester is challenging;
    5. A statement of the relief sought; and
    6. A statement of the reasons why the requester believes the action or failure to act is erroneous. 39 CFR 265.8.
  • Adjudication of Appeals
  • The General Counsel will give prompt consideration to an appeal for expedited processing of a request. All other decisions normally will be made within 20 working days from the time of the receipt by the General Counsel. 39 CFR 265.8.

  • Appeal Decisions
  • A requester will receive an appeal decision in writing. An appeal decision that upholds a component’s determination in whole or in part will contain a statement that explains the reasons for the affirmance, the FOIA exemptions applied, the requester’s statutory right to file a lawsuit, and the mediation services offered by the Office of Government Information Services of the National Archives and Records Administration as a non-exhaustive alternative to litigation. If a custodian’s decision is remanded for further processing, the requester will be notified of that determination in writing and instructed to await a response directly from the component. 39 CFR 265.8.

  • When Appeal is Required
  • Before seeking judicial review of a component’s adverse determination, a requester generally must first submit a timely administrative appeal. 39 CFR 265.8.

  • Fees
  • The Postal Service charges search, review, and duplication fees based on the category of the requester. For more information on types of fees and requester categories, see the definitions found in 39 CFR 265.9(b). The Postal Service ordinarily will collect all applicable fees from the requester before sending copies of records to the requester. Requesters must pay fees by check or money order made payable to the “U.S. Postal Service.” 39 CFR 265.9.

    1. Requester Categories
    2. A requester is placed in a requester category for the purposes of assessing fees based on the requester’s intended use of the records as stated in the requester’s FOIA request. For more information on requester categories, see the definitions found in 39 CFR 265.9(b).

      1. A commercial-use requester is a requester who asks for information for a use or purpose that furthers the commercial, trade, or profit interest, which can include furthering those interests through litigation.
      2. An educational institution is any school that operates a program of scholarly research.
      3. A noncommercial scientific institution is an institution that is not operated on a “commercial” basis, but operated solely for the purpose of conducting scientific research the results of which are not intended to promote any particular product or industry.
      4. A representative of the news media is any person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience.
    3. Search Fees
    4. Search is the process of looking for and retrieving records or information responsive to a request. Search time includes page-by-page or line-by-line identification of information within records and the reasonable efforts expended to locate and retrieve information from electronic records. Except for requests made by educational institutions, noncommercial scientific institutions, or representatives of the news media, all other requesters are subject to search fees. The Postal Service may charge for time spent searching even if no responsive records are located or if it determines that the records are entirely exempt from disclosure.

      1. The search fee is $21.00 for each half hour spent by personnel searching for requested records, including electronic searches that do not require new programming.
      2. Requesters will be charged the direct costs associated with conducting any search that requires the creation of a new computer program to locate the requested records. Requesters will be notified of the costs associated with creating such a program and must agree to pay the associated costs before the costs may be incurred.
      3. For requests that require the retrieval of records stored at a federal records center operated by the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA), or other storage facility, additional costs may be charged for their retrieval. 39 CFR 265.9.
    5. Duplication Fees
    6. Duplication is reproducing a copy of a record or of the information contained in it and is necessary to respond to a FOIA request. All requesters are subject to duplication fees. The duplication fee is $0.15 per page for records in hard copy format. The duplication fee for producing records on tapes, disks, or other media is the direct cost of producing the copy, including operator time. Where paper documents must be scanned in order to comply with a requester’s preference to receive the records in an electronic format, the requester will be charged the direct costs associated with scanning those materials. For other forms of duplication, the requester will be charged the direct costs. 39 CFR 265.9.

    7. Review Fees
    8. Review is the examination of a record located in response to a request in order to determine whether any portion of it is exempt from disclosure. Review time includes processing any record for disclosure, such as doing all that is necessary to prepare the record for disclosure, including the process of redacting the record and marking the appropriate exemptions. Commercial-use requesters will be charged review fees at the rate of $21.00 for each half hour spent by personnel reviewing the requested records.

    9. Restrictions on Charging Fees
      1. Educational institutions (unless the records are sought for a commercial use), noncommercial scientific institutions, and representatives of the news media are not required to pay search fees.
      2. Except in certain instances described in 39 CFR 265.9(d)(2), requesters will not be charged search fees if the component fails to respond within the statutory time limits.
      3. No search or review fees will be charged for a quarter-hour period unless more than half of that period is required for search or review.
      4. With the exception of commercial-use requesters, all other requesters are entitled to the first two hours of search time and the first 100 pages of duplication free of charge. No fee will be charged if the remaining balance is $25.00 or less after the first 100 free pages and two hours of search time are deducted from the balance. 39 CFR 265.9.
    10. Aggregating requests.
    11. In instances where the Postal Service reasonably believes that a requester or a group of requesters acting in concert is attempting to divide a single request into a series of requests for the purpose of avoiding fees, or that a requester or group of requesters acting in concert makes multiple requests for the same records maintained at multiple facilities or components, the Postal Service may aggregate those requests and charge accordingly. Multiple FOIA requests by a single requester related to the same issue will be aggregated for the purpose of assessing fees. 39 CFR 265.9.

    12. Advance payments.
    13. A requester will be required to make an advance payment up to the amount of the entire anticipated fee if the total fee is estimated to exceed $250.00. Where a requester has previously failed to pay a properly charged FOIA fee within 30 calendar days of the billing date, the requester will be required to pay the full amount due on that prior request, and make an advance payment of the full amount of any anticipated fee before the Postal Service will process a new request or continues to process a pending request or any pending appeal. In cases when advance payment is required, the FOIA request will not be considered received and further work will not be completed until the required payment is received. If the requester does not pay the advance payment within 30 calendar days of the date of the fee determination letter, the request will be administratively closed. 39 CFR 265.9.

    14. Requirements for Waiver or Reduction of Fees
    15. A requester must request a waiver or reduction of fees when first submitting a FOIA request to the Postal Service. A requester is entitled to a waiver or reduction of fees if the requester demonstrates the following:

      1. Disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the Postal Service, and
      2. Disclosure of the information is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.

    Additional guidance on these requirements can be found at 39 CFR 265.9(j).




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