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Discussions with Deb: How to File a Freedom of Information Act Request and Why?
June 12, 2018
June 12, 2018
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law provides anyone the right to access records from federal administrative agencies. The law was enacted in 1966 and strengthened in 1974 following the Watergate scandal. With FOIA you can request any information that an agency has in written form, although the agencies are able to withhold certain information by citing any one of nine exemptions.
FOIA can be a powerful tool to gather information for your EEOICPA claim. Many claims are filed years after the employee worked at the Department of Energy (DOE) facility. This can make it tough when trying to remember what they did years before. Survivors often have no knowledge of what their loved one did at work. Filing a FOIA request for the worker’s DOE file can help in both these cases. DOE does provide copies of the worker’s file to Department of Labor (DOL) but these records do not always contain all the information in the worker’s file. To file a FOIA for DOE records of a deceased worker you will need to provide DOE with a copy of the worker’s death certificate.
When you FOIA request with DOE you should request a copy of your entire file. Often you will find helpful information, such as documentation of training the worker had for handling specific toxic substances, as well as the names of processes, buildings, and rooms in which the worker worked.
If the worker was a chemist, physicist, engineer, metallurgist, or other professional they may have authored papers while working for DOE. These can also be FOIAed. These papers can be very valuable when linking the work to toxic substances. In one case a worker who died from lung complications had written years earlier about his work with powdered beryllium and silica. This documentation helped get this claim approved.
Site directories from the facility will list the people who worked there with the location they worked in and can be useful to help prove employment. Medical records contained in the worker’s yearly facility exam may turn up evidence of illnesses. In one case a claim was approved when a physician noticed that the blood tests contained in the worker’s file showed signs of a bone cancer. If the worker was involved in an incident a FOIA can be filed requesting documentation of the incident using as many facts as the worker can recall.
DOE has an online portal where information can be requested, although the request can also be made by mail or fax.
There is a Federal FOIA Ombudsman’s office to help if you run into difficulty. The US Office of Special Counsel has developed a FOIA Handbook, which can be helpful in understanding the FOIA process. Department of Justice’s An Overview of the Freedom of Information Act Procedural Requirements also offers a good explanation of the legal requirements agencies need to follow under FOIA.
So how do I file a FOIA Request?
It’s easy! DOE has an online link for making FOIA requests. NIOSH FOIA requests are filed through the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and may also be submitted online. DOL FOIA requests may be filed by emailing [email protected]. You can now track the status of your FOIA request on DOL’s FOIA Portal. If you are filing a FOIA for a deceased relative’s DOE records you may need to provide a copy of the worker’s death certificate.