MuckRock emails (Department of Agriculture)

Emma Best filed this request with the Department of Agriculture of the United States of America.

It is a clone of this request.

Due Aug. 10, 2018
Est. Completion None
Awaiting Response


From: Emma Best

To Whom It May Concern:

Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, I hereby request the following records:

Copies of all emails containing the terms "MuckRock", "Muck Rock" or "", excluding emails sent to or from a email address. Please include the complete email exchange for each email, including any emails that are being replied to as well as any subsequent replies.

I am a member of the news media and request classification as such. I have previously written about the government and its activities. I have a reasonable expectation of publication and my editorial and writing skills are well established. I discuss and comment on the files online and make them available through non-profits such as the Internet Archive and MuckRock, disseminating them to a large audience. While my research is not limited to this, a great deal of it, including this, focuses on the activities and attitudes of the government itself. As such, it is not necessary for me to demonstrate the relevance of this particular subject in advance.

Additionally, case law states that “proof of the ability to disseminate the released information to a broad cross- section of the public is not required.” Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep’t of Justice, 365 F.3d 1108, 1126 (D.C. Cir. 2004); see Carney v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 19 F.3d 807, 814-15 (2d Cir. 1994). Further, courts have held that "qualified because it also had “firm” plans to “publish a number of . . . ‘document sets’” concerning United States foreign and national security policy." Under this criteria, as well, I qualify as a member of the news media.

Additionally, courts have held that the news media status "focuses on the nature of the requester, not its request. The provision requires that the request be “made by” a representative of the news media. Id. § 552(a)(4)(A)(ii)(II). A newspaper reporter, for example, is a representative of the news media regardless of how much interest there is in the story for which he or she is requesting information." As such, the details of the request itself are moot for the purposes of determining the appropriate fee category. As my primary purpose is to inform about government activities by reporting on it and making the raw data available, I request that fees be waived.

The requested documents will be made available to the general public, and this request is not being made for commercial purposes.

In the event that there are fees, I would be grateful if you would inform me of the total charges in advance of fulfilling my request. I would prefer the request filled electronically, by e-mail attachment if available or CD-ROM if not.

Thank you in advance for your anticipated cooperation in this matter. I look forward to receiving your response to this request within 20 business days, as the statute requires.


Emma Best

From: Department of Agriculture

Good afternoon, Ms. Best.
This email acknowledges receipt of your attached May 29, 2018, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Departmental FOIA Office (DFO). This office received your request for processing on May 29, 2018.
The DFO is under the purview of the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) and serves as the focal point for USDA's FOIA program. The DFO provides coordination and ensures agency wide compliance with the FOIA. The DFO processes requests and appeals on behalf of the Office of the Secretary and Departmental Management's ("DM") components. For a complete listing of DM's components, please visit

After careful review of your FOIA request, the DFO determined that your request is too broad in scope or did not specifically identify the records which you are seeking. Records must be described in reasonably sufficient detail to enable government employees who are familiar with the subject area to locate records without placing an unreasonable burden upon the agency. See 7 C.F.R. § 1.5(b). Where possible, a requester should supply specific information regarding dates, titles, names of individuals, names of offices, and name of agencies or organizations that may help identify the records. The FOIA does not require an agency to create new records, answer questions posed by requesters, or attempt to interpret a request that does not identify specific records. In addition, in order for an email search to be conducted, you will need to identify the names of USDA employees who you believe are likely to maintain emails pertaining to the subject of your request. Unfortunately, we cannot conduct broad sweeping searches of all USDA email accounts.
Please provide additional information to enable a search to be conducted. You have requested copies of all emails containing the terms "MuckRock", "Muck Rock" or "". Please indicate, for example, which USDA Office or USDA staff person you wish the search to be conducted for. If you wish to discuss by telephone, please feel free to call me at 202-694-5982.
Your request has been assigned FOIA Case No. 2018-DA-04363-F. Please refer to this case number in any future correspondence. If you have any questions regarding the processing of this request, please contact Ms. Sarah A. Scharf at 202-694-5982,<>,<>. For additional information regarding USDA FOIA regulations and process, please refer to the information available on-line at<>.
The DFO team appreciates the opportunity to assist you.
Sarah A. Scharf, on behalf of the DFO team.
Sarah A. Scharf, Esq.
FOIA Analyst
USDA/OCIO Contractor
Departmental FOIA Office
Room 4105
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington DC 20250
Telephone: (202) 694-5982

This electronic message contains information generated by the USDA solely for the intended recipients. Any unauthorized interception of this message or the use or disclosure of the information it contains may violate the law and subject the violator to civil or criminal penalties. If you believe you have received this message in error, please notify the sender and delete the email immediately.

From: Emma Best

Your agency appears to use Microsoft Exchange which allows for the search to be performed simply and centrally, regardless of the number of users. Please see

Courts have found that the request is reasonable when technically feasible, as it is here. (See attached).

I hope that helps.

From: Department of Agriculture

Good morning, Ms. Best. Thank you for your email and for the attached case.

Currently, USDA has a decentralized FOIA program with each agency independently handling and processing its requests. Please see this link<> that outlines the various USDA agencies and their missions. For example, the Departmental FOIA Office (DFO) processes requests and appeals on behalf of the Office of the Secretary and Departmental Administration’s (“DA”) components. Here<> is a complete listing of DA’s components (previously Departmental Management).

The DFO conducts searches through the Office of the Chief Information Officer’s (OCIO) telecommunications provider Client Experience Center (CEC). CEC performs network services for OCIO to include electronic messaging operations, electronic calendars, blackberry, mobile device management (MDM), file and print, remote access, voice, network, service desk, and other application services. It is my understanding that CEC cannot conduct a USDA agency-wide email search using only search terms, which is why I hoped we could discuss a search that will meet your needs, and enables CEC to locate records. For instance, if there are particular offices you are interested in, such as the Office of Communications or the DFO FOIA office, the DFO can work with you to facilitate those searches. Also, if there are other USDA sub-agencies you are interested in, the DFO can route your request to those agencies for concurrent processing.

Just to be clear, the DFO is not requiring you to specify exact recipients, such as “to and from”, but is asking that you provide an Office or Offices within USDA that you wish to be searched. I would very much like to speak with you over the phone, if you are amenable, so I can better assist you. Please feel free to contact me at my desk phone, 202-694-5982, to discuss further.

Many thanks,
Sarah A. Scharf, Esq.
FOIA Analyst
USDA/OCIO Contractor
Departmental FOIA Office
Room 4105
1400 Independence Avenue, S.W.
Washington DC 20250
Telephone: (202) 694-5982

From: Emma Best

Please search the following offices:

Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)
Agricultural Research Service (ARS)
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS)
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP)
Economic Research Service (ERS)
Farm Service Agency (FSA)
Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)
Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS)
Forest Service (FS)
Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA)
National Agricultural Library (NAL)
National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS)
National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS)
Risk Management Agency (RMA)
Rural Development (RD)


From: Department of Agriculture

Thank you for the below email. Could you also provide a date range for the below request?

Thank you,

From: Emma Best

2010 through the present.

From: Department of Agriculture

Good morning, Ms. Best.

Thank you for reaching out. The search for your request yielded more than 5,000 documents, that need to be reviewed in order to locate responsive records. Keep in mind, that is 5,000 distinct records, not pages. I was surprised at the volume, but until I can get into the records, I can’t tell you how much of that might actually be responsive. Additionally, given the nature of your request, and the records pulled from other USDA agencies, the DFO may need to perform several consultations with components that have a substantial interest in the determination of this request. Additionally, this office has experienced an unprecedented volume of requests over the last year and we are operating with a reduced staff which has significantly affected the backlog.

Thank you for your continued patience while your request is being processed. The DFO will continue to work diligently to process your request. Given the volume of the records that need to be reviewed, and the additional steps to process, I am currently unable to give you an exact date for completion. Please reach out if would like to focus your request to one or two of the agencies your interested in or a shorter timeframe to speed up the processing time. I am also available to speak over the phone, if you would be amenable, to discuss other ways to prioritize portions of your request.

Thank you again,