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Federal HR Policies Affecting Cooperative Extension Organizations

Privacy and Freedom of Information Acts

Background

The Freedom of Information Act became effective in 1967. Major amendments were made to the act and the Privacy Act was enacted in 1974.

Resources

Title 5 Part 297 Code of Federal Regulations, Privacy and Procedures for Personnel Records
Title 5 Part 293 Code of Federal Regulations, Personnel Records
Title 5 U.S. Code Section 552a, Public information; agency rules, opinions, orders, records, and proceedings

Policy

The U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has government wide responsibility for various systems of records maintained on Federal employees (including CES employees with Federal benefits). OPM issues guidance on the Privacy Act and the access and use of Federal Personnel Records.

CES employees are responsible for keeping certain information confidential as designated by their CES organization. Human Resource Officers and other employees that have access to individual personnel records and social security numbers are prohibited from releasing information on employees without the written consent of the individual. Request for information on an employees with Federal benefits, that are covered by the by the Privacy and Freedom of Information Acts and are received without the written consent of the employee, should be sent to USDA HRD CES Team. The USDA HRD CES Team will submit the request through USDA's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)/Privacy Act (PA) Coordinator as required by OPM and USDA policies and procedures.

Privacy Act

The Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. 552a, applies to request for records about individuals, but only if the records are in a system of records. A Privacy Act Request is a request for records concerning oneself; such requests can also be treated as Freedom of Information Act requests. The Privacy Act of 1974, as amended (5 U.S.C. 552a) applies to records under the control of an agency (including CES organizations), and the act also applies to the Official Personnel Folder. CES organizations must ensure that personnel records subject to the Privacy Act are: (1) secured against unauthorized access; and, (2) limited to those whose official duties require such access. Each agency should establish procedures to allow employees with Federal benefits, or designated representative, access to their own records and established procedures should ensure that the records remain under the agency's control at all times. Additional information is available in the Recordkeeping section of this guidance.

Freedom of Information Act

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Title 5 of the United States Code, section 552, request is generally a request for access to records concerning a third party, an organization or a particular topic of interest. All U.S. government agencies are required to disclose agency records to the public unless the records are protected by the Privacy Act or one or more of the FOIA's nine exemptions or three exclusions. The nine exemption categories that authorize government agencies to withhold information are:

  • classified information for national defense or foreign policy;
  • internal personnel rules and practices;
  • information that is exempt under other laws;
  • trade secrets and confidential business information;
  • interagency or intraagency memoranda or letters that are protected by legal privileges;
  • personnel and medical files;
  • law enforcement records or information;
  • information concerning bank supervision; and
  • geological and geophysical information.

The three exclusions are rarely used and pertain to particularly sensitive law enforcement and national security matters.

Process and Procedures

All Federal Agencies are required under the FOIA and the Privacy Act to disclose records requested in writing by any person (Privacy Act request can only be honored if the request is from the individual requesting the information.). However, agencies are not to release information and records that are protected by one or more of the FOIA's nine exemptions or, the three exclusions contained in the FOIA statute. Each Federal agency is responsible for meeting its' FOIA responsibilities for its own records, therefore, the College/University that houses the CES organization must establish the procedures for requesting and releasing information on the joint CES program or other University/College programs. Each college/university should have a Freedom of Information/Privacy Act Coordinator who is responsible for the release of information under both acts, and information may be requested from or discussed with the coordinator.

The process and procedures for information in the Official Personnel Folders, and other system of records, that can be retrieved by the name of the individual or by some identifying number, symbol, or other identifying particulars assigned to an individual are included and addressed in OPM's Guide to Recordkeeping and the Personnel Recordkeeping regulations. The information maintained in the OPF's and the USDA CES Personnel Information System (CESPIS) are subject to the provisions of the Privacy Act and the Freedom of Information Act. Federal guidelines governing the use and disclosure of information in the OPF's, and other records specific to an individuals employment (both Federal and non-Federal) with the CES, must be forwarded to the USDA HRD CES Team who will forward the request to the Department's FOIA/PA Coordinator who is responsible for processing FOIA request for USDA.

Contact:

Please contact the CES HRD office for additional information on the release of CES program information. Request for employment information on CES Federal appointees, other than the information required to appoint, transfer, or reappoint an individual, should be forwarded to the USDA HRD/CES Team.

 

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