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Freedom of Information Act
Freedom of Information Act

—FOIA Services for USDA's Research, Education, and Economics mission area


The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) provides that any person has the right to request access to Federal documents and other information. All agencies of the Federal Government are required to disclose documents after receiving a FOIA request for them, unless those documents are protected from disclosure by one of nine exemptions of the FOIA.

This reference guide outlines specific procedures for making a FOIA request to the Research, Education, and Economics (REE) agencies, which are the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) including the National Agricultural Library (NAL), Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES), National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), and Economic Research Service (ERS). ARS is responsible for administering the FOIA for all four REE agencies. This guide also includes how to access certain documents without making a FOIA request.


"Nothing could be more irrational than to give the people power and to withhold from them information, without which power is abused. A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy, or perhaps both."
—James Madison


How to access non-FOIA records

Each REE agency maintains a website on the Internet and provides direct access to information available from their agency. Certain information maintained by the REE agencies is public information and readily available for distribution upon request by an individual.

Links to REE Agency websites:

Each Agency maintains a list of currently available documents on their websites. However, if you are unable to locate the information you are seeking, you can file a FOIA request.


How to make a FOIA request

You should submit a written FOIA request for documents maintained by the REE agencies to:

FOIA Coordinator
USDA-REE-ARS-Information Staff
5601 Sunnyside Ave.
Bldg. 1, Rm. 2248, Mail Stop 5128
Beltsville, MD 20705-5128 or or
Fax - 301-504-1647; TTY-Voice 301-504-1743

In making your request, it is important to identify the records you want as accurately as possible, with as much detail that would be helpful for locating the information. The more precise and accurate the request, the more likely you are to get a complete response. We suggest you include the following:

  • State the specific documents you are seeking
  • Identify, if possible, the name of the individual(s), staff(s) or location name(s), and the location(s) where the documents are maintained
  • Time period covered by your request
  • Grant or contract numbers, if applicable
  • Your telephone number, e-mail address, and mailing address
  • Fee information (see below)

A request may only seek records that are in existence at the time that the FOIA request is received and does not require that new records be created in response to the request. Agencies are not required to do research for you, to analyze data, or to answer written questions.

Agencies are authorized by law to recover the direct costs of providing information to a FOIA requester. The FOIA requires that requesters be placed in one of the following four categories:

  1. Commercial requesters may be charged the full fees for searching, reviewing, and duplicating the documents.
  2. Educational or noncommercial scientific institutions may be charged only for duplication, minus the first 100 pages.
  3. Representatives of the news media may be charged only for duplication, minus the first 100 pages.
  4. All other requesters may be charged fees for searching for documents and duplication, minus the first 2 hours of search time and the first 100 pages.

The costs associated with searching for and reviewing records responsive to a request are: the salary rate of the employee conducting the search, plus 16 percent of the employee’s basic pay; or where a homogeneous class of personnel is used exclusively, $10.00 per hour for clerical time and $20.00 per hour for supervisory or professional time. Duplication of pages 8 ½” x 14” or smaller is $0.20 per page. Duplication of pages larger than 8 ½” x 14” is $0.50 per page. Certifications are $5.00 each and Authentications Under Department Seal are $10.00 each.

No charge will be made if the cost of collecting a fee would be equal to or greater than the fee itself; for USDA this amount is $25. In cases where no documents are located, the Agency is entitled to charge the requester for any applicable search time involved.

Fee Waivers: Fee waivers may be granted when disclosure of the documents is in the public interest and 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. When making a request for a fee waiver, consider the following: (1) Does the document concern the operations or activities of the government? (2) is disclosure likely to contribute to the public understanding of these operations and activities? and (3) will that contribution be significant? Requests for fee waivers must be fully documented and justified by written explanation.

Appeals: A person whose initial FOIA request for documents has been denied, either in part or in whole, or who has received a no records response, or whose request for a fee waiver has been denied, has the right to appeal the denial to the appropriate REE administrator within 45 days after receipt of notification of the denial.

Exemptions: A request for records may be denied if the requested record contains information that falls into one or more of the 9 categories listed below. If the requested record contains both exempt and nonexempt information, the nonexempt portions that may reasonably be segregated from the exempt portions will be released to the requester.

  • Exemption 1 - Records which are specifically authorized under criteria established by an Executive Order to be kept secret in interest of national defense or foreign policy and are in fact properly classified pursuant to such Executive Order.
  • Exemption 2 - Records related solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of the agency.
  • Exemption 3 - Records specifically exempted from disclosure by statute, provided that such statute: a. Requires that the matters be withheld from the public in such a manner as to leave no discretion on the issues; or b. Establishes particular criteria for withholding or refers to particular types of matters to be withheld.
  • Exemption 4 - Trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from a person that is privileged or confidential.
  • Exemption 5 - Interagency or intra-agency memoranda or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency.
  • Exemption 6 - Personnel, medical, and similar files when the disclosure of such information would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.
  • Exemption 7 - Records compiled for law enforcement purposes.
  • Exemption 8 - Records that are contained in or related to examination, operating, or condition reports prepared by, on behalf of, or for the use of an agency responsible for the regulation or supervision of financial institutions.
  • Exemption 9 - Geological and geophysical information and data, including maps, concerning wells.

Time Limits: Agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within 20 business days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. For the Privacy Act, the time limit is 10 business days. This period does not begin until the request is actually received by the FOIA office. In specific situations, an additional 10-day extension may be granted in responding to a request. The FOIA provides for extensions of initial time limits under unusual circumstances, which are defined as (1) the need to search for and collect records from separate offices; (2) the need to examine a voluminous amount of records required by the request; and (3) the need to consult with another agency or agency component.

Privacy Act: The Privacy Act (PA), 5 U.S.C. 552a, protects individuals against clearly unwarranted invasion of their personal privacy. The PA informs individuals as to what information is maintained on them and where the information is stored and allows an individual to access documents maintained in a PA System of Records (records retrievable by an individual's name or other personal identifier) and to request an amendment of the records. Documents maintained in a PA System of Records are available to first-party requesters (individuals that the record pertains to) or their representatives unless they fall within the exemptions of both the PA and the FOIA. An individual submitting a PA request shall include with his or her request sufficient data for the agency to verify the requester's identity.


Electronic Reading Room

The REE agencies are required to maintain a reading room which is accessible to members of the public and allows them to inspect documents maintained in the reading room.

  1. Final opinions and orders made in adjudicating cases. At this time, the REE agencies do not have any relevant documents.
  2. Final statements of policy and interpretations that have not been published in the Federal Register. At this time, the REE agencies do not have any relevant documents.
  3. Administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect members of the public.
  4. Documents processed or disclosed in response to a FOIA request that are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same documents.

    Research, Education, and Economics (REE) Directory lists all REE employees and organizational units.
    REE Administrative Issuances provides access to current REE Policies & Procedures, Manuals and Bulletins.
    Purchase Cardholders
    REE FOIA Annual Report is the latest FOIA annual report for all REE agencies.
    Public Access to Research Data (OMB Circular A-110) is the CSREES guidance for grantees and applicants regarding public access to research data.
    USDA Annual Report is the latest FOIA annual report for the USDA agencies.


Contact Information

FOIA Office
USDA-REE-ARS-Information Staff
5601 Sunnyside Ave.
Bldg. 1, Rm. 2248, Mail Stop 5128
Beltsville, MD 20705-5128
Valerie Herberger (301) 504-1640 or
Stasia Hutchison (301) 504-1655
Fax: (301) 504-1647

 Related Links
Text of Freedom of Information Act
Text of Privacy Act
USDA FOIA Regulations
Government Information Locator Service