|Submitted||Aug. 8, 2018|
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To Whom It May Concern:
Pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, I hereby request the following records:
- any and all communications containing "propublica", "Arnsdorf", "perlmutter", "moskowitz", "sherman", or "mar-a-lago" between Aug. 1, 2018 and Aug. 8, 2018 to or from the following officials: VA Secretary Robert Wilkie; General Counsel James Byrne; Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs John Ullyot; and press secretary Curt Cashour.
- any and all records to or from the above-mentioned officials that include the email domain "who.eop.gov" between Aug. 1, 2018 and Aug. 8, 2018.
Please note that messages sent from private email addresses that contain government business are considered federal records under NARA guidance.
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.
An interim response, stating the request is being processed.
An acknowledgement letter, stating the request is being processed.
Intergovernmental Affairs (IGA 075)
Office of Public and Intergovernmental Affairs (OPIA 002)
(202) 273-5716 Fax
Confidentiality Note: This e-mail is intended only for the person to whom it is addressed and may contain information that is privileged, confidential, or otherwise protected from disclosure. Dissemination, distribution, or copying of this e-mail or the information herein by anyone other than the intended recipient is prohibited. If you have received this e-mail in error, please notify by reply e-mail and destroy the original message and all copies.
I'm just checking to see if I can get an update on my FOIA request, # 18-11313-F. In August I was informed it was on hold for fee related issues. Has a fee been determined yet? Any update appreciated. Thank you for your help,
December 4, 2018 In Reply Refer To: 001B
FOIA Request: 18-11312-F
DEPT MR 59217
411A Highland Ave
Somerville, MA 02144-2516
Dear CJ Ciaramella:
This is the Initial Agency Decision (IAD) to your Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Office of the Secretary, U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (OSVA) dated and received August 8, 2018. You requested, as you phrase it:
- "any and all communications containing 'propublica,' 'Arnsdorf', 'perlmutter', 'moskowitz', 'sherman', or 'mar-a-lago' between Aug 1, 2018 and Aug. 8, 2018 to or from the following officials: VA Secretary Robert Wilkie, General Counsel James Byrne, Secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs John Ullyot; and Press Secretary Curt Cashour"; and,
- "any and all records to or from the above-mentioned officials that include the email domain 'who.eop.gov' between Aug. 1, 2018 and Aug. 8, 2018."
The OSVA FOIA office is releasing only communications within the email boxes of VA Secretary Robert Wilkie. The VA OPIA FOIA office is processing your FOIA request 18-11313-F for communications within the email boxes of John Ullyot and Curt Cashour. The VA OGC FOIA office is processing your FOIA request 18-11320-F for communications within the email box of James Byrne.
IAD and November 30, 2018, Reasonable Search
On November 30, 2018, the OSVA FOIA Officer searched through VA Secretary Robert Wilkie's email boxes from August 1, 2018, to August 8, 2018 (the dates you specified). The OSVA FOIA Officer used the search terms you provided: "propublica," "Arnsdorf," "perlmutter," "moskowitz," "sherman," and "mar-a-lago." This search yielded three hundred forty-five (345) pages.
After reviewing the three hundred forty-five (345) pages, the OSVA FOIA Officer redacts some information with FOIA Exemptions 5 and 6. 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5) exempts from disclosure "inter-agency or intra-agency memorandums or letters which would not be available by law to a party other than an agency in litigation with the agency." The government is entitled to redact confidential government information given "the sensitivity of the commercial secrets involved, and the harm that would be inflicted upon the Government by premature disclosure." Federal Open Market Committee v. Merrill, 443 U.S. 340, 363 (1979). Redacted information includes VA electronic mail server code usernames. The release of this information would expose the VA, its employees, and its contractors to potential hacking and information technology security liabilities and risks. Releasing even a single VA username reveals the pattern to ascertain VA usernames that VA employees use to log into VA Systems of Records; releasing VA usernames exposes the VA, its employees, and its contractors to potential hacking and information technology security liabilities and risks.
5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6) exempts from required disclosure "personnel and medical files and similar files the disclosure of which would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy." FOIA Exemption 6 permits VA to withhold a document or information within a document if disclosure of the information, either by itself or in conjunction with other information available to either the public or the FOIA requester, would result in an unwarranted invasion of an individual's personal privacy without contributing significantly to the public's understanding of the activities of the federal government. Specifically, the information being withheld, as indicated on the attached documents, under FOIA Exemption 6, consists of names, identities, email addresses, VA usernames, phone numbers, and cellular numbers of federal employees; we however release the names of VA Senior Executives. Federal employees retain a significant privacy interest under certain circumstances, such as in instances where the release of their information could represent a threat to their well-being, harassment, or their ability to function within their sphere of employment. The federal employees whose information is at issue have a substantial privacy interest in their personal information. In weighing the private versus the public interest, except names of VA Senior Executives, we find that there is no public interest in knowing the names, identities, email addresses, VA usernames, phone numbers, and cellular numbers of federal employees. The coverage of FOIA Exemption 6 is absolute unless the FOIA requester can demonstrate a countervailing public interest in the requested information by demonstrating that the FOIA requester is in a position to provide the requested information to members of the general public and that the information requested contributes significantly to the public's understanding of the activities of the Federal government. Additionally, the requester must demonstrate how the public's need to understand the information significantly outweighs the privacy interest of the person to whom the information pertains. Upon consideration of the records, I have not been able to identify a countervailing public interest of sufficient magnitude to outweigh the privacy interest of the individuals whose names are redacted. The protected information has been redacted and (b)(6) inserted. Releasing even a single VA username reveals the pattern to ascertain VA usernames that VA employees use to log into VA Systems of Records; releasing VA usernames exposes the VA, its employees, and its contractors to potential hacking and information technology security liabilities and risks. "Withholding a telephone number or e-mail address, alone, is not sufficient to protect that [privacy] interest; alternate means of contacting and harassing these employees would be readily discoverable on the Internet if this court ordered their names disclosed." Long v. Immigration & Customs Enf't, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 160719 (D.C. Cir. 2017).
As part of the 2007 FOIA amendments, the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) was created to offer mediation services to resolve disputes between FOIA requesters and Federal agencies as a non-exclusive alternative to litigation. Using OGIS services does not affect your right to pursue litigation. Under the provisions of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, the following contact information is provided to assist FOIA requesters in resolving disputes:
VA Central Office FOIA Public Liaison:
Name: John Buck
Email Address: email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
Office of Government Information Services (OGIS)
Email Address: email@example.com<mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org>
National Archives and Records Administration
8601 Adelphi Road
College Park, MD 20740-6001
This concludes OSVA's IAD response to request 18-11312-F. Please be advised that should you desire to do so, you may appeal the determination made in this response to:
Office of General Counsel (024)
Department of Veterans Affairs
810 Vermont Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20420
If you should choose to file an appeal, please include a copy of this letter with your written appeal and clearly indicate the basis for your disagreement with the determination set forth in this response. Please be advised that in accordance with VA's implementing FOIA regulations at 38 C.F.R. § 1.559, your appeal must be postmarked no later than ninety (90) days of the date of this letter.
Richard Ha, JD, CIPP/G
OSVA FOIA Officer
Attachment - redacted three hundred forty-five (345) pages
Richard Ha, JD, CIPP/G
OSVA FOIA/Privacy Officer
Office of the Executive Secretary
Office of the Secretary, U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs (OSVA)
CWS 2nd Mon
These messages and attachments are For Official Use Only, not to be shared outside intended parties, and may be exempt from disclosure pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(3) prohibiting the release of information that another statute prohibits; 41 U.S.C. § 4702(b) prohibiting the release of unincorporated proposals; 41 U.S.C. § 423(a) prohibiting the release of bid or proposal information or evaluations before award; 26 U.S.C. § 6103 prohibiting the release of tax identification numbers; 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(4) prohibiting the release of confidential commercial information; 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(5) under the deliberative process, attorney-client, and work product privileges; and 5 U.S.C. § 552(b)(6) protecting personally identifiable information. If you received these messages and attachments in error, you must inform the FOIA Officer and destroy them immediately. The VA reserves its discovery rights including, but not limited to, objections, privileges, motions, etc.