75 FR 33510, June 14, 2010, unless otherwise noted.
This part contains the regulations that the United States Department of Education follows in processing requests for records under the Freedom of Information Act, as amended, 5 U.S.C. 552. These regulations must be read in conjunction with the FOIA, including its exemptions to disclosure, and, when appropriate, in conjunction with the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended, 5 U.S.C. 552a, and its implementing regulations in 34 CFR part 5b.
As used in this part:
(a) Act or FOIA means the Freedom of Information Act, as amended, 5 U.S.C. 552.
(b) Department means the United States Department of Education.
(c) Component means each separate bureau, office, board, division, commission, service, administration, or other organizational entity of the Department.
(d) FOIA request means a written request for agency records that reasonably describes the agency records sought, made by any person, including a member of the public (U.S. or foreign citizen/entity), partnership, corporation, association, and foreign or domestic governments (excluding Federal agencies).
(1) Agency records are documentary materials regardless of physical form or characteristics that -
(i) Are either created or obtained by the Department; and
(ii) Are under the Department's control at the time it receives a FOIA request.
(2) Agency records include -
(i) Records created, stored, and retrievable in electronic format;
(ii) Records maintained for the Department by a private entity under a records management contract with the Federal Government; and
(iii) Documentary materials preserved by the Department as evidence of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, operations or other activities of the Department or because of the informational value of data contained therein.
(3) Agency records do not include tangible, evidentiary objects or equipment; library or museum materials made or acquired and preserved solely for reference or exhibition purposes; extra copies of documents preserved only for convenience of reference; stocks of publications; and personal records created for the convenience of an individual and not used to conduct Department business or incorporated into the Department's record keeping system or files.
(a) Electronic inspection.
(1) Pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(2), the Department makes available for public inspection in an electronic format the following records created on or after November 1, 1996:
(i) Final opinions and orders in adjudications;
(ii) Statements of policy and interpretations adopted by the Department and not published in the Federal Register;
(iii) Administrative staff manuals and instructions affecting the public; and
(iv) Copies of all agency records regardless of form or format released to the public pursuant to a FOIA request that the Department determines are likely to be the subject of future FOIA requests or have been requested three or more times.
(2) The Department currently makes the agency records described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section available for public inspection in an electronic format through its electronic reading room located on the Department's FOIA website at http://www2.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/foia/readingroom.html.
(b) Public reading room. The Department may maintain a public reading room containing the agency records described in paragraph (a)(1) of this section. The Department's public reading room is currently located at the National Library of Education, 400 Maryland Avenue SW, Plaza Level (Level B), Washington, DC 20202-0008. To visit the public reading room, members of the public can contact the Department's FOIA Service Center via email at EDFOIAManager@ed.gov.
(c) Hard copies. For any agency records that are not made available for public inspection in the Federal Register or pursuant to paragraph (a) of this section, the Department will, upon request, provide hard copies in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(3).
(a) General. The Department discloses business information it obtains from a submitter under the Act in accordance with this section.
(b) Definitions. For purposes of this section:
(1) Business information means commercial or financial information obtained by the Department from a submitter that may be protected from disclosure under 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(4) (Exemption 4 of the Act).
(2) Submitter means any person or entity (including corporations; State, local, and tribal governments; and foreign governments) from whom the Department obtains business information.
(c) Designation of business information.
(1) A submitter must use good faith efforts to designate, by appropriate markings, either at the time of submission or at a reasonable time thereafter, any portion of its submission that it considers to be business information protected from disclosure under Exemption 4 of the Act.
(2) A submitter's designations are not binding on the Department and will expire 10 years after the date of the submission unless the submitter requests, and provides justification for, a longer designation period.
(3) A blanket designation on each page of a submission that all information contained on the page is protected from disclosure under Exemption 4 presumptively will not be considered a good faith effort.
(d) Notice to submitters. Except as provided in paragraph (g) of this section, the Department promptly notifies a submitter whenever a FOIA request or administrative appeal is made under the Act seeking disclosure of the information the submitter has designated in good faith as business information protected from disclosure under paragraph (c) of this section, or the Department otherwise has reason to believe that it may be required to disclose information sought to be designated by the submitter as business information protected from disclosure under Exemption 4 of the Act. This notice includes either a description of the business information requested or copies of the requested agency records or portions of agency records containing the requested business information as well as a time period, consistent with § 5.21(c), within which the submitter can object to the disclosure pursuant to paragraph (e) of this section.
(e) Opportunity to object to disclosure.
(1) If a submitter objects to disclosure, it must submit to the Department a detailed written statement specifying all grounds under Exemption 4 of the Act for denying access to the information, or a portion of the information sought.
(2) A submitter's failure to object to the disclosure by the deadline established by the Department in the notice provided under paragraph (d) of this section constitutes a waiver of the submitter's right to object to disclosure under paragraph (e) of this section.
(3) A submitter's response to a notice from the Department under paragraph (d) of this section may itself be subject to disclosure under the Act.
(f) Notice of intent to disclose. The Department considers a submitter's objections and submissions made in support thereof in deciding whether to disclose business information sought to be protected by the submitter. Whenever the Department decides to disclose information over a submitter's objection, the Department gives the submitter written notice, which includes:
(1) A statement of the reasons why the submitter's objections to disclosure were not sustained.
(2) A description of the information to be disclosed.
(3) A specified disclosure date that is a reasonable time subsequent to the notice.
(g) Exceptions to notice requirements. The notice requirements of paragraph (d) of this section do not apply if -
(1) The Department does not disclose the business information of the submitter;
(2) The Department has previously lawfully published the information;
(3) The information has been made available to the public by the requester or by third parties;
(4) Disclosure of the information is required by statute (other than the Act) or regulation issued in accordance with the requirements of Executive Order 12600 (52 FR 23781, 3 CFR, 1987 Comp., p. 235); or
(h) Notice of FOIA lawsuit. Whenever a requester files a lawsuit seeking to compel the disclosure of a submitter's business information, the Department promptly notifies the submitter.
(i) Corresponding notice to requester. The Department notifies the requester whenever it notifies a submitter of its opportunity to object to disclosure, of the Department's intent to disclose requested information designated as business information by the submitter, or of the filing of a lawsuit.
(j) Notice of reverse FOIA lawsuit. Whenever a submitter files a lawsuit seeking to prevent the disclosure of the submitter's information, the Department promptly notifies the requester, and advises the requester that its request will be held in abeyance until the lawsuit initiated by the submitter is resolved.
In response to a FOIA request, the Department produces only those agency records that are not already publicly available and that are in existence at the time it receives a request. The Department does not create new agency records in response to a FOIA request by, for example, extrapolating information from existing agency records, reformatting available information, preparing new electronic programs or databases, or creating data through calculations of ratios, proportions, percentages, trends, frequency distributions, correlations, or comparisons.
The Department does not destroy agency records that are the subject of a pending FOIA request, appeal, or lawsuit.
(a) Making a FOIA request. Any FOIA request for an agency record must be in writing, must include a valid electronic mail or physical address, and must be transmitted to the Department as indicated on the Department's website. See www.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/foia/request_foia.html.
(b) Description of agency records sought. A FOIA request must reasonably describe the agency record sought, to enable Department personnel to locate the agency record or records with a reasonable amount of effort. Whenever possible, a FOIA request should describe the type of agency record requested, the subject matter of the agency record, the date, if known, or general time period when it was created, and the person or office that created it. Requesters who have detailed information that would assist in identifying and locating the agency records sought are urged to provide this information to the Department to expedite the handling of a FOIA request.
(c) FOIA request deemed insufficient. If the Department determines that a FOIA request does not reasonably describe the agency record or records sought, the FOIA request will be deemed insufficient under the Act. In that case, the Department informs the requester of the reason the FOIA request is insufficient and, at the Department's option, either administratively closes the FOIA request as insufficient without determining whether to grant the FOIA request or provides the requester an opportunity to modify the FOIA request to meet the requirements of this section.
(d) Verification of identity. In compliance with the Privacy Act of 1974, as amended, 5 U.S.C. 552a, FOIA requests for agency records pertaining to the requester, a minor, or an individual who is legally incompetent must include verification of the requester's identity pursuant to 34 CFR 5b.5.
(a) Acknowledgements of FOIA requests. The Department promptly notifies the requester when it receives a FOIA request.
(b) Consultation and referrals. When the Department receives a FOIA request for a record or records created by or otherwise received from another agency of the Federal Government, it either responds to the FOIA request after consultation with the other agency, or refers the FOIA request to the other agency for processing. When the Department refers a FOIA request to another agency for processing, the Department will so notify the requester.
(c) Decisions on FOIA requests. The Department determines whether to comply with a FOIA request within 20 working days after the appropriate component of the Department first receives the request. This time period commences on the date that the request is received by the appropriate component of the Department, but commences no later than 10 calendar days after the request is received by the component of the Department designated pursuant to § 5.20(a) to receive FOIA requests for agency records. The Department's failure to comply with these time limits constitutes exhaustion of the requester's administrative remedies for the purposes of judicial action to compel disclosure.
(d) Requests for additional information. The Department may make one request for additional information from the requester and toll the 20-day period while awaiting receipt of the additional information.
(e) Extension of time period for processing a FOIA request. The Department may extend the time period for processing a FOIA request only in unusual circumstances, as described in paragraphs (e)(1) through (3) of this section, in which case the Department notifies the requester of the extension in writing. For extensions of more than 10 additional working days, the Department must also notify the requester, in writing, of the right to seek dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services. A notice of extension affords the requester the opportunity either to modify its FOIA request so that it may be processed within the 20-day time limit, or to arrange with the Department an alternative time period within which the FOIA request will be processed. For the purposes of this section, unusual circumstances include:
(1) The need to search for and collect the requested agency records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request.
(2) The need to search for, collect, and review and process voluminous agency records responsive to the FOIA request.
(3) The need to consult with another agency or two or more agency components having a substantial interest in the determination on the FOIA request.
(f) FOIA Public Liaison and FOIA Requester Service Center. The Department's FOIA Public Liaison assists in the resolution of disputes between the requester and the Department. The Department provides information about the status of a FOIA request to the requester through the Department's FOIA Requester Service Center. Contact information for the Department's FOIA Public Liaison and FOIA Requester Service Center may be found at http://www.ed.gov/policy/gen/leg/foia/contacts.html.
(g) Notification of determination. Once the Department makes a determination to grant a FOIA request in whole or in part, it notifies the requester in writing of its decision and of the right to seek assistance from the Department's FOIA Public Liaison.
(h) Denials of FOIA requests.
(1) Only Departmental officers or employees delegated the authority to deny a FOIA request may deny a FOIA request on behalf of the Department.
(i) The Department notifies the requester in writing of any decision to deny a FOIA request in whole or in part. Denials under this paragraph can include the following: A determination to deny access in whole or in part to any agency record responsive to a request; a determination that a requested agency record does not exist or cannot be located in the Department's records; a determination that a requested agency record is not readily retrievable or reproducible in the form or format sought by the requester; a determination that what has been requested is not a record subject to the FOIA; a determination on any disputed fee matter, including a denial of a request for a fee waiver; and a denial of a request for expedited processing.
(ii) All determinations denying a FOIA request in whole or in part are signed by an officer or employee designated under paragraph (h)(1) of this section, and include:
(A) The name and title or position of the denying officer or employee.
(B) A brief statement of the reason or reasons for the denial, including any exemptions applicable under the Act.
(C) An estimate of the volume of agency records or information denied, by number of pages or other reasonable estimate (except where the volume of agency records or information denied is apparent from deletions made on agency records disclosed in part, or providing an estimate would harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption under the Act).
(D) Where an agency record has been disclosed only in part, an indication of the exemption under the Act justifying the redaction in the agency record (unless providing this information would harm an interest protected by an applicable exemption under the Act).
(E) A statement notifying the requester of the right to seek assistance from the Department's FOIA Public Liaison.
(F) A statement notifying the requester of the right to seek dispute resolution services from the Department's FOIA Public Liaison or the Office of Government Information Services.
(G) A statement of appeal rights and a list of requirements for filing an appeal under § 5.40.
(i) Timing of responses to FOIA requests.
(1) Multitrack processing.
The Department may use two or more processing tracks to distinguish between simple and more complex FOIA requests based on one or more of the following: the time and work necessary to process the FOIA request, the volume of agency records responsive to the FOIA request, and whether the FOIA request qualifies for expedited processing as described in paragraph (i)(2) of this section.
(2) Expedited processing.
(i) The Department gives expedited treatment to FOIA requests and appeals whenever the Department determines that a FOIA request involves one or more of the following:
(A) A circumstance in which the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual.
(B) The urgent need of a person primarily engaged in disseminating information to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity; or
(C) Other circumstances that the Department determines demonstrate a compelling need for expedited processing.
(ii) A requester may ask for expedited processing at the time of the initial FOIA request or at any time thereafter.
(iii) A request for expedited processing must contain a detailed explanation of the basis for the request, and must be accompanied by a statement certifying the truth of the circumstances alleged or other evidence of the requester's compelling need acceptable to the Department.
(iv) The Department makes a determination whether to grant or deny a request for expedited processing within 10 calendar days of its receipt by the component of the Department designated pursuant to § 5.20(a) to receive FOIA requests for agency records, and processes FOIA requests accepted for expedited processing as soon as practicable and on a priority basis.
The Department assesses fees for processing FOIA requests in accordance with § 5.32(a), except where fees are limited under § 5.32(b) or where a waiver or reduction of fees is granted under § 5.33. Requesters must pay fees by check or money order made payable to the U.S. Department of Education, and must include the FOIA request number on the check or money order. The Department retains full discretion to limit or adjust fees.
(a) Commercial use request means a request from or on behalf of a FOIA requester seeking information for a use or purpose that furthers the requester's commercial, trade, or profit interests, which can include furthering those interests through litigation. For the purpose of assessing fees under the Act, the Department determines, whenever reasonably possible, the use to which a requester will put the requested agency records.
(b) Direct costs mean those expenses that an agency actually incurs in searching for and duplicating (and, in the case of commercial use FOIA requests, reviewing) agency records to respond to a FOIA request. Direct costs include, for example, the pro rata salary of the employee(s) performing the work (i.e., basic rate of pay plus 16 percent) and the cost of operating duplication machinery. The Department's other overhead expenses are not included in direct costs.
(c) Duplication means making a copy of the agency record, or of the information in it, as necessary to respond to a FOIA request. Copies can be made in several forms and formats, including paper and electronic records. The Department honors a requester's specified preference as to form or format of disclosure, provided that the agency record is readily reproducible with reasonable effort in the requested form or format.
(d) Educational institution means a preschool, a public or private elementary or secondary school, an institution of undergraduate higher education, an institution of graduate higher education, an institution of professional education, or an institution of vocational education, that operates a program of scholarly research. To qualify as an educational institution under this part, a requester must demonstrate that an educational institution authorized the request and that the agency records are not sought for individual or commercial use, but are instead sought to further scholarly research. A request for agency records for the purpose of affecting a requester's application for, or prospect of obtaining, new or additional grants, contracts, or similar funding is presumptively a commercial use request.
(e) Noncommercial scientific institution means an institution that is operated solely for the purpose of conducting scientific research, the results of which are not intended to promote any particular product or industry. A noncommercial scientific institution does not operate for a “commercial use”, as the term is defined in paragraph (a) of this section. To qualify as a noncommercial scientific institution under this part, a requester must demonstrate that a noncommercial scientific institution authorized the request and that the agency records are sought to further scientific research and not for a commercial use. A request for agency records for the purpose of affecting a requester's application for, or prospect of obtaining, new or additional grants, contracts, or similar funding is presumptively a commercial use request.
(f) Representative of the news media, or news media requester, means any person or entity that gathers information of potential interest to a segment of the public, uses its editorial skills to turn the raw materials into a distinct work, and distributes that work to an audience. For the purposes of this section, the term “news” means information about current events or information that would be of current interest to the public. Examples of news media entities include television or radio stations broadcasting to the public at large and publishers of periodicals that qualify as disseminators of news and make their products available for purchase by, subscription by, or free distribution to the general public. To be regarded as a representative of the news media, a “freelance” journalist must demonstrate a solid basis for expecting publication, such as a publication contract or a past publication record. For inclusion in this category, a requester must not be seeking the requested agency records for a commercial use.
(g) Review means the examination of an agency record located in response to a FOIA request to determine whether any portion of the record is exempt from disclosure under the Act. Reviewing the record includes processing the agency record for disclosure and making redactions and other preparations for disclosure. Review costs are recoverable even if an agency record ultimately is not disclosed. Review time includes time spent considering any formal objection to disclosure but does not include time spent resolving general legal or policy issues regarding the application of exemptions under the Act.
(h) Search means the process of looking for and retrieving agency records or information responsive to a FOIA request. Searching includes page-by-page or line-by-line identification of information within agency records and reasonable efforts to locate and retrieve information from agency records maintained in electronic form or format, provided that such efforts do not significantly interfere with the operation of the Department's automated information systems.
(a) Fees. In responding to FOIA requests, the Department charges the following fees (in accordance with the Office of Management and Budget's “Uniform FOIA Fee Schedule and Guidelines,” 52 FR 10012 (March 27, 1987)), unless it has granted a waiver or reduction of fees under § 5.33 and subject to the limitations set forth in paragraph (b) of this section:
(1) Search. The Department charges search fees, subject to the limitations of paragraph (b) of this section. Search time includes time spent searching, regardless of whether the search results in the location of responsive agency records and, if so, whether such agency records are released to the requester under the Act. The requester will be charged the direct costs, as defined in § 5.31(b), of the search. In the case of computer searches for agency records, the Department charges the requester for the direct cost of conducting the search, subject to the limitations set forth in paragraph (b) of this section.
(i) The Department charges fees for initial agency record review at the same rate as for searches, subject to the limitations set forth in paragraph (b) of this section.
(ii) No fees are charged for review at the administrative appeal level except in connection with -
(A) The review of agency records other than agency records identified as responsive to the FOIA request in the initial decision; and
(B) The Department's decision regarding whether to assert that an exemption exists under the Act that was not cited in the decision on the initial FOIA request.
(iii) Review fees are not assessed for FOIA requests other than those made for a “commercial use,” as the term is defined in § 5.31(a).
(3) Duplication. The Department charges duplication fees at the rate of $0.20 per page for paper photocopies of agency records, $3.00 per CD for documents recorded on CD, and at the direct cost for duplication for electronic copies and other forms of duplication, subject to the limitations of paragraph (b) of this section.
(b) Limitations on fees.
(1) Fees are limited to charges for document duplication when agency records are not sought for commercial use and the request is made by -
(i) An educational or noncommercial scientific institution, whose purpose is scholarly or scientific research; or
(ii) A representative of the news media.
(2) For FOIA requests other than commercial use FOIA requests, the Department provides the first 100 pages of agency records released (or the cost equivalent) and the first two hours of search (or the cost equivalent) without charge, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(A)(iv)(II).
(3) Whenever the Department calculates that the fees assessable for a FOIA request under paragraph (a) of this section total $25.00 or less, the Department processes the FOIA request without charge to the requester.
(4) If the Department has failed to comply with any time limit in 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(A)(viii)(I), the Department may not assess search fees, except as otherwise provided in this paragraph. If the Department has determined that unusual circumstances (as described in § 5.21(e)) apply, it may assess search fees (or, for requesters with preferred fee status, it may assess duplication fees) if the Department gives the requester timely written notice under § 5.21(e) and responds to the FOIA request within 10 additional working days. If unusual circumstances apply and more than 5,000 pages are necessary to respond to the request, the Department may assess search fees (or, for requesters with preferred fee status, duplication fees) if the Department gives the requester timely written notice under § 5.21(e) and the Department discussed with the requester via written mail, electronic mail, 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.
(c) Notice of anticipated fees in excess of $25. When the Department estimates or determines that the fees for processing a FOIA request will total more than $25 and the requester has not stated a willingness to pay such fees, the Department notifies the requester of the anticipated amount of fees before processing the FOIA request. If the Department can readily anticipate fees for processing only a portion of a request, the Department advises the requester that the anticipated fee is for processing only a portion of the request. When the Department has notified a requester of anticipated fees greater than $25, the Department does not further process the request until the requester agrees in writing to pay the anticipated total fee.
(d) Charges for other services. When the Department chooses as a matter of administrative discretion to provide a special service, such as certification of agency records, it charges the requester the direct cost of providing the service.
(e) Charging interest. The Department charges interest on any unpaid bill assessed at the rate provided in 31 U.S.C. 3717. In charging interest, the Department follows the provisions of the Debt Collection Act of 1982, as amended (Pub. L. 97-365), and its administrative procedures, including the use of consumer reporting agencies, collection agencies, and offset.
(f) Aggregating FOIA requests. When the Department reasonably believes that a requester, or a group of requesters acting together, is attempting to divide a FOIA request into a series of FOIA requests for the purpose of avoiding or reducing otherwise applicable fees, the Department may aggregate such FOIA requests for the purpose of assessing fees. The Department does not aggregate multiple FOIA requests involving unrelated matters.
(g) Advance payments.
(2) Where the Department estimates or determines that fees for processing a FOIA request will total more than $250, it may require the requester to pay the fees in advance, except where the Department receives a satisfactory assurance of full payment from a requester with a history of prompt payment of FOIA fees.
(3) The Department may require a requester who has previously failed to pay a properly assessed FOIA fee within 30 calendar days of the billing date to pay in advance the full amount of estimated or actual fees before it further processes a new or pending FOIA request from that requester.
(4) When the Department requires advance payment of estimated or assessed fees, it does not consider the FOIA request received and does not further process the FOIA request until payment is received.
(h) Tolling. When necessary for the Department to clarify issues regarding fee assessment with the FOIA requester, the time limit for responding to the FOIA request is tolled until the Department resolves such issues with the requester.
(i) Other statutory requirements. The fee schedule of this section does not apply to fees charged under any statute that specifically requires an agency to set and collect fees for producing particular types of agency records.
(a) The Department processes a FOIA request for agency records without charge or at a charge less than that established under § 5.32(a) when the Department determines that -
(1) Disclosure of the requested 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
(2) Disclosure of the information is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
(b) To determine whether a FOIA request is eligible for waiver or reduction of fees pursuant to paragraph (a)(1) of this section, the Department considers the following factors:
(1) Whether the subject of the request specifically concerns identifiable operations or activities of the government.
(2) Whether the disclosable portions of the requested information will be meaningfully informative in relation to the subject matter of the request.
(3) The disclosure's contribution to public understanding of government operations, i.e., the understanding of the public at large, as opposed to an individual or a narrow segment of interested persons (including whether the requester has expertise in the subject area of the FOIA request as well as the intention and demonstrated ability to disseminate the information to the public).
(4) The significance of the disclosure's contribution to public understanding of government operations or activities, i.e., the public's understanding of the subject matter existing prior to the disclosure must be likely to be enhanced significantly by the disclosure.
(c) To determine whether a FOIA request is eligible for waiver or reduction of fees pursuant to paragraph (a)(2) of this section, the Department considers the following factors:
(1) The existence of the requester's commercial interest, i.e., whether the requester has a commercial interest that would be furthered by the requested disclosure.
(2) If a commercial interest is identified, whether the commercial interest of the requester is sufficiently large in comparison with the public interest in disclosure, that disclosure is primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.
(d) When the fee waiver requirements are met only with respect to a portion of a FOIA request, the Department waives or reduces fees only for that portion of the request.
(f) A requester must seek a fee waiver for each FOIA request for which a waiver is sought. The Department does not grant standing fee waivers but considers each fee waiver request independently on its merits.
(a) In general. A requester may seek an administrative review of an adverse determination on the FOIA request made by the requester by submitting an appeal of the determination to the Department. Adverse determinations include denials of access to agency records, in whole or in part; “no agency records” responses; and adverse fee decisions, including denials of requests for fee waivers, and all aspects of fee assessments.
(b) Appeal requirements. A requester must submit an appeal within 90 calendar days of the date on the adverse determination letter issued by the Department or, where the requester has received no determination, at any time after the due date for such determination. An appeal must be in writing and must include a detailed statement of all legal and factual bases for the appeal. The requester's failure to comply with time limits set forth in this section constitutes exhaustion of the requester's administrative remedies for the purposes of initiating judicial action to compel disclosure.
(c) Determination on appeal.
(1) The Department makes a written determination on an administrative appeal within 20 working days after receiving the appeal. The time limit may be extended in accordance with § 5.21(c) through (e). The Department's failure to comply with time limits set forth in this section constitutes exhaustion of the requester's administrative remedies for the purposes of initiating judicial action to compel disclosure.
(2) The Department's determination on an appeal constitutes the Department's final action on the FOIA request. Any Department determination denying an appeal in whole or in part includes the reasons for the denial, including any exemptions asserted under the Act, and notice of the requester's right to seek judicial review of the determination in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4). Where the Department makes a determination to grant an appeal in whole or in part, it processes the FOIA request subject to the appeal in accordance with the determination on appeal.