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How to Make a FOIA Request

Overview

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy Act (PA) grant you the right to access many government records about how the government operates. Under FOIA, any person has a right to a copy of certain records possessed by the agency. However, information in the records may be protected from disclosure by one or more of the nine exemptions, or if release is prohibited by law.

Please direct any questions concerning how to make a FOIA request to PHMSA's FOIA Contacts.

Submitting a Request

A FOIA request must be made in writing in accordance with the Department of Transportation's FOIA regulations found in Title 49 Part 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations. Requests may be submitted by email (to PHMSA.FOIA@dot.gov or to a FOIA contact), mail, or fax. You also may use the PHMSA form available at www.FOIA.gov. Please include your mailing address, telephone number, and email address so that we can contact you if we have questions.

You should be as specific as possible on the names, titles, dates, places, events, subjects, recipients, and the offices likely to maintain the requested record(s). If known, you should include any file designations or descriptions for the requested record(s). The more specific you are about the records you seek, the more likely it will be that PHMSA will be able to locate those records. Additionally, you should be aware that PHMSA ordinarily will use the date upon which we begin a search as the "cut-off" date for determining the records that are responsive to a FOIA request.

Once PHMSA's FOIA Office receives your request, we send a letter acknowledging receipt. This letter contains the FOIA control number assigned to your request. Typically, this letter also communicates to you your fee status (more on fees below), assigned processing track, and estimated processing time. We will make every effort to process your request within 20 working days unless the requested information is voluminous in size or the request requires a search in another office which will take more time to process.

FOIA Fees

By law, PHMSA is entitled to charge certain fees to the requester, depending on the requester's fee category. Please review Subpart E of the Department of Transportation's FOIA regulations for more information on FOIA fees.

For purposes of charging fees, which includes search and review fees, PHMSA divides requesters into the following categories: commercial requesters, who may be charged both search and review fees; educational or noncommercial scientific institutions and representatives of the news media, who are not charged search or review fees; and all other requesters, who may be charged search fees beyond the first two hours of search time, but no review fees. Duplication fees also may apply.

At the time you submit your FOIA request you should indicate which fee category you are in and the basis supporting the category designation. Additionally, you may wish to specify an amount you are willing to pay for the processing of your request, which will enable PHMSA to continue processing your request without interruption. It is assumed that you are willing to pay fees up to $25.00. If we estimate that the total fees for processing your request will exceed $25.00, we will notify you in writing of the fee estimate and offer you an opportunity to narrow your request to reduce the fees. You are required to commit to the payment of FOIA processing fees. We will suspend processing of your request until we reach a fee agreement with you.

PHMSA charges an hourly rate for manual search and review time, which is based upon the pay range of the employee performing the function. If any fees are charged, you will be billed when the requested records are sent to you. If the costs exceed $250.00, prepayment may be required.

In some cases, PHMSA grants fee waivers or reductions of fees for non-commercial requests in the public interest. You may wish to refer to DOT's FOIA regulations, 49 C.F.R. §7.43, to determine if you qualify for a fee waiver.

PHMSA will waive the fees when the total cost of the requested information is less than $20.00.

Updated: Thursday, August 2, 2018