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FOIA Reference Guide

Getting started

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) (5 U.S.C. 552) generally provides that any person has the right to obtain access to federal agency records except to the extent those records are protected from disclosure by exemptions.

We make a great deal of information available on our website at https://www.ustr.gov so before making a request we encourage you to review the materials we already have posted since you may find there the information you are interested in.

Our FOIA Reference Guide is designed to familiarize you with the specific procedures for making a FOIA request to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR). The process is neither complicated nor time consuming. Following the guidance will make it more likely that you will receive the information that you are seeking in the shortest amount of time possible. This Reference Guide also includes descriptions of the types of records USTR maintains and contact information for the USTR FOIA Office.

The formal rules for making FOIA requests to USTR are in our FOIA regulation, 15 C.F.R. Part 2004, Subpart B. In most cases this Reference Guide should provide you with all of the basic information that you will need to submit a request.


Records you can access without a FOIA request

USTR's website is the best starting point for anyone interested in us. The website contains detailed information about all of USTR’s activities. It includes news, press releases, links to Federal Register notices and comments, fact sheets, speeches and remarks, reports, information about current initiatives, and historical information about U.S. trade issues. If you need assistance to locate a particular record on the website, you can contact the Office of Public and Media Affairs at MEDIA@ustr.eop.gov or the FOIA Office at FOIA@ustr.eop.gov.


How do I file a FOIA request?

Where do I send the request? To make a request for USTR records, you should write directly to our FOIA Office. Heightened security may delay mail delivery. To avoid delays, we strongly suggest that you email your request to FOIA@ustr.eop.gov. Our mailing address is: FOIA Office, Office of the US Trade Representative, Anacostia Naval Annex, Building 410/Door 123, 250 Murray Lane SW, Washington DC 20509. To ensure that the FOIA Office receives your request without delay, you should include the notation ‘‘FOIA Request’’ in the subject line of your email or on the front of your envelope and also at the beginning of your request.

Security concerns. To protect USTR computer systems, we will not open attachments to emailed requests - you must include your request within the body of the email. We will not process email attachments.


What should I include? There is no special form or format for a request. You must describe the records you seek in sufficient detail to enable USTR personnel to locate them with a reasonable amount of effort. You can include the amount of fees you are willing to pay and also specify the format in which you wish to receive the records. You must provide contact information such as your phone number, email address, and mailing address, so we can communicate with you about your request.


How do I describe the records I want? You should be as detailed as possible when describing the records you want. To the extent possible, you should include specific information that may help us identify the requested records, such as the date, title or name, author, recipient, names of offices, agencies and organizations, subject matter of the record, case number, file designation, or reference number. For example, we cannot process a request for all records related to a trade agreement or a request for all communications between USTR and a third party.  You should include a date limitation, a particular topic, and if asking for correspondence, the relevant parties with contact information such as their email addresses.

If a request does not provide sufficient specific descriptive information for us to reasonably ascertain exactly which records you are requesting and to locate them, our response may be delayed or we may be unable to provide the records. Please note that in response to a FOIA request, we are not required to create records. We also will not conduct research for you, analyze data, answer written questions, or parse your narrative to try and determine the specific records you are seeking.

You can contact the FOIA Office before you submit your request for assistance in describing the records you are seeking. If we determine that your request does not reasonably describe the records sought, we will explain why we cannot process your request and ask you for additional information. For example, we might ask you to narrow your request if you ask for all documents in a certain date range but do not include a specific subject matter, topic or personnel. We can help you reformulate or modify your request.

If we cannot contact you, or you do not respond within 30 calendar days to our requests for clarification, we will close your request.


Privacy: To maximize the amount of information we can provide to you, we may process requests you make for records about yourself under both this Subpart and Subpart C to Part 2004, our rules implementing the Privacy Act. To protect your privacy as well as the privacy of others, if you request information about yourself or another person, we may require you to certify your identity or that of the other person before we respond to you. You can do this by providing an unsworn statement signed under penalty of perjury stating that you are the person who you say you are. To fulfill this requirement, you must include the following statement just before the signature on your request letter: “I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on [date].”


What happens after you submit a FOIA request?

When we receive your FOIA request, we ordinarily will acknowledge the request and assign a unique tracking number. We will let you know if we need additional information in order to process the request. You can contact us with any questions about the status of your request.


How long will it take for USTR to respond?

The time it takes to respond to each request varies depending on the complexity of the request and the backlog of requests already pending. We try our best to respond to you within the standard time limit established by the FOIA, which is 20 working days, or about one month. We may stop the clock if we need additional information from you in order to process the request or need to clarify fee issues. For complicated or voluminous requests, we may be unable to respond within 20 days, for example, if you requested many separate and distinct records or we have to search for and collect records from separate offices. We will let you know if we need more time, and will offer you the opportunity to modify or limit the scope of your request. Alternatively, you can agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request. Generally, if you make a request for a small volume of material, we will be able to process the request more quickly as a “simple” request.


Can I get a faster response?

Under certain conditions we will process your request or appeal on an expedited basis, which means that we handle it as soon as practicable. We will expedite a request if:
 

1. the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose a threat to someone's life or physical safety;


2. the request is from a person primarily engaged in disseminating information to the public and there is an urgency to inform the public about the specific government activity that is the subject of the request that extends beyond the public’s right to know about government activity generally;


3. an individual will suffer the loss of substantial due process rights, which generally must be more than a court deadline in a judicial proceeding; or,


4. the subject is of widespread and exceptional media interest and the information sought involves possible questions about the government's integrity that affect public confidence.

If you believe that your request or appeal might qualify for expedited processing under one of these four standards, you must specifically ask for expedited handling. When you do, you should provide a statement you certify to be true and correct explaining why you believe that your request or appeal qualifies under one of the four standards. We will respond in writing to your expedited processing request within 10 days.


Will there be any costs?

There is no initial fee required to submit a FOIA request, but the FOIA allows us to charge a fee to process your FOIA request in certain circumstances. For most requests, we do not charge a fee. In your request letter, you can specify the amount of fees you are willing to pay. For purposes of assessing fees, the FOIA establishes three categories of requesters: (1) commercial use requesters, (2) non-commercial scientific or educational institutions or news media requesters, and (3) all other requesters. Different fees are assessed depending on the category.

 

Category

Chargeable Service Fees

commercial use requesters

search and review time plus duplication cost

non-commercial scientific or educational institutions or news media requesters

duplication cost (in excess of 100 pages, or an electronic equivalent of 100 pages)

all other requesters

search time (after the first 2 hours) plus duplication cost (in excess of 100 pages, or an electronic equivalent of 100 pages)

 

We will not assess a fee if the cost to process your request is $25 or less. We will contact you if we estimate that the cost will be more than $25. You can narrow your request in order to reduce the fees. If you continue to seek all of the records involved, we will ask you to agree in writing to pay the estimated fees and will suspend processing your request until you do so. If the estimated fee is more than $250 or you failed to pay a properly assessed FOIA fee in the past, we may ask you to prepay all or part of the estimated fee before we process your request. Note that we may charge for search time even if we do not locate any responsive records or if we determine that the records are entirely exempt from disclosure.

 

Can I ask USTR to waive the fees?

You can ask us to waive or reduce fees and should include your request when you first submit your FOIA request to us. Under the FOIA, fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester. Requests for fee waivers from individuals who are seeking records pertaining to themselves usually do not meet this standard. In addition, a requester's inability to pay fees is not a legal basis for granting a fee waiver.

 

FOIA Fee Schedule

SEARCH/REVIEW: For each quarter hour spent by personnel searching for requested records, including electronic searches that do not require new programming, we will charge $88/hour, which is a blended hourly rate of $76/hour for all personnel in the FOIA Office, plus16 percent of that rate to cover benefits.

We will charge the direct costs if it is necessary to create a new computer program to locate the requested records. We will notify you of the costs associated with creating such a program, and you must agree to pay the associated costs before we build the program.

If your request requires the retrieval of records stored at a Federal records center, we will charge additional costs in accordance with the Transactional Billing Rate Schedule established by the National Archives and Records Administration.

DUPLICATION: If we provide photocopies (either a hard copy or the electronic equivalent), we will make one copy per request at the cost of $.10 per page. For copies of records produced on tapes, disks or other media, we will charge the direct costs of producing the copy, including operator time. Where we must scan paper documents in order to comply with your preference to receive the records in an electronic format, we will charge you the direct costs associated with scanning those materials.:

If you request special services, we will charge the following fees:

CD                                                      $1.00 each

transcription of audio tapes                $4.50 per page

certification, seal and attestation  ​      $5.00 per document

express delivery                                  actual cost

fax transmission (long distance)         longdistance charge plus $.25 per page

fax transmission (local)                       $.25 per call plus $.25 per page


What can I expect in response to my request?

After we process your request and resolve any fee issues, we will send you a written response that usually will include all records that we can disclose. If your request involves a lot of material or searches in multiple locations, we may provide interim responses, releasing the records on a rolling basis. Our response will tell you if we withheld any information pursuant to a FOIA exemption. If we withheld pages of information in full, our response ordinarily will specify the number of pages we withheld or make a reasonable effort to estimate the volume of the withheld information. If we withheld part of a page or document, we ordinarily will mark the portion withheld and the applicable FOIA exemption on the record itself. Our response also will tell you about your appeal rights and the dispute resolution services offered by the Office of Government Information Services, which is part of the National Archives and Records Administration (https://ogis.archives.gov/).


FOIA exemptions

The FOIA authorizes us to withhold information of a sensitive nature as exempt. For example, the FOIA exemptions protect certain information related to national security, personal privacy, privileged records, and law enforcement interests. We withhold predecisional, deliberative documents (Exemption 5), classified trade negotiating and policy documents (Exemption 1), confidential business information (Exemption 4), personnel, medical and similar files (Exemption 6), and communications involving our cleared advisors (Exemption 3). When we withhold information from you, we ordinarily will specify the exemption we applied.


What can I do if I am dissatisfied with USTR’s response to my FOIA request?

You can appeal any adverse determination in writing to our FOIA Appeals Committee within 90 calendar days after the date of our response. Adverse determinations include decisions that: the requested record is exempt in whole or in part; the request does not reasonably describe the records sought; the information requested is not a record subject to the FOIA; the requested record does not exist, cannot be located, or has been destroyed; or the requested record is not readily reproducible in the form or format you sought. Adverse determinations also include denials involving fees or fee waiver matters or denials of requests for expedited processing.

There is no specific form or particular language needed to file an administrative appeal. You should specify the records that are the subject of your appeal and explain why the Committee should sustain the appeal.

To avoid delays caused by heighted security, we strongly suggest that you email any appeal to FOIA@ustr.eop.gov. Our mailing address is: FOIA Office, Office of the US Trade Representative, Anacostia Naval Annex, Building 410/Door 123, 250 Murray Lane SW, Washington DC 20509. To make sure that the FOIA Office receives your appeal without delay, you should include the notation “Freedom of Information Act Appeal" and the individualized tracking number in the subject line of your email or on the front of your envelope and also at the beginning of your appeal.

The Appeals Committee may take one of several actions. It may affirm the FOIA Office’s action in full, in which case it typically will identify the reason why the action was proper. Alternatively, the Committee may affirm part of the FOIA Office’s action, but otherwise "remand" or send the portions of the request to the FOIA Office for further action. Finally, under some circumstances, the Appeals Committee may remand the request in its entirety for further action. When the Appeals Committee remands a case, you will have an opportunity to appeal again if you are dissatisfied in any respect with our actions on remand.

If you still believe that we have not handled your FOIA request in accordance with the law, you have the right to challenge our actions in federal court. A federal judge will conduct an independent review of our action on your request. Before filing a lawsuit, you ordinarily will be required to have first filed an administrative appeal. You also can seek assistance from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) of the National Archives and Records Administration (https://ogis.archives.gov/). Using OGIS’s dispute resolution services does not preclude you from filing a FOIA lawsuit. 


Who is in the USTR FOIA Office?

Chief FOIA Officer, Janice Kaye

FOIA Public Liaison, Monique Ricker

FOIA Attorneys, Melissa Keppel and Monique Ricker

FOIA Appeals Official, Fred Ames

FOIA@ustr.eop.gov

202-395-4990