I. Getting Started
This guide will familiarize you with the specific procedures for making a FOIA request to the Department of Labor (Department or DOL). The process is neither complicated nor time-consuming. Following the guide will help you obtain the information you are seeking in the shortest amount of time. This guide also includes descriptions of the types of records maintained by different components of the Department, some of which are available through the Privacy Act or other disclosure statutes (e.g., Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), Labor-Management Reporting and Disclosure Act of 1959 (LMRDA)).
Initially, it is important to know that there is no central office in the Department of Labor that processes FOIA requests for all DOL components. Rather, FOIA processing at the Department of Labor is decentralized. Each component responds to requests for its own records. Therefore, before sending a request to the Department of Labor, you should determine which component is likely to have the records you are seeking.
The formal rules for submitting FOIA requests to the Department of Labor are published at 29 CFR Part 70.
II. What Records Are Publicly Available?
All DOL components make certain types of records available in their respective Reading Rooms such as: (1) final opinions and orders made in adjudicating cases; (2) final statements of policy and interpretations which have not been published in the Federal Register; (3) administrative staff manuals and instructions to staff that affect members of the public; and (4) copies of records that have been the subject of a FOIA request and are of sufficient public interest that the agency believes other persons are likely to request them (commonly referred to as "frequently requested" records). You may also find it helpful to see what the Department of Labor has made available through our Open Government Initiative.
III. Where Should I Send My FOIA Request?
Within the Department of Labor, each component processes its own FOIA requests. Therefore, your request will receive the quickest possible response if it is addressed directly to the disclosure officer for the component that you believe has the records you are seeking. You can find a description of Department of Labor components and the disclosure officers, including their addresses, online.
If you believe the Department of Labor maintains the records you are seeking, but you are uncertain about which DOL component has the records, you may send your request to: Office of the Solicitor, Office of Information Services (OIS), Division of Management and Administrative Legal Services, 200 Constitution Ave NW, Room N-2420, Washington, DC 20210, Attention: FOIA Request. Personnel in OIS will forward your request to the appropriate agency component.
You may submit your FOIA request by mail, fax or email.
IV. What Should I Include in My Request?
The Department of Labor does not require a special form in order to make a FOIA request. Requests must be in writing and be submitted by fax, courier service or postal mail. You may also submit your request via email to email@example.com.
Your request must reasonably describe the records you seek. You do not have to give the record's name or title, but the more specific you are, the more likely it will be that the record you seek can be located. For example, if you have been interviewed by a law enforcement component (such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration) in connection with an enforcement investigation and you request a copy of the interview report, providing the date and location of the interview, the Department of Labor component involved, and the name of the interviewing agent and subject of the investigation will be helpful in deciding where to search and which records respond to your request.
V. Are There Requirements to Get Records About Myself?
In order to protect your privacy, when you make a written request for information about yourself, you must provide either a notarized statement or a statement signed under penalty of perjury stating that you are the person you claim to be. You may fulfill this requirement by: (1) having your signature on your request letter witnessed by a notary, or (2) pursuant to 29 U.S.C. 1746 (2) including 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]." If you request information about yourself and do not provide one of these statements, your request cannot be processed under the Privacy Act. This requirement helps to ensure that private information about you will not be disclosed to anyone else.
VI. How Long Will It Take to Answer My FOIA Request?
Under the statute, federal agencies are required to respond to a FOIA request within twenty working days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. This period does not begin until the request is actually received by the component that maintains the records sought.
Under the FOIA, a component may extend the response time for an additional ten business days when: (1) the component needs to collect responsive records from field offices; (2) the request involves a "voluminous" amount of records which must be located, compiled, and reviewed; or (3) the component must consult with another agency which has a substantial interest in the responsive material or with two or more other components of the Department of Labor. When such an extension is needed, the component will notify you of this and offer you the opportunity to modify or limit your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for processing your request.
An agency component may toll (or stop) the time from running to respond to a FOIA request. Tolling can only occur if the request is properly made and the clock has already started. The number of times an agency component can toll the time is limited. An agency component can only toll the 20-day clock in two situations: a) one time when the agency is waiting for information it has requested from the requester; or b) as many times as necessary in order to clarify any issue with the requester regarding fee assessment.
VII. Can My FOIA Request Be Processed Faster?
Under certain conditions you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis. However, in an effort to treat all requesters equitably, the Department of Labor ordinarily will only expedite a FOIA request in cases in which there is a threat to someone's life or physical safety; the requestor is primarily engaged in disseminating information and has established that the request is urgently needed to inform the public concerning some actual or alleged government activity; or where an individual will suffer the loss of substantial due process rights if the records are not processed on an expedited basis. The Department of Labor must make a determination on whether or not to expedite a request within 10 calendar days.
VIII. Are There Any Fees?
There is no initial fee to file a FOIA request and in many cases no fees are charged for processing. However, by law, an agency is entitled to charge certain fees, which depend on the category into which you fall.
For the purpose of fees only, the FOIA divides requesters into four categories: (1) commercial requesters who may be charged fees for searching, reviewing, and photocopying records; (2) educational or noncommercial scientific institutions may be charged for photocopying, only after the first 100 pages; (3) representatives of the news media are charged for photocopying after the first 100 pages; and (4) all other requesters (requesters who do not fall into any of the other three categories) are charged for photocopying after 100 pages and for time spent searching for records in excess of two hours. The Department of Labor charges $0.15 per page for photocopying. Actual costs are charged for formats other than paper, such as computer tapes, disks and videotapes.
You may include in your request a specific statement limiting the amount of fees that you are willing to pay. If you do not do so, the Department of Labor will assume that you are willing to pay fees up to $25. If we estimate that the fees for processing your request will exceed $250, we will notify you of the estimate and offer you an opportunity to narrow the scope of your request in order to reduce the fees.
IX. Can I Request a Fee Waiver?
Yes. If you are advised of or expect that a fee will be charged, you may request in writing a waiver of those fees. Fee waivers are granted when 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. The mere fact that you are a non-profit organization or a member of the media does not, in and of itself, qualify you for a fee waiver. 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 is not a legal basis for granting a fee waiver.
X. What Can I Expect in Response to My Request?
Once a component has fully processed your request, the component will send you a written response, including any documents deemed responsive to your request.
The response letter will advise you if any information is being withheld in full or in part pursuant to one or more of the nine FOIA exemptions. When pages are being withheld in their entirety, the component will specify the volume of the materials denied. The component will also notify you if no records were found or if other procedural issues add to the component's inability to fully comply with your request.
You will be contacted in those cases where the disclosure officer can not process your request due to the lack of necessary information.
XI. Can I Appeal the Response?
You may file an administrative appeal with the Solicitor of Labor for any of the following reasons: a) if records responsive to your request are withheld, b) if you believe that there are records responsive to your request in addition to those records produced by the agency, c) if your request has not been processed within the time limits set forth in the FOIA, or d) if your request for expedited processing or a fee waiver is denied. You have 90 days from the date of the denial to file your appeal. Your appeal must be in writing and submitted to:
Solicitor of Labor, U.S. Department of Labor, 200 Constitution Ave NW, Room N-2420, Washington, DC 20210, Attn: Freedom of Information Act Appeal. You may also submit your appeal electronically at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is no specific form or particular language needed to file an administrative appeal. Your appeal should include the initial request number assigned to your request, copies of your initial request and the response from the disclosure officer. Your letter should explain the reasons for your appeal. For example, if you are appealing because you believe there are additional records that have not been located, you should specify why you think such records exist and, if possible, where you believe they might be located.
XII. What Is Judicial Review?
You may file a lawsuit in Federal Court if the Department of Labor fails to respond to either your initial request or your appeal within the time limits discussed above; or if, after your appeal has been decided, you still believe that the Department of Labor has not handled your FOIA request in accordance with the law. You may file your suit in a Federal District Court in any of the following places: (1) where you reside; (2) where you have your principal place of business (if any); (3) in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia; or (4) where the agency records are maintained. You have six years to file suit in a District Court from the time your right to sue begins.