This course explains the process of using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request information from SSA. It also identifies circumstances when it is unnecessary to make requests through FOIA, and, instead, use online resources or personal contacts as sources of obtaining information.
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- The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)
- Why do we have FOIA?
- How Are FOIA requests made to SSA?
- Is it necessary to make all requests for information through the FOIA?
- What if I don’t have online access?
- What records does SSA generally not disclose?
- What types of requests for Section 218 information are made to SSA?
- What are the SSA regional office responsibilities regarding requests for information?
- How should the RO’s handle general State and local coverage inquiries?
- What is SSA Doing to Improve Agency Disclosure?
As previously mentioned in the course “Introduction to the key representatives,” States are expected to work with the RO on State and local coverage issues. This relationship between the States and SSA attributes to the efficient flow of general correspondence and assistance regarding all aspects of coverage as they are defined in sections 210 and 218. However, what is the process for requesting information from SSA for the public? To find out, please read on.
Enacted in 1966, and taking effect on July 5, 1967, the FOIA provides any person the right to obtain access to federal agency records, except to the extent that such records (or portions of them) are protected from public disclosure. A FOIA request can be made for any agency record. Before sending a request to a federal agency, you should determine which agency is likely to have the records you are seeking. Each agency’s website will contain information about the type of records that agency maintains.
The FOIA gives you the right to access information from the federal government. It is often described as the law that keeps citizens in the know about their government. Under the FOIA, agencies must disclose any information that is requested—unless that information is protected from public disclosure. The FOIA also requires that agencies automatically disclose certain information, including frequently requested records. As Congress, the President, and the Supreme Court have all recognized the FOIA is a vital part of our democracy.
The Guide to Freedom of Information Act Requests explains how to request information and records from the Social Security Administration, details information that we cannot disclose, and outlines the various fees that are involved with a request.
No. SSA prepares many documents for public distribution without the need for submitting a FOIA request. Examples are leaflets about our benefits programs, press releases, and reports. Many of these documents are available on SSA's Internet site at www.socialsecurity.gov. We encourage you to browse the site for documents that interest you.
We also make the following other resources available online:
- State and Local Coverage Handbook (Handbook)
- Program Operations Manual System (POMS)
- Operating instructions for SSA personnel
- Compilation of the Social Security Law
- Social Security Administration Regulations
- Social Security Rulings and Acquiescence Rulings
- Hearings, Appeals and Litigation Law Manual (HALLEX)
Administrative staff manuals of the SSA and instructions to staff personnel that contain policies, procedures, or interpretations that affect the public are available for inspection and copying. You can inspect and copy SSA’s available public records in any field office, at our headquarters in Baltimore, and at SSA hearings offices nationwide.
The FOIA does not require agencies to disclose all records. Some examples of records we may not disclose are:
- Classified records
- Internal personnel rules
- Confidential by law
- Trade secrets or confidential financial information;
- Personal information about living people
- Records of investigations
SSA receives requests for Section 218 information from the public, governmental entities, retirement systems, state administrators and others. These requests may be in the form of coverage questions, policy concerns, or requests for copies of Section 218 Agreements, modifications, summaries of agreements or other Section 218 related material or documentation.
As the responsible unit within SSA for providing leadership and technical direction in administering the State and local coverage program within the region it is likely that the RO will be the recipient of questions concerning Section 218 and state and local coverage. The RO’s responsibilities include.
- Providing guidance and advice to States on proposed legislation that may have impact on the State's Section 218 Agreement;
- Interpreting and advising States on established SSA policies and procedures;
- Referring to Central Office issues for which no policy has been established or present policy may require a change;
- Responding to inquiries concerning magnetic media reporting, electronic filing, and paper reporting of wages; and
- Advising State Social Security Administrators and the Internal Revenue Service regarding Social Security and Medicare issues.
If the RO receives a request that pertains to a general State and local coverage issue, the region can refer the inquirer to the appropriate State Social Security Administrator— if it is determined that the State, not SSA, is the responsible party. If the State does not have responsibility, refer them to the appropriate regional specialist, or advise the inquirer how to make a FOIA request. A complete list of responsibilities can be found in the POMS Section SL 10001.
We maintain a strong committment to encourage and provide staff the opportunity to participate in in-house and outside FOIA training programs.