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Freedom of Information Act Regulation

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AGENCY:

Office of Government Ethics (OGE).

ACTION:

Interim final rule.

SUMMARY:

The U.S. Office of Government Ethics (OGE) is updating its Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulation to implement changes in accordance with the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.

DATES:

This interim final rule is effective December 23, 2016. Written comments are invited and must be received on or before January 23, 2017.

ADDRESSES:

You may submit written comments to OGE on the interim final rule by any of the following methods:

  • Email: usoge@oge.gov. Include the appropriate Regulation Identifier Number in the subject line of the message.
  • Fax: (202) 482-9237.
  • Mail/Hand Delivery/Courier: U.S. Office of Government Ethics, Suite 500, 1201 New York Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20005-3917, Attention: Jennifer Matis, Assistant Counsel.

Instructions: All submissions must include OGE's agency name and the appropriate Regulation Identifier Number (RIN) 3209-AA39 for this proposed rulemaking. OGE will post all comments on its Web site (www.oge.gov). All comments received will be posted without change; OGE generally does not edit a commenter's personal identifying information from submissions. You should submit only information that you wish to make available publicly.

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FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT:

Jennifer Matis, Assistant Counsel, Office of Government Ethics, Suite 500, 1201 New York Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20005-3917; Telephone: 202-482-9216; TTY: 800-877-8339; FAX: 202-482-9237.

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SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION:

I. Substantive Discussion

On June 30, 2016, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, Public Law 114-185, 130 Stat. 538 (the Act) was enacted. The Act specifically requires all agencies to review and update their Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regulations in accordance with its provisions. OGE is making changes to its regulations accordingly, including correcting citations, highlighting the electronic availability of records, implementing the “rule of three” for frequently requested records, notifying requesters of their right to seek assistance from the FOIA Public Liaison and the Office of Government Information Services, changing the time limit for appeals, implementing the foreseeable harm standard, describing limitations on assessing search fees if the response time is delayed, and adding new annual reporting requirements.

II. Matters of Regulatory Procedure

Administrative Procedure Act

Pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 553(b), I find that good cause exists for waiving the general notice of proposed rulemaking and public comment procedures as to these technical amendments. The notice and comment procedures are being waived because these amendments, which concern matters of agency organization, procedure and practice, are being adopted in accordance with mandates required by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, which requires that agencies amend their FOIA regulations not later than 180 days after the date of enactment. It is also in the public interest in order to provide notice to requestors of the additional time to file appeals.

Regulatory Flexibility Act

As the Director of the Office of Government Ethics, I certify under the Regulatory Flexibility Act (5 U.S.C. chapter 6) that this interim final rule would not have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities because it primarily affects individuals requesting records under the FOIA.

Paperwork Reduction Act

The Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. chapter 35) does not apply because this regulation does not contain information collection requirements that require approval of the Office of Management and Budget.

Unfunded Mandates Reform Act

For purposes of the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 (2 U.S.C. chapter 5, subchapter II), this rule would not significantly or uniquely affect small governments and will not result in increased expenditures by State, local, and tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the private sector, of $100 million or more (as adjusted for inflation) in any one year.

Executive Order 13563 and Executive Order 12866

Executive Orders 13563 and 12866 direct agencies to assess all costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives and, if regulation is necessary, to select the regulatory approaches that maximize net benefits (including economic, environmental, public health and safety effects, distributive impacts, and equity). Executive Order 13563 emphasizes the importance of quantifying both costs and benefits, of reducing costs, of harmonizing rules, and of promoting flexibility. In promulgating this rulemaking, OGE has adhered to the regulatory philosophy and the applicable principles of regulation set forth in Executive Orders 12866 and 13563. The rule has not been reviewed by the Office of Management and Budget because it is not a significant regulatory action for the purposes of Executive Order 12866.

Executive Order 12988

As Director of the Office of Government Ethics, I have reviewed this rule in light of section 3 of Executive Order 12988, Civil Justice Reform, and certify that it meets the applicable standards provided therein.

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List of Subjects in 5 CFR Part 2604

  • Administrative practice and procedure
  • Archives and records
  • Confidential business information
  • Freedom of information
  • Reporting and recordkeeping requirements
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Approved: December 20, 2016.

Walter M. Shaub, Jr.,

Director, Office of Government Ethics.

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For the reasons set out above, OGE amends 5 CFR part 2604 as follows:

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PART 2604—FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT RULES AND SCHEDULE OF FEES FOR THE PRODUCTION OF PUBLIC FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE REPORTS

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1. The authority citation for part 2604 continues to read as follows:

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Authority: 5 U.S.C. 552; 5 U.S.C. App. 101-505; E.O. 12600, 52 FR 23781, 3 CFR, 1987 Comp., p. 235; E.O. 13392, 70 FR 75373, 3 CFR, 2005 Comp., p. 216.

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2. Amend § 2604.103 by revising the definition of “Chief FOIA Officer” to read as follows:

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Definitions.
* * * * *

Chief FOIA Officer means the OGE official designated in 5 U.S.C. 552(j)(1) to provide oversight of all of OGE's FOIA program operations.

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3. Amend § 2604.201 by revising paragraphs (b) introductory text and (b)(4), removing paragraph (c), and redesignating paragraph (d) as paragraph (c) to read as follows:

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Public reading room facility and Web site.
* * * * *

(b) Records available. The OGE Web site contains OGE records which are required by 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(2) to be made available for public inspection in an electronic format, including:

* * * * *

(4) Copies of records created by OGE that have been released to any person under subpart C of this part and that, because of the nature of their subject matter, OGE determines have become or are likely to become the subject of subsequent requests for substantially the same records or that have been requested three or more times; and

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4. Amend § 2604.202 by revising paragraph (a) to read as follows:

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Index identifying information for the public.

(a) OGE will maintain and make available for public inspection in an electronic format a current index of the materials available on its Web site that are required to be indexed under 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(2).

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5. Amend § 2604.303 by revising paragraphs (a) and (b)(4), and adding paragraph (b)(5) to read as follows:

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Form and content of responses.

(a) Form of notice granting a request. After the FOIA Officer has made a determination to grant a request in whole or in part, the requester will be notified in writing. The notice will describe the manner in which the record will be disclosed, whether by providing a copy of the record with the response or at a later date, or by making a copy of the record available to the requester for inspection at a reasonable time and place. The procedure for such an inspection may not unreasonably disrupt OGE operations. The response letter will inform the requester of the right of the requester to seek assistance from the FOIA Public Liaison. The response letter will also inform the requester in the response of any fees to be charged in accordance with the provisions of subpart E of this part.

(b) * * *

(4) A statement that the denial may be appealed under § 2604.304, and a description of the requirements of that section; and

(5) A statement of the right of the requester to seek dispute resolution services from the FOIA Public Liaison or the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS).

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6. Amend § 2604.304 by revising paragraph (b) to read as follows:

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Appeal of denials.
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(b) Letter of appeal. The appeal must be in writing and must be sent within 90 calendar days of receipt of the denial letter. An appeal should include a copy of the initial request, a copy of the letter denying the request in whole or in part, and a statement of the circumstances, reasons or arguments advanced in support of disclosure of the record.

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7. Amend § 2604.305 by revising paragraph (c) to read as follows:

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Time limits.
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(c) Extension of time limits. When additional time is required for one of the reasons stated in paragraph (d) of this section, OGE will, within the statutory 20-working day period, issue written notice to the requester setting forth the reasons for the extension and the date on which a determination is expected to be made. If more than 10 additional working days are needed, the requester will be notified and provided an opportunity to limit the scope of the request or to arrange for an alternative time frame for processing the request or a modified request. To aid the requester, OGE will make available its FOIA Public Liaison to assist in the resolution of any disputes. Additionally, OGE will notify the requester of the right of the requester to seek dispute resolution services from OGIS.

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8. Amend § 2604.401 by revising paragraph (a) to read as follows:

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Application of exemptions.

(a) Foreseeable harm standard. A requested record will not be withheld from inspection or copying unless it comes within one of the classes of records exempted by 5 U.S.C. 552 and OGE reasonably foresees that disclosure would harm an interest protected by an exemption described in 5 U.S.C. 552(b) or is prohibited by law. Nothing in this paragraph requires disclosure of information that is otherwise prohibited from disclosure by law, or otherwise exempted from disclosure under 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(3).

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9. Amend § 2604.503 by revising paragraph (d) to read as follows:

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Limitations on charging fees.
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(d) If OGE does not comply with one of the time limits under § 2604.305, it will not assess search fees (or in the case of a requester described under § 2604.502(c), duplication fees), except as provided in paragraphs (d)(1) through (d)(3) of this section.

(1) If OGE has determined that unusual circumstances apply, as defined in 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(B), and OGE provided timely written notice to the requester in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(B), a failure to comply with the time limit is excused for an additional 10 days.

(2) If OGE has determined that unusual circumstances apply, as defined in 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(B), and more than 5,000 pages are necessary to respond to the request, OGE may charge search fees (or in the case of requesters described under § 2604.502(c), duplication fees) if OGE has provided timely written notice to the requester in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(B) and OGE has discussed with the requester via written mail, email, or telephone (or made not less than three good-faith attempts to do so) how the requester could effectively limit the scope of the request in accordance with 5. U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(B)(ii).

(3) If a court has determined that exceptional circumstances exist, as Start Printed Page 94217defined in 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(6)(B), a failure to comply with the time limits shall be excused for the length of time provided by the court order.

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10. Revise § 2604.601 to read as follows:

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Electronic posting and submission of annual OGE FOIA report.

On or before February 1 of each year, OGE will submit to the Office of Information Policy at the United States Department of Justice and to the Director of OGIS an Annual FOIA Report. The report will include the information required by 5 U.S.C. 552(e). OGE will electronically post on its Web site the report and the raw statistical data used in each report, in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 552(e)(3).

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[FR Doc. 2016-31004 Filed 12-22-16; 8:45 am]

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