FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACTIVITIES ANNUAL REPORT (FOIA)
FOR THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION (SSA) FOR FISCAL YEAR 2005
1. Basic Information Regarding SSA's Report
A. Report Prepared By: Joyce Schaul
Office of Public Disclosure
Telephone: 410-966-6645 FAX: 410-966-4304
Mailing Address: Office of Public Disclosure
B. Electronic address for a copy of this report on SSA's website: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/
C. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
II. How to Make a FOIA Request
A. Complete information on making a FOIA request is contained in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), 20 CFR Part 402. It is available at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/foia/
B. SSA will try to furnish information as quickly as possible. Due to the fact that SSA has over 1500 field and hearing locations, as well as ten regional offices, it may take one month or more to locate, retrieve, and review many records. Complex requests and requests for numerous records from multiple offices may take longer.
C. 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 Internal Revenue Service (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).
III. Definitions of Terms and Acronyms Used in the Report
A. Agency specific acronyms or other terms.
1. SSA - Social Security Administration
2. SSN - Social Security number
B. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
IV. Exemption 3 Statutes
A. List of exemption 3 statutes relied on by the Agency during the fiscal year.
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
2. Statement of whether a court has upheld the use of each statute.
26 U.S.C. 6103: Yes
withholding of tax return information has been approved under three different cases. See e.g., Church of Scientology v. IRS,
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): Yes
The withholding of contractor proposals under this statute has been approved in Hornbostel v. Department of Interior, 305 F.Supp.2d 21. (D.D.C. 2003)
V. Initial FOIA/PA Access Requests
A. Number of initial requests.
1. Number of requests pending as
of end of preceding year. 5,857
2. Number of requests received
during fiscal year 2005. 17,257,886
3. Number of requests processed
during fiscal year 2005 17,262,315
4. Number of requests pending as
of end of fiscal year 2005 1,428
B. Disposition of initial requests.
1. Number of total grants 17,260,392
2. Number of partial grants 275
3. Number of denials based 454
on FOIA exemptions
a. Number of times each FOIA exemption is used
(multiple exemptions can be used for individual cases):
(1) Exemption 1 0
(2) Exemption 2 100
(3) Exemption 3 81
(4) Exemption 4 19
(5) Exemption 5 114
(6) Exemption 6 351
(7) Exemption 7(A) 0
(8) Exemption 7(B) 0
(9) Exemption 7(C) 24
(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 1,194
a. No record 260
b. Referrals 0
c. Request withdrawn 70
d. Fee-related reason 69
e. Records not reasonably described 40
f. Not a proper FOIA request for some
other reason 0
g. Not an agency record 0
h. Duplicate request 0
i. Other (Under Section 42 U.S.C. 405(r),
the request was denied due to the source
of the data.) 755
VI. Appeals of Initial Denials of FOIA/PA Requests
A. Number of Appeals
1. Appeals received during fiscal year 69
2. Appeals processed during fiscal year 70
B. Disposition of Appeals
1. Number completely upheld 37
2. Number partially reversed 7
3. Number completely reversed 14
a. Number of times each FOIA exemption is used (multiple exemptions can be used
for individual cases):
Exemption 1 0
Exemption 2 3
Exemption 3 6
Exemption 4 1
Exemption 5 9
Exemption 6 26
Exemption 7A 0
Exemption 7B 0
Exemption 7C 1
Exemption 7D 0
Exemption 7E 0
Exemption 7F 0
Exemption 8 0
Exemption 9 0
4. Total other reasons for non-disclosure 12
a. No record 0
b. Referrals 3
c. Request Withdrawn 2
d. Fee-related reason 4
e. Records not reasonably described 1
f. Not a proper FOIA request for
some other reason 0
g. Not an agency record 2
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 1,555
b. Median number of days to process 10
2. Simple requests
a. Number of requests processed 364
b. Median number of days to process 15
3. Complex requests
a. Number of requests processed 1,014
b. Median number of days to process 39
4. Requests accorded expedited processing.
a. Number of requests processed 31
b. Median number of days to process 17
5. Simple requests for Social Security number applications & other Office of Earnings
a. Number of requests processed 35,638
b. Median number of days to process 2
6. Simple requests handled by non-FOIA staff
a. Number of requests processed 17,223,713
b. Median number of days to process not available
NOTE: Some examples of simple requests are verifications of monthly benefit amount and/or Social Security number. These are considered Privacy Act access requests and are processed by the field/district offices and teleservice centers. These requests are received by telephone, a letter or walk-ins. This information is now captured on an automatic workload report that is a more efficient and accurate counting process.
B. Status of pending requests.
1. Fast track
a. Number of requests pending 19
b. Median number of days pending 7
2. Simple requests
a. Number of requests pending 7
b. Median number of days pending 21
3. Complex requests
a. Number of requests pending 126
b. Median number of days pending 30
4. Requests accorded expedited processing.
a. Number of requests pending 0
b. Median number of days pending 0
5. Simple requests for Social Security number applications & other Office of
Earnings Operations records
a. Number of requests pending 1,276
b. Median number of days pending Not available
VIII. Comparisons with Previous Year
In this report, SSA shows an 11.9 fold increase over the number of requests processed in the prior fiscal year (17,262,315 requests processed in FY 2005 as compared to 1,450,589 reported in FY 2004). This significant increase reflects, for the most part, improved reporting, as opposed to an actual 11.9 fold increase in the workload itself.
To explain, in FY 2005, we made a significant effort to provide SSA personnel, nationwide, with improved instructions for reporting Privacy Act (PA) access and FOIA requests, as well as providing them with a new easy-to-use automated mechanism for reporting. Although masked by our success with improved reporting, we believe there has also been an underlying increase in the number of simple individual PA access requests, as well as requests for earnings records, benefit verification services, and Social Security number (SSN) records (Numidents). The exact extent of this increase, however, is difficult to determine at this point in time. Some of the increase is also due to more private and public entities (mortgage companies, banks, insurance companies, etc.) asking their clients to verify SSNs or benefit amounts during their business process. PA access requests of this nature are rarely if ever denied, which accounts for the small percentage of denials.
The vast majority of field requests continue to involve PA 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. Most of the fees that SSA collected for earnings records and Numidents are based on a separate provision for fee charging in section 1106(c) of the Social Security Act (42 U.S.C. § 1306(c)), rather than the FOIA fee schedule. This provision allows SSA to recover the full cost of certain non-programmatic requests and is reflected by the increase in fee collections.
Other statistics significant to Agency:
1. Number of requests received for expedited processing: 31
2. Number of requests granted expedited processing: 0
IX. Costs/FOIA Staffing
A. Staffing levels
1. Number of Full-time FOIA Personnel 80
2. Number of Personnel with part-time or occasional
FOIA duties (Work Years) 325
3. Total Number of FOIA Personnel (Work Years) 405
B. Total costs (including staff and all resources)
1. FOIA processing (including appeals) $22,794,463
2. Litigation-related activities $55,181
3. Total costs $22,849,644
4. Comparison with FY 04 Total $14,551,588
NOTE: SSA is reporting more resources expended commensurate with the steep rise in the reporting of processed requests.
1. Total amount of fees collected by agency $5,049,913
for processing requests
2. Percentage of total costs 22.10%
XI. FOIA Regulations
See 20 CFR, Part 402. This regulation is available electronically at http://www.ssa.gov/foia/