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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," Paul Chalmers, 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 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

Access to Certain Records without a FOIA Request

PBGC automatically makes certain types of records available for public inspection and copying in its on-site reading room, and available in its Electronic Reading Room.  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) PBGC Fact Sheets, (3) Strategic Plan, (4) PBGC Appeal Decisions, and (5) 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.

Where to Make a FOIA Request

Requests for PBGC non-public information or information which is not routinely available to the public must be submitted to the PBGC Disclosure Division:

Disclosure Division
Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation
445 12th Street SW
Washington, D.C. 20024-2101
Phone: (202) 229-4040
Fax: (202) 229-4042

How to Submit a FOIA or Privacy Act Request

Visit the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation Public Access Link and register to create an online profile to submit your request. You may also submit a request by FAX to (202) 229-4042, by regular mail, directly by email to, or via the National FOIA Portal.

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 PBGC will disclose every record sought. There are statutory exemptions that authorize or require the withholding of information.  When PBGC withholds information, it will specify which exemption of the FOIA permits the withholding. You should be aware that the FOIA does not require 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, 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, PBGC will require the requester to provide some proof of identity before records will be disclosed. If you are submitting a Privacy Act request via the Public Access Link, you must provide proof of identity by digitally authenticating yourself via or by executing and uploading PBGC’s Certification of Identity Form. On written requests, PBGC will usually accept the requester's signature as proof of identity. 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 without your consent.

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 PBGC may be disclosed to their representative.

Time for Response

Under the FOIA, 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.

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 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, 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.  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 PBGC receives your response to a request for information or clarification, the tolling period ends and the 20-working day response period restarts.

Expedited Processing

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, 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 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, PBGC may recover the following costs:

  • Search/Review time - $54 per hour; PBGC charges $13.50 per one quarter hour increments,
  • 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 narrow your request in order to reduce the fees. Please note 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.

Fee Waivers

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.

Request Determination

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.

FOIA Public Liaison Contact Information

To discuss a FOIA issue you have encountered, please contact:

The Public Liaison can be reached at (202) 229-4040.


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 ninety (90) days from the denial to file your appeal. Make your appeal in writing and email it to or mail it to: Office of the General Counsel, Disclosure Division, Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, 445 12th Street SW, Washington, DC 20024-2101, 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.

Judicial Review

You may file a lawsuit in Federal Court if 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 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.

OGIS Mediation Services

As part of the 2007 FOIA amendments, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) was created to offer mediation services to resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and Federal agencies as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation. Using OGIS services does not affect your right to pursue litigation. If you are requesting access to your own records (which is considered a Privacy Act request), you should know that OGIS does not have the authority to handle requests made under the Privacy Act of 1974. You may contact OGIS in any of the following ways:

Office of Government Information Services
National Archives and Records Administration
{OGIS} 8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
Telephone: 202-741-5770
Facsimile: 202-741-5769
Toll-free: 1-877-684-6448

Additional Questions or Status Check

In order to check on the status of a pending FOIA or Privacy Act request you can call the FOIA Requester Service Center at (202) 229-4040; 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 by visiting the Public Access Link, clicking on Request Status in the toolbar, and enter the tracking number provided by the FOIA Office. 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.

PBGC Summary of Privacy Act

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