The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) is a federal law that was created in 1966 to provide the public a right of access to government documents and records, the premise being that the public has a right to know what the government is doing. The Act applies to federal agencies within the executive branch of the government, which includes the Postal Service. It says that any person may ask an agency for a copy of its records, and that the agency must provide such records, unless an exemption exists that protects the records from disclosure.
The Privacy Act of 1974 protects certain federal government records containing an individual’s personal information. It also gives individuals the right to:
A request for agency documents and records pursuant to the FOIA must be in writing and identified as a “Freedom of Information Act” request. The Act requires a requester to provide a reasonable description of the documents or records sought. A reasonable description is one that allows agency employees familiar with the subject matter to locate responsive records with a reasonable amount of effort. Be aware that the Postal Service has about 40,000 facilities at which records are maintained and a centralized index of every record does not exist. Requests that do not meet the reasonable description standard include requests for all records within a broad category, such as requests for “all records the Postal Service has about me,” “all records concerning my mail,” and “all records relating to the delivery of mail to prisoners.” If your request does not contain a reasonable description of the records you are seeking, we will write back to you requesting clarification. A precise description of the records you want will ensure responsible use of postal resources to satisfy your right of access while minimizing any processing costs to you.
The FOIA does not require a requester to give a reason for requesting agency records.
A requester may be charged a fee for some or all of the Postal Service’s direct costs. Fees are based on the amount of time it takes to process a request, the number of pages provided, and a requester’s fee category (educational, news media, commercial, or other).
Duplication costs are 15 cents per page. Search time and review time is $21 per half hour or $42 per hour. Direct costs are assessed for information that must be retrieved by computer. If the assessable cost is $25.00 or less, we do not charge a fee. If the fee exceeds $25 and you did not indicate willingness to accept all costs, the Postal Service will notify you of the estimated fee and ask for your written agreement to accept liability. If the estimated fee is over $250, our regulations allow us to collect an amount up to the full estimated cost before processing the request.
Any requester may ask for a fee waiver. The FOIA provides that fees can be waived or reduced “if disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to the public understanding of the operations or activities of the government.” To be eligible for a fee waiver, the requested information cannot be primarily for the commercial interest of the requester. Indigence is not sufficient to qualify for a fee waiver.
You should submit your request online or by mail to the appropriate FOIA Requester Service Center. For more information, refer to the Make a Request page.
Send your request to the custodian of the records. The custodian is the head of the postal facility where the record is maintained. In most instances, it will be a postmaster. At Headquarters, it is the vice president of the functional area relating to the subject of the request.
If you do not know who the custodian is, submit your request to the Records Office at Headquarters and your request will be directed to the appropriate custodian.
Alternatively, requests may be faxed to the Manager, Records Office at (202) 268-5353.
The FOIA provides that the Postal Service’s records custodian will respond in writing within 20 working days of receipt of a request. Given the Postal Service’s size and structure, it is important that you send your request to the proper Requester Service Center in order to avoid any delays in response. There are unusual circumstances in which the agency may extend the response period for another 10 working days. These include requests that require a search for records from a facility other than the one processing the request, requests that require the search for and review of a large volume of records, and requests that require consultation with another agency or with other agency components having an interest in disclosure.
A FOIA request will receive expedited processing in two situations. In one instance, the requester must demonstrate that the failure to expeditiously obtain the records could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual. In the other instance, the requester must demonstrate that he or she is primarily engaged in disseminating information to the public and that the requested information is urgently needed to inform the public about actual or alleged government activity.
The FOIA requires the release of any requested agency record, unless it is protected from disclosure by an exemption or exception in the Act. It is the policy of the Postal Service to make its official records available to the public to the maximum extent possible, consistent with the public interest. If records or parts of records are withheld, you have a right to appeal the denial of your request by writing to the Postal Service’s General Counsel within 90 days of the date of the denial letter. The letter of appeal should include the FOIA tracking number assigned to the request, a statement of the action, or failure to act, from which the appeal is taken, a statement identifying the specific redactions to responsive records that the requester is challenging, the reasons why the action or failure to act is believed to be erroneous, and the relief sought, along with copies of the original request, the denial letter, and any other related correspondence. Submit the appeal letter to:GENERAL COUNSEL
The Postal Service suggests the Change of Address or Boxholder Request Format - Process Servers (letterhead optional) be used in conjunction with regulations at 39 CFR § 265.14(d)(5)(ii) by persons empowered by law to serve legal process when requesting change of address or boxholder information.
Agencies must use the Address Information Request Format - Government Agencies in accordance with regulations at 39 CFR § 265.14(d)(5)(i) & § 265.14(d)(7) when requesting address verification. If the request lacks any of the required information or a proper signature, the custodian must return the request to the agency specifying the deficiency in the space marked “other”.
The Postal Service does not have a centralized database listing the current address of all its customers. The Postal Service does not need such a list because it delivers to addresses, rather than individuals. However, if a customer moves and submits a change of address order, that information is kept at the Post Office serving the customer’s last known address for a period of 18 months. Policy for the disclosure of customer name and address information is contained at section 265.14(d) of our regulations (39 CFR § 265), which can be accessed from the resources section, as well as pursuant to the routine uses as described in applicable system of records ((SOR 800.00 Address Change, Mail Forwarding, and Related Services).