PBGC's Freedom of Information Act Guide
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is found in Title 5 of the United States Code, Section 552. It was enacted in 1966 and allows any person the right to request access to federal agency records. The FOIA does not, however, provide a right of access to records held by state or local government agencies or private businesses or individuals. It also does not require the government to provide tangible items such as computer software used by an agency. However, agency information created by computer software is considered an agency record under the FOIA. In furtherance of Executive Order #13392, "Improving Agency Disclosure of Information," Philip R. Hertz, Deputy General Counsel, has been appointed Chief FOIA Officer for PBGC.
This guide will familiarize you with the specific procedures for making a FOIA request to the PBGC. Following the procedures will help you obtain the information you are seeking in the shortest amount of time.
The rules for submitting FOIA requests to the PBGC are set forth in Part 4901.11 of Title 29 of the Code of Federal Regulations. These regulations are available in law libraries and Federal Depository Libraries, and can be found on the internet at http://www.gpo.gov.
- Access to Certain Records without a FOIA Request
- Where to Make a FOIA Request, to include FOIA requests for a Privacy Act Record
- How to Make a FOIA Request, to include FOIA requests for a Privacy Act Record
- Income Verification Request Procedures
- Time for Response
- Expedited Processing
- Fee Waivers
- Request Determination
- Judicial Review
- Additional Questions or Status Check
The PBGC automatically makes certain types of records available for public inspection and copying in its on-site reading room, and available electronically in its electronic FOIA Reading Room at: http://www.pbgc.gov/news/other/res/electronic-reading-room.html. If you visit our reading room or have access to the Internet, you will not need to make a FOIA request to obtain access to these records. Such records include: (1) Opinion Letters, (2) Publications, (3) PBGC Fact Sheets, (4) Government Information Locator System (GILS), (5) Strategic Plan, (6) PBGC Appeal Decisions, and (7) 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. Documents will be added on an ongoing basis as they are created or identified.
Requests for PBGC non-public information or information which is not routinely available to the public must be submitted to the PBGC Disclosure Officer:
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
1200 K Street, N.W., Suite 11101
Washington, D.C. 20005
You must submit your request in writing. Requests may be submitted by fax at (202) 326-4042, courier services, electronic mail, or by mail. For your convenience, you may click on the envelope above to make an electronic request. If you wish to send a request by e-mail, the e-mail address is: email@example.com.
Please include your name, organization (if any), address, and phone number. Also, you must reasonably describe the records you seek - the more detail you give us, the more quickly we will be able to respond. Finally, you must state your willingness to pay fees (you may state the maximum amount you are willing to pay) or request a waiver of fees (see below).
A FOIA request can be made for any PBGC record. This does not mean, however, that the PBGC will disclose every record sought. There are statutory exemptions that authorize or require the withholding of information. When the PBGC withholds information, it will specify which exemption of the FOIA permits the withholding. You should be aware that the FOIA does not require the PBGC to do research for you, to analyze data, to answer questions, or to create records in order to respond to a request.
In those cases where the PBGC Disclosure Officer cannot process your request due to the lack of necessary information, you will be contacted and additional information will be requested.
Requests for a person's Privacy Act record are limited. Even if a request does not mention the Privacy Act or the FOIA, however, the PBGC automatically treats requests for agency records as being made under both the FOIA and the Privacy Act, whenever appropriate to do so.
When you make a request for information about yourself, the PBGC will require the requester to provide some proof of identity before records will be disclosed. On written requests, the PBGC will usually accept the requester's signature as proof of identity. The PBGC may also require other verification information. These requirements help to ensure that private information about you will not be inappropriately disclosed to anyone else. An individual who visits the PBGC to inspect Privacy Act records will be required to display personal identification.
In instances where a representative is acting on behalf of another person, such as an attorney, the person may be required to provide a signed authorization stating that their records on file with the PBGC may be disclosed to their representative.
Under the FOIA, the PBGC is required to respond to a request within twenty days, excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal holidays. This period begins (for requests that reasonably describe the records sought) the next business day after receipt of a request by the Disclosure Officer.
The PBGC receives thousands of requests each year. Many of these requests require a line-by-line review of hundreds or even thousands of pages of documents. Although the PBGC makes every effort to respond to FOIA requests as promptly as possible, in some cases it may not be able to do so within the specified time period. Under the FOIA, the PBGC may extend the response time for an additional ten business days when: (1) the PBGC 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 PBGC must consult with another agency which has a substantial interest in the responsive material or with two or more components of the agency. When such an extension is needed, the PBGC may notify you of this and offer you the opportunity to modify or limit your request. Alternatively, you may agree to a different timetable for the processing of your request.
If we need further information from you, the PBGC will stop the time period for responding to your request until you provide the necessary information. This procedure, known as "tolling," can be used only once by the agency for the purpose of seeking additional information. The PBGC may also toll, as many times as are necessary, the time period for responding to your request to clarify with you any issues regarding payment of necessary fees. In either case, once the PBGC receives your response to a request for information or clarification, the tolling period ends and the 20-working day response period restarts.
Under certain conditions you may be entitled to have your request processed on an expedited basis, i.e., within ten business days of the date on which the request was received. However, in an effort to treat all requesters equitably, the PBGC ordinarily will only expedite a FOIA request in cases in which there is a threat to someone's life or physical safety; the requester 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.
There is no initial fee to file a FOIA request and in many cases no fees are charged for processing. The FOIA, however, permits the PBGC to recover part of the cost incurred in complying with FOIA requests.
For the purposes of fees only, the FOIA divides requesters into three categories. Commercial requesters may be charged fees for searching for records, processing the records, and photocopying them. On the other hand, educational or noncommercial scientific institutions and representatives of the news media are charged only for photocopying expenses, after the first 100 pages of copies. Requesters who do not fall into either of these two categories are not charged for processing, however, they are charged only for record searches and photocopying. There is no charge for the first two hours of search time or for the first 100 pages of photocopies. Specifically, the PBGC may recover the following costs:
- Search/Review time - $4 per each one-quarter hour of professional personnel time or $1.75 per one-quarter hour of custodial or clerical personnel time,
- Photocopying - 15¢ per page,
- Computerized records search and reproduction in other than paper format (e.g. computer tapes, disks, and videotapes) - actual costs.
You may include in your request a specific statement limiting the amount that you are willing to pay in fees. If we estimate that the fees for processing your request will exceed the amount you state, we will notify you of the estimate and offer you an opportunity to change your request in order to reduce the fees. Please note that PBGC is authorized to recover search and review costs even if no responsive records are found or, after review, there is no disclosure of records.
A waiver or reduction of fees may be authorized in cases where disclosure of information is in the public interest because it 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. The mere fact that you are a non-profit organization or a member of the media does not in and of itself qualify for a fee waiver. In addition, a requester's inability to pay is not a legal basis for granting a fee waiver.
The FOIA provides access to all federal agency records (or portions of those records), except those records that are withheld under nine exemptions and three exclusions (reasons for which an agency may withhold records from a requester). The determination letter will advise you of any information that is being withheld pursuant to one or more of the exemptions. When pages are being withheld in their entirety, PBGC will specify the volume of the materials denied and/or, if feasible, the location of excluded material.
You may file an administrative appeal, through the Disclosure Office, with the Office of the General Counsel if records responsive to your request are withheld; if you believe that there are records responsive to your request in addition to those records processed by the agency; if your request has not been granted within the time limits set forth in the FOIA; if your request for expedited processing of a fee waiver is denied; or any other adverse determination by the Disclosure Office of your response. You have thirty (30) days from the denial to file your appeal. Make your appeal in writing and mail it to:
Office of the General Counsel, Disclosure Division, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, 1200 K Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20005, Attn: FOIA Appeal.
There is no specific form or particular language needed to file an administrative appeal. You should include any initial request number assigned to your request, a copy of your initial request, and the response letter provided by the Disclosure Office. 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.
You may file a lawsuit in Federal Court if the PBGC fails to respond to either your initial request or your appeal within the time limits discussed above; fails to provide you the records you believe you requested; if after your appeal has been decided, you still believe that the PBGC has not handled your FOIA request in accordance with the law; or, any other adverse reason. 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.
In order to check on the status of a pending FOIA request you can call the FOIA Requester Service Center at (202) 326-4040; mail an inquiry to the same address your FOIA request was mailed to; send us an inquiry to the Disclosure Division fax number noted above; or request a status update by using the email envelope link on the first page of this website. If you have any concerns as to the service you have received, please ask to speak to the FOIA Public Liaison to resolve any issues.