§ 1.556 - Timing of responses to requests.
(a) General. Components ordinarily shall respond to requests according to their order of receipt and within the time frames established under the FOIA. If a request for expedited processing is granted in accordance with paragraph (d) of this section, such request will be processed prior to requests in either of the tracks described in paragraph (b) of this section.
(b) Multitrack processing. (1) VA will use two processing tracks in addressing a request for records: Simple and complex, based upon the amount of work and/or time needed to process the request, including consideration of the number of pages involved.
(2) The FOIA Officer shall advise the requester of the track into which the request has been placed and of the criteria of the faster track. The FOIA Officer will provide requesters in the slower track the opportunity to limit the scope of their requests in order to qualify for processing in the faster track. The FOIA Officer may contact the requester either by telephone or in writing, whichever the FOIA Officer determines is most efficient and expeditious; telephonic communication will be documented.
(c) Unusual circumstances. (1) FOIA Officers may encounter “unusual circumstances,” where it is not possible to meet the statutory time limits for processing the request. In such cases, the FOIA Officer will extend the 20-business day time limit for 10 more business days and notify the requester in writing of the unusual circumstances and the date by which it expects to complete processing of the request. Where the extension exceeds 10 working days, the agency must, as described by the FOIA, provide the requester with an opportunity to modify the request or arrange an alternative time period for processing the original or modified request; notice of the availability of the VA FOIA Public Liaison, and the right to seek dispute resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services. Unusual circumstances consist of the following:
(i) The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or components other than the office processing the request;
(ii) The need to search for, collect and examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that are the subject of a single request; or
(iii) The need for consultation with another agency or among two or more VA components or another agency having a substantial interest in the subject matter of a request.
(2) Where the FOIA Officer reasonably believes that certain requests from the same requester, or a group of requesters acting in concert, actually constitute the same request that would otherwise satisfy the unusual circumstances specified in this paragraph, and the requests involve clearly related matters, the FOIA Officer may aggregate those requests. Multiple requests involving unrelated matters will not be aggregated.
(d) Expedited processing. (1) Requests will be processed out of the order in which they were received by the component responsible for processing the FOIA request and given expedited treatment when VA determines that:
(i) The failure to obtain the requested records on an expedited basis could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual;
(ii) There is an urgency to inform the public concerning actual or alleged Federal government activity, if the request is made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information;
(iii) In the discretion of the FOIA Officer, the request warrants such treatment; or
(iv) There is widespread and exceptional interest in which possible questions exist about the government's integrity which affect public confidence.
(2) A requester who is seeking expedited processing must submit a statement, certified to be true to the best of the requester's knowledge and belief, providing a detailed basis for how there is a compelling need. VA may waive the requirement for certification of the statement of compelling need as a matter of administrative discretion.
(3) Within 10 calendar days of its receipt of a request for expedited processing, the FOIA Officer shall determine whether to grant the request and will provide the requester written notice of the decision. If the FOIA Officer grants a request for expedited processing, the FOIA Officer shall give the request priority and process it as soon as practicable. If the FOIA Officer denies the request for expedited processing, the requester may appeal the denial, which appeal shall be addressed expeditiously.