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2003 Annual Report


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Freedom of Information Activities (FOIA)
Annual Report of the Social Security Administration (SSA) for 2003

  1. Basic Information Regarding SSA's Report
    1. Report Prepared By:  Jonathan R. Cantor
      Title: Freedom of Information Officer
      Agency/Component: SSA, Office of General Counsel, Office of Public Disclosure

      Telephone: 410-965-1727 FAX: 410-966-4304

Mailing Address:
Office of Disclosure Policy
3-A-6 Operations Building
6401 Security Blvd.
Baltimore, MD 21235
    1. Electronic address for a copy of this report on SSA's website:
    2. To obtain a paper copy of this report write to the address shown above, or phone, fax, or E-Mail to the Office of Public Disclosure.  E-Mail address: .
  1.  How to Make a FOIA Request
    1. Complete information on making a FOIA request is contained in The Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 20 CFR Part 402.   It is available at: 
    2. SSA will try to furnish information as quickly as possible. However, it may take one month or more to locate, retrieve, and review many records. Complex requests and requests for numerous records may take longer.
    3. We generally do not disclose information about living individuals without their written consent, as this would be a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy;

       5 U.S.C.552(b)(6).    

We do not disclose tax information about third parties obtained by SSA from the IRS or on behalf of the IRS under 5 U.S.C. 552 (b) (3).

Depending upon the nature of the document, SSA may withhold documents under the deliberative process privilege, the attorney work product privilege or attorney-client privilege under 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(5).

  1. Definitions of Terms and Acronyms Used in the Report
    1. Agency specific acronyms or other terms.

1.      SSA - Social Security Administration

2.      SSN - Social Security number

    1. Basic terms, expressed in common terminology.

1.      FOIA/PA Request - Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act request. A FOIA request is generally a request for access to records concerning a third party, an organization, or a particular topic of interest. A Privacy Act request is a request for records concerning oneself; such requests are also treated as FOIA requests. (All requests for access to records, regardless of which law is cited by the requester, are included in this report.)

2.      Initial Request - a request to a Federal agency for access to records under the FOIA.

3.      Appeal - a request to a Federal agency asking that it review at a higher administrative level a full denial or partial denial of access to records under the FOIA, or any other FOIA determination such as a matter pertaining to fees.

4.      Processed Request or Appeal - a request or appeal for which an agency has taken a final action on the request or the appeal in all respects.

5.      Multi-Track Processing - a system in which simple requests requiring relatively minimal review are placed in one processing track and more voluminous and complex requests are placed in one or more other tracks. Requests in each track are processed on a first-in/first-out basis. A requester who has an urgent need for records may request expedited processing. (See below).

6.      Expedited Processing - an agency will process a FOIA request on an expedited basis when a requester has shown an exceptional need or urgency for the records which warrants prioritization of his or her request over other requests that were made earlier.

7.      Simple Request - a FOIA request that an agency using multi-track processing places in its fastest (nonexpedited) track based on the volume and/or simplicity of records requested.

8.      Complex Request - a FOIA request that an agency using multi-track processing places in a slower track based on the volume and/or complexity of records requested.

9.      Grant - an agency decision to disclose all records in full in response to a FOIA request.

10.  Partial Grant - an agency decision to disclose a record in part in response to a FOIA request, deleting information determined to be exempt under one or more of the FOIA's exemptions; or a decision to disclose some records in their entireties, but to withhold others in whole or in part.

11.  Denial - an agency decision not to release any part of a record or records in response to a FOIA request because all the information in the requested records is determined by the agency to be exempt under one or more of the FOIA's exemptions, or for some procedural reason (such as because no record is located in response to a FOIA request).

12.  Time Limits - the time period in the FOIA for an agency to respond to a FOIA request (ordinarily 20 working days from proper receipt of a "perfected" FOIA request).

13.  "Perfected" Request - a FOIA request for records which adequately describes the records sought, which has been received by the FOIA office of the agency or agency component in possession of the records, and for which there is no remaining question about the payment of applicable fees.

14.  Exemption 3 Statute - a separate Federal statute prohibiting the disclosure of a certain type of information and authorizing its withholding under FOIA subsection (b)(3).

15.  Median Number - the middle, not average, number. For example, of 3, 7, and 14, the median number is 7.

16.  Average Number - the number obtained by dividing the sum of a group of numbers by the quantity of numbers in the group. For example, of 3, 7, and 14, the average number is 8.

  1. Exemption 3 Statutes

List of exemption 3 statutes relied on by Agency during fiscal year.

1.  26 U.S.C. 6103 – SSA withholds tax return information, such as third party addresses and employers’ names and addresses, in situations in which section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code is applicable.

41 U.S.C. 253b (m) – The National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 1997, Public Law No. 104-201, codified at 41 U.S.C. 253b (m), contained a prohibition on the release of contractor proposals under the FOIA.  It prohibits the disclosure of any proposal that is not set forth or incorporated by reference in a contract entered into between an agency and the contractor that submitted the proposal.  This provides blanket protection for proposals of unsuccessful offerors.

2.  Statement of whether a court has upheld the use of each statute.

26 U.S.C. 6103:  Yes


The withholding of tax return information has been approved under three different cases.  See e.g., Church of Scientology v. IRS, 484 U.S. 9, 15 (1987); Aronson v. IRS, 973 F.2d 962, 964-65 (1st Cir. 1992) (finding that IRS lawfully exercised discretion to withhold street addresses pursuant to 26 U.S.C. section 6103(m) (1)); Long v. IRS, 891 F.2d 222, 224 (9th Cir. 1989) (holding that deletion of taxpayers’ identification does not alter confidentiality of section 6103 information).

         The United States Supreme Court and most appellate courts that have considered withholding tax return information have held either explicitly or implicitly that section 6103 of the Internal Revenue Code satisfies subpart (B) of exemption 3.

                        41 U.S.C. 253b(m):  No

V.  Initial FOIA/PA Access Requests

A.  Number of initial requests.

    1.  Number of requests pending as of end of

         preceding year:                                             2,392

    2.  Number of requests received during

         current fiscal year:                                    705,280

    3.  Number of requests processed during

         fiscal year 2003:                                        704,941

             4.  Number of requests pending as of end of

                  fiscal year 2003:                                            2,731 


         B.  Disposition of initial requests.

1.      Number of total grants:                                     699,390

2.      Number of partial grants:                                         704

3.      Number of denials based on FOIA exemptions:   1,587

                         Number of times each FOIA exemption is used

                       (multiple exemptions can be used for individual cases):


                                          (1) Exemption 1                          0

                                          (2) Exemption 2                      176

                                          (3) Exemption 3                      103

                                          (4) Exemption 4                        13

                                          (5) Exemption 5                      207

                                          (6) Exemption 6                   1,977

                                          (7) Exemption 7 (A)                    0

(8) Exemption 7 (B)                    0

(9) Exemption 7 (C)                  32

 (10) Exemption 7 (D)                    0

 (11) Exemption 7 (E)                    0

 (12) Exemption 7 (F)                    0

 (13) Exemption 8                          0

 (14) Exemption 9                          0


4.  Total other reasons for non-disclosure:      3,260


                                a.  No record                                           253

                                b.  Referrals                                                0

                                c.  Request Withdrawn                           118

                                d.  Fee-related reason                               86

                                e.  Records not reasonably described      60

                                f.   Not a proper FOIA request for some  

                                     other reason                                            0

                                g.  Not an agency record                              0

                                h.  Duplicate request                              2,217

                                i.   Other (General information on making

                                     a FOIA/PA request and Fee Schedule  526

VI.  Appeals of Initial Denials of FOIA/PA Requests 

         A.  Number of Appeals

                1.  Appeals received during fiscal year              93

                2.  Appeals processed during fiscal year           77                   

                B.      Disposition of Appeals

1.      Number completely upheld           47

2.      Number partially reversed               4

3.      Number completely reversed          7


                        Number of times each FOIA exemption is used

                        (multiple exemptions can be used for individual cases):


                                          (1) Exemption 1                          0

                                          (2) Exemption 2                          4

                                          (3) Exemption 3                          4

                                          (4) Exemption 4                          0

                                          (5) Exemption 5                          2

                                          (6) Exemption 6                        31

                                          (7) Exemption 7 (A)                    0

(8) Exemption 7 (B)                    0

(9) Exemption 7 (C)                    0

 (10) Exemption 7 (D)                    0

 (11) Exemption 7 (E)                    0

 (12) Exemption 7 (F)                    0

 (13) Exemption 8                          0

                                        (14) Exemption 9                          0

4.  Total other reasons for non-disclosure   19

                                    a.  No record                                             3

                                    b.  Referrals                                              0

                                    c.  Request withdrawn                              2

                                    d.  Fee -related reason                            12

                                    e.  Records not reasonably described      0

                                     f.  Not a proper FOIA request for

                                         some other reason                              2

                                    g.  Not an Agency record                          0

                                    h.  Duplicate request                                 0

                                     i.  Other                                                    0

VII.  Compliance With Time Limits/Status of Pending Requests

 A.  Median processing time for requests processed during the year.

1.     Fast track

a.   Number of requests processed        1,218

b.   Median number of days to process       23

2.      Simple requests

a.   Number of requests processed           393

b.   Median number of days to process       19

3.      Complex requests

a.   Number of requests processed           827

b.   Median number of days to process       62

4.   Requests accorded expedited processing

 a.  Number of requests processed               0

                        b.  Median number of days to process          0

5.   Simple requests for Social Security Number Applications

                         & other Office of Earnings Operations records

a.  Number of requests processed       23,654

                       b.  median number of days to process        11

6.  Simple requests handled by non-FOIA staff

                        a.  Number of requests processed               678,849

                   b.  median number of days to process   not available


NOTE: Simple requests are handled by personnel in about 1500 locations in SSA, mostly field offices.  Processing statistics are not kept on this workload.   Most responses were immediate and typically cover public documents, such as the agency operating instructions or Privacy Act requests by individuals for access to their own records.

  1. Status of pending requests.
    1. Fast track
      1. Number of requests pending                    68
      2. Median number of days pending               23
    2. Simple requests
      1. Number of requests pending                     46
      2. Median number of days pending                21
    3. Complex requests
      1. Number of requests pending                    211
      2. Median number of days pending                54
    4. Requests accorded expedited processing
      1. Number of requests pending                        0
      2. Median number of days pending                   0
    5. Simple requests for Social Security Number Applications
      1. Number of requests pending                     2,406
      2. Median number of days pending         Not available
  1. Comparisons with Previous Year 

SSA’s FOIA and access workload continue their projected increase, especially the latter.  This workload has more than doubled over last FY.  The majority of the increase occurred in SSA’s field locations.  In addition, the field offices are reporting their workloads more accurately, helped by a recently instituted automated system and clarification of reporting instructions.  SSA processed 704,941 requests in FY 2003 as compared to 292,884 in FY 2002.

The vast majority of the field requests involve access requests, which have a quick turnaround time.  Requesters usually receive a record in the same day, i.e., requests for information from a manual, copies of the Social Security Act, requests about themselves from SSA’s computer systems, etc.  Typically there is no fee for such requests, which is why the fees collected have remained static.

 Other statistics significant to Agency:

1.  Number of requests received for expedited processing:       9

2.  Number of requests granted expedited processing:              0 

  1. Costs/FOIA Staffing
    1. Staffing levels
      1. No. of Full-time FOIA Personnel                     18
      2. No. of Personnel with part-time or occasional FOIA duties (Work Years)           149
      3. Total No. of FOIA Personnel (Work Years)   167
    2. Total costs (including staff and all resources)
      1. FOIA processing (including appeals)    $13,542,739
      2. Litigation-related activities                             $36,508
      3. Total costs                                              $13,579,247
      4. Comparison with previous FY 02 Total  $13,802,662
  2. Fees

     1.  Total amount of fees collected by agency for

           processing requests                               $2,069,585

           2.   Percentage of total costs .15%

XI    FOIA Regulations
     See 20 CFR, Part 402. This is available electronically at                      

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