The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal statute that allows individuals to request access to federal agency records, except to the extent records are protected from disclosure by the Freedom of Information Act.
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What We Do
The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Division of FOIA Services handles Privacy Act requests for records in the custody of the U.S. Public Health Service (USPHS). In addition, the Division reviews the appeals that are filed as a result of a requester receiving a denial by one of the Public Health Service Agencies. We respect the right of the public to access information in the possession of the Department, but also protect privileged information.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a means by which the general public can obtain access to agency records. The FOIA requires federal agencies to disclose records requested by the public unless the record, or a portion thereof, may be withheld pursuant to one or more of the nine exemptions contained in the Act. Public information documents such as press releases, publications, speeches, etc, are available from PSC without filing a FOIA request. You can use the PSC search engine to help you locate documents on the PSC website. You may also wish to use the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Government Information Locator Service (GILS) to search for major information systems maintained by HHS.
The Freedom of Information Act generally provides that any person has a right, enforceable in court, to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from disclosure by one of nine exemptions or by one of three special law enforcement record exclusions. Our policy is to answer all requests as accurately and completely as possible from existing records. In order to accomplish this most efficiently we require all requests to be submitted in writing, by postal service, facsimile, messenger or email (link); requests must contain the requestor's postal address and the name of the person responsible for paying any fees that may be charged. A phone number where we can reach the requester to get clarification of the request or resolve other issues concerning the request is strongly recommended. Providing the request in writing assures that all the rights provided by the FOIA and these regulations are protected.
Guide for Submitting a FOIA Request
Any individual may submit a FOIA request for PHS records. The request must be in writing and can be submitted by mail, fax, or in person. You need no special form. Simply state in writing the records you are requesting, and mark both your envelope and letter "Freedom of Information Act Request". Doing so will assist in ensuring that your request is forwarded to the FOIA office. Address your request as follows:
PHS Freedom of Information Act Office
5600 Fishers Lane, Room 17A-46
Rockville, Maryland 20857
(301) 443-5252 (telephone)
(301) 443-0925 (fax)
In your request, identify the record(s) that you are requesting. Describe the record as specifically as possible. A vague or incomplete description could delay our response. The more details you provide, the better. Please ensure that you also provide a full mailing address and a telephone number so that we may contact you if it becomes necessary to clarify your request. Upon receipt, the FOIA staff will log-in your request, assign a case number, and send you a letter acknowledging receipt.
We try to process your request within 20 working days from the date it is received in the FOIA Office. However, it may take longer depending on the records at issue in your request and the number of pending requests ahead of yours. FOIA requests are processed on a "first-in, first-out" basis. You may call the FOIA staff to discuss the processing and status of your request if you have any questions. You may also request expedited processing, and should make that request at the time you file your FOIA request. Expedited processing will be granted if the requester (1) demonstrates an imminent threat to life or physical safety; and (2) is a member of the media and demonstrates an urgency to inform the public concerning actual or alleged government activity. We will also consider expedited processing if you demonstrate that the requested records are needed to meet a deadline in litigation or a deadline imposed by a governmental agency for commenting on a proposed regulation.
If a record is determined to be exempt from release under the FOIA, in whole or in part, we will provide written notification of this decision. Our letter will describe the material being withheld, the reasons for the denial and a reference to the specific FOIA exemption that authorizes the withholding. The denial letter will also explain your right to appeal the decision and identify the official to whom you should send the appeal.
In processing your request, we follow the guidelines established in HHS implementing Public Information Regulations, 45 CFR Part 5.