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Law allows anyone to request federal records

Woman pulls file from cabinet drawer
USPS, the Postal Inspection Service and the Office of Inspector General received 3,150 FOIA requests during the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30.

You’ve probably heard of the Freedom of Information Act, but do you understand how it helps the Postal Service foster transparency?

The law, also known as FOIA, gives the public the right to request information from any federal agency.

During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, USPS, the Postal Inspection Service and the Office of Inspector General received 3,150 FOIA requests. This included requests for information on personnel records, contracts and leases, and mail and package records.

The public interest

“The American public is interested in the operations and activities of the Postal Service. Providing the public with access to certain postal records and information is not only required under the FOIA statute, it promotes transparency and maintains the Postal Service’s reputation as the most trusted government agency,” said Acting Associate General Counsel and Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer Natalie Bonanno.

Requests must be in writing and can include the format an agency should provide the records, such as print or electronic form.

Federal agencies have 20 working days to disclose any records requested under FOIA, unless the request falls under one of nine exemptions protecting interests such as personal privacy, national security and law enforcement.

Variety of requests

The Postal Service is allowed to also withhold certain information that can hurt its business operations.

Merl Lynn Stanley, a Springfield, MO, sales support specialist who recently received a Chief FOIA Officer’s Award for his timely processing of requests, said they come from a variety of organizations.

“Commercial requestors and business investors want to know who we are negotiating with and why,” he said. “The media is also interested in our relationships with other businesses. I gather the information, go through it and work with others to decide what information can go out.”

Weighing concerns

Another recent FOIA award recipient, Tiffanie Woodland, an information disclosure technician at USPS headquarters in Washington, DC, responds to FOIA requests on behalf of the Inspection Service.

“Most of our requests are for incident reports, investigative records, background checks and video surveillance,” she said. “For example, requests come in for incident reports involving vehicle accidents that have taken place on postal property.”

Woodland stressed that agencies aim to be transparent with FOIA requesters while weighing privacy interests. Like all federal agencies, USPS must abide by the Freedom of Information Act and the Privacy Act, which are mandated by the Justice Department.

“We don’t release documents without a proper FOIA request,” she said. “We have to abide by the laws.”

The Freedom of Information Act Blue page has more information about FOIA.

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