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The Freedom of Information Act

General Information About the FOIA

The FOIA is a federal statute that grants the public a judicially-enforceable right to access the records of federal agencies, upon request, subject to several statutory exemptions and exclusions. The FOIA exists to give the public insight into the operations of the federal government and to hold the government accountable for its actions.

Any member of the public may file a FOIA request with BPA. Your request must contain a reasonable description of the records sought. A description of a record is reasonable if it helps a BPA employee find the record without undue effort.

The term “record” refers to a broad range of information that BPA generates or receives, including paper and electronic documents, emails, letters, charts and presentations, photographs, and videos. The FOIA does not require BPA to create new records, answer questions, or explain the records provided.

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Exemptions

The FOIA authorizes – and in some cases requires – BPA to redact certain information contained in its records before releasing the record in response to a FOIA request. The FOIA lists nine grounds (or exemptions) for withholding information. These exemptions are summarized below:

  • Exemption 1: Classified information. BPA does not routinely handle classified information, and rarely uses this exemption.
  • Exemption 2: Information that pertains to internal personnel policies and practices of BPA. While BPA does not use this exemption often, it is occasionally used to protect records related to Human Resources functions.
  • Exemption 3: Information that federal statutes (besides FOIA) permit or require BPA to withhold. Certain federal statutes make specified types of records exempt from disclosure under FOIA. For example, under Exemption 3, BPA occasionally withholds information of archeological resources, pursuant to 16 USC § 470hh(a).
  • Exemption 4: Trade secrets and confidential commercial or financial information provided to BPA. When a FOIA request includes commercial or financial information provided to BPA, BPA must ask the submitter of the information whether the information should be withheld. BPA then independently evaluates whether any requested redactions meet the requirements for withholding.
  • Exemption 5: Internal or inter-agency records can be protected from disclosure if they are:
    • Attorney-client communications – Confidential legal advice and communications between BPA or government attorneys and BPA employees
    • Attorney work product – Documents prepared by an attorney in contemplation of litigation
    • Deliberative process – Information or discussions that inform and precede BPA decisions, including draft documents, policy recommendations, analyses, and briefing materials.
    While many records qualify for protection under Exemption 5, BPA often voluntarily discloses this information when doing so would not result in foreseeable harm.
  • Exemption 6: Personal information that, if disclosed, would clearly invade an individual’s privacy. BPA uses this exemption to protect the personal information of employees and other individuals. Information redacted under Exemption 6 may include home addresses, Social Security numbers, certain personnel records including discipline matters, and health information. BPA cannot voluntarily release such information; information that falls under this exemption must be protected.
  • Exemption 7: Information that is compiled for law enforcement purposes when its disclosure would:
    • Interfere with a pending or prospective law enforcement proceeding,
    • Deprive someone of a fair trial,
    • Violate the privacy interests of a witness or other participant in a law enforcement matter,
    • Disclose the identity of an informant, expose a sensitive law enforcement technique or procedure, or
    • Endanger the physical safety of an individual.
    BPA maintains little law enforcement information, and rarely uses Exemption 7.
  • Exemption 8: Information that relates to the examination of a financial institution. This exemption is never used by BPA.
  • Exemption 9: Certain geological and geophysical information. This exemption is rarely used by BPA.

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Filing a FOIA Request

Before making a FOIA request, you can check to see if the information is already available. Many agency records are available in person at the BPA library, in the electronic BPA FOIA Reading Room, in the electronic Department of Energy FOIA Reading Room, or by searching BPA’s website. Accessing BPA records through these resources is faster, and always free.

If the records are not available, you can make a FOIA request at any time. Your FOIA request must be made in writing; we cannot accept records requests over the phone.

Submit your FOIA by:

Filling out an electronic form at http://www.bpa.gov/news/FOIA/Pages/RequestForm.aspx.

Faxing it to (503) 230-4619

Mailing it to:

Christina J. Munro, FOIA/Privacy Officer
Mail Stop D-B1
Bonneville Power Administration
P.O. Box 3621
Portland, OR 97208

Your request must include:

  • Your contact information (e.g. full name, address, phone number, email address). We need to contact you to acknowledge receipt of your request, clarify the scope of the request, invoice fees associated with your request, provide status updates, and provide your response.
  • As many details as possible about the information you are seeking from BPA. This enables us to conduct a reasonable search, and identify and retrieve records responsive to your request.
  • Information on fees (see below for more information on these topics)
    • Type of requester (e.g. commercial, media, other). Certain types of requesters may be charged fees for records. The type of requester does not affect your right to access records; all requesters have the same access rights under FOIA.
    • The amount of fees you are willing to pay, if required.
    • Whether you are seeking a fee waiver and/or expedited processing, and appropriate justifications.
  • Your preferred format for records. Options include paper, electronic format (usually Adobe PDF), CD and in some instances DVD.

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Response Time

We normally process FOIA requests in the order in which they are received. To ensure that simple requests – those requiring little search or review - are not delayed by the processing of complex or voluminous requests, we place simple requests in a separate queue. Within each of these queues, BPA processes requests in the order in which it receives them.

Generally, the FOIA requires BPA to respond to your request within 20 business days. The 20-day “clock” starts when BPA receives a request that includes all of the required elements listed above, including an adequate description of records sought. If your request does not meet those requirements, BPA’s FOIA Public Liaison will contact you and work with you to remedy any procedural issues. If you fail to address the concerns within 30 calendar days of notification, BPA will deem your request to be withdrawn. You may still resubmit a request at any time.

Expedited Processing

You may request expedited processing of your FOIA request. If we are able to provide expedited processing, we will process your request ahead of other requests in that queue, and will respond to your request as soon as possible. Requests that are complex or voluminous may still require 20 or more days to process, even if expedited processing has been approved.

If you would like expedited processing, you must request it in writing when you file your FOIA request. BPA will grant expedited processing if you can demonstrate a “compelling need” for the information requested. To do so, you must show that either:

  1. Not obtaining the requested records in an expedited manner could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety to an individual; OR
  2. You are primarily engaged in disseminating information; urgency exists to inform the public about an actual or alleged federal government activity; and delaying response to the request will compromise a significant, recognized interest to the American public.

Your request for expedited processing must also include the following certification, which is required by federal law: “I declare under penalty of perjury that the foregoing is true and correct. Executed on [date].”

Requests for expedited processing will be granted or denied within 10 calendar days. If we deny your request, we will provide an explanation of our decision, and provide information about how to appeal the decision.

Delayed Responses

Under certain circumstances, BPA is allowed to respond to your request outside of the strict 20-day deadline. BPA may toll (pause) the “clock” one time while we await your clarification of a request. We may also delay response while the FOIA Public Liaison works with you to resolve any dispute regarding fees.

BPA may extend the 20 business day deadline by an additional 10 business days or longer when a request involves “unusual circumstances.” This is defined by statute as requests that require:

  • The need to search for and collect records from more than one office;
  • The need to review a voluminous amount of records for responsiveness or redaction, or
  • The need to consult with the Department of Energy or another government agency

If your request requires one or more of these steps, BPA’s FOIA Public Liaison will contact you to determine if you would like to narrow the scope or otherwise simplify your request. If you cannot or will not simplify your request, BPA will notify you in writing that we will not be able to meet the 20-day deadline, explaining why we need an extension, and when we expect to complete your request.

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Fees​

You can send in a FOIA request at any time for free. However, the FOIA authorizes BPA to charge fees to recover the costs of searching for, reviewing, and reproducing records. Fees may be waived if they total less than $15, if your response is not completed by the deadline, at the discretion of the FOIA Officer, or upon request if you meet certain circumstances.

Fees vary by requester type. When submitting a FOIA request, please specify your requester type. Most requesters fall into the “Other” category. If you are submitting a FOIA request on behalf of another person or organization (e.g., an attorney submitting a request on the behalf of a client), please specify the identity of that person and their requester type instead of your own.

Type of Requester
Fees
Commercial Use requesters are requesting information to further their own commercial interests, or the commercial interest of those they represent.
Search time: Hourly rate of searching employee plus 16%. Average rate is $42 per hour.
 
Review time: Hourly rate of searching employee plus 16%. Average rate is $42 per hour.
 
Duplication: $0.10 per page
Educational Institution requesters include schools that operate a program of scholarly research. This category does not include students who are requesting records for personal research or course completion; they are “Other” requesters. See below.
 
Non-Commercial Scientific requesters are requesting records on behalf of an institution that is operated solely for the purpose of conducting scientific research that is not intended to promote any particular product or industry.
 
News Media Representatives are requesters actively gathering news for an entity that disseminates news to the public. News media representatives may work for or own television or radio stations, newspapers, periodicals, or alternative media sources such as blogs or list-serves. The publication record of the requester may be considered when determining if someone is a news media representative.
Search time: No charge
 
Review time: No charge
 
Duplication: 100 free pages, $0.10 per page thereafter
Other
Search time: No charge for the first two hours; additional hours charged at the hourly rate of searching employee plus 16%. Average rate is $42 per hour.
 
Review time: No charge
 
Duplication: 100 free pages, $0.10 per page thereafter

 

In your FOIA request, you are encouraged to make a specific statement limiting the amount of fees you are willing to pay. If the fees total $15 or less, BPA waives the fees and provides records for free. If we estimate that the cost to process your request exceeds the amount you agreed to pay, the FOIA Public Liaison will contact you, in advance of incurring the cost, to give you the opportunity to alter your request in order to reduce the fees. If altering the request is not an option, we will ask you to commit in writing to pay the estimated amount of fees before we process your request

Fee Waivers

BPA will grant fee waivers when the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest. Under  FOIA, disclosure is in the public interest whenever: (a) It is likely to contribute significantly to the public’s understanding of the operations and activities of the government, AND (b) the disclosure of the requested information is not primarily in the requester’s commercial interest.

You must request the fee waiver in writing when you file your FOIA request. Your request must demonstrate why you satisfy the above criteria with respect to the requested information. It is not sufficient to simply declare that you meet the criteria.

BPA will notify you in writing of our decision on your fee waiver request. If we deny your request, we will provide an explanation of our decision, and provide information about how to appeal the decision

Payment of Fees

Ordinarily, you will not be required to pay any fees until after the records have been processed and sent to you.  You may be required to pay fees in advance, however, if we determine that processing your request will cost more than $250.00 or if you have a history of non-payment or late payment of FOIA fees.

Failure to Pay Fees

In the event FOIA fees are not paid within 30 calendar days from the date of the invoice, you will be charged interest in accordance with the Debt Collection Improvement Act of 1996. Any subsequent FOIA request made by a requester who is in arrears will not be processed until the outstanding fees have been paid in full.

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Administrative Appeals

If you disagree with BPA’s application of the FOIA exemptions, or if BPA otherwise fails to meet its statutory obligations, you may file an administrative appeal with the Department of Energy, Office of Hearing and Appeals. You must file your appeal within 30 calendar days of receiving the BPA’s final response. If DOE rejects the appeal, you may sue BPA in federal court.

You may file an administrative appeal of “adverse determinations.” Under FOIA, adverse determinations include:

  • Denial of a request for expedited processing
  • Assignment to a particular requester fee category
  • Denial of a request for reduction or waiver of fees
  • Denial of access to records in whole or in part through withholding or redaction
  • Determination that there are no records responsive to your request
  • The reasonableness of the search for responsive records

Filing an Appeal

All appeals must be made in writing and addressed to the FOIA Appeals Officer. You may submit your appeal by electronic mail at OHA.filings@hq.doe.gov, or by regular mail to:

Director, Office of Hearings and Appeals, HG-1,
Department of Energy
1000 Independence Avenue SW
Washington DC 20585.

Your appeal must include the following:

  • Your name, address, telephone number, and e-mail address
  • A copy of the initial request
  • A copy of the letter denying your request in whole or part
  • An explanation of the reasons why you disagree with our action. If you are appealing because you believe there are additional records, you must specify why you believe that records exist and, if possible, where you believe they might be located.

Please include the notation "Freedom of Information Act Appeal" on the front of your envelope and at the beginning of your appeal to ensure that your appeal is received without delay.

Your appeal will be decided within 20 working days of the receipt of your request by the Office of Hearings and Appeals. A decision will be sent to you in writing.

Denial of Appeals

If your appeal is denied and you believe that your FOIA request was not handled in accordance with the law, you may seek assistance from the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) of the National Archives and Records Administration. OGIS provides mediation services to resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and agencies. You can find information about OGIS at https://www.ogis.archives.gov/site3.aspx. You can also sue BPA in federal court; a judge will review the records (if any) and BPA’s actions to determine if FOIA request was properly handled.

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