USTR - Public Handbook for Gaining Access to USTR Information
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The Office of the United States Trade Representative

Public Handbook for Gaining Access to USTR Information

You may gain access to USTR information in a number of ways, including through:

This handbook is available in paper and electronic versions and explains how you may obtain USTR information.

Freedom of Information and Privacy Act

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which is found in 5 U.S.C. § 552, is a law that gives members of the public the right to obtain federal agency records unless the records (or parts of the records) are protected from disclosure by any of the nine exemptions contained in the law. The FOIA was recently amended by the Electronic Freedom of Information Act Amendments of 1996 ("E-FOIA Amendments").

USTR regulations that set forth procedures for requesting records under the FOIA are published at 15 CFR Part 2004. The CFR can be found in all law libraries and federal depository libraries. You may also obtain a copy from USTR at the address listed below or at USTR's Internet Home Page (see below). Currently, these regulations are being amended to incorporate the changes adopted by the E-FOIA Amendments.

The FOIA requires agencies such as USTR to make many documents available in its Public Reading Room (see below). In addition, USTR maintains non-public information related to its mission but which may be disclosed pursuant to a FOIA unless the agency asserts an exemption to its disclosure. For example, information that is classified for national security purposes is generally exempt from disclosure. In general, USTR generates information consisting of records related to its trade responsibilities. Specifically, USTR develops and coordinates trade policy on an interagency basis, negotiates and enforces trade and investment agreements; administers U.S. trade laws, and consults with the Congress, the private sector, and the general public on trade and trade policy. Information associated with these responsibilities includes materials on recently negotiated agreements and proposed treaties, Congressional testimony, speeches, press releases, and the Administration's legislative proposals with respect to trade. Additional materials include the reports listed under the section below covering the Public Reading Room. A full listing of all reports, and many of the reports themselves, are available on our Internet Home Page or from the Public Affairs Office.

With respect to FOIA requests, it is important to understand that there is no central office in the government which processes FOIA requests for all agencies; each federal agency responds to FOIA requests for records in its own files. Thus, in order to obtain records that are in USTR's files, the public must submit a written FOIA request to USTR. Please be aware the FOIA does not require agencies to do research, to analyze data, to answer written questions, or to create records in order to respond to a request.

Individuals wishing to file a FOIA request must address their request in writing to the FOIA Officer, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, 600 17th Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20508, Phone (202) 395-3419. Requests for information should be as specific as possible. Requesters should consult USTR's FOIA regulations, which outline the procedures governing the FOIA request process. A brief summary of that process follows:

Upon receipt of a FOIA request, the FOIA Officer will determine within 20 working days after the receipt of such request whether it is appropriate to grant the request. Under certain circumstances the period for providing a response may be extended. Certain other circumstances outlined in the regulations grant some requesters an "expedited" response.

USTR will provide a written response to the FOIA request; if the request is denied in whole or in part, USTR will notify the requester of the denial, and of the requester's right to file an appeal within USTR. Subsequently, if USTR denies an appeal in whole or in part, the requester may seek judicial review of that denial.

Fees for FOIA Requests

Agencies may charge fees for responding to FOIA requests. The FOIA divides requesters into four categories for fees:

  1. Commercial use requesters. When USTR receives a request for documents for commercial use, it will assess charges that recover the full direct cost of searching for, reviewing for release, and duplicating the records sought.
  2. Educational and non-commercial scientific institution requests. USTR shall provide documents to requesters in this category for the cost of reproduction alone, excluding charges for the first 100 pages.
  3. Representatives of the news media. USTR shall provide documents to requesters in this category for the cost of reproduction alone, excluding charges for the first 100 pages.
  4. All other requesters. USTR shall charge requesters who do not fit into any of the categories above fees that recover the full reasonable direct cost of searching for and reproducing records that are responsive to the request, except that the first 100 pages of reproduction and the first two hours of search time shall be furnished without charge. 
     

USTR may waive fees, in whole or in part, if "disclosure of the information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations or activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester."

Search fees are based on an hourly rate for the level of employee who conducted the search. Duplication presently costs $0.15 per page.

Requesters with access to the USTR Internet Home Page should confirm whether their request is in the category entitled "FOIA Responses of General Interest."

Privacy Act

Information may also be requested from USTR under the Privacy Act, 5 U.S.C. § 552a by persons seeking information regarding themselves. These requests must also be in writing and sent to the same address as FOIA requests (above). Compared to federal agencies involved in grants, licensing, benefits or investigative matters, USTR has relatively few records that are subject to the Privacy Act and historically has received only a small number of Privacy Act requests. USTR's Privacy Act regulations are published at 15 CFR Part 2005.

USTR's Website

You may access the USTR website at http://www.ustr.gov. The site contains information on USTR's mission, history, a description of USTR's organization structure, current recruiting information and employment opportunities, speeches, Congressional testimony, and links to trade agreements. In addition, you may access information on FOIA requests and USTR's Government Information Locator System (GILS), which is an index of USTR's major information systems and record locator systems.  the Document Library contains information on USTR reports, publications, Federal Register notices, speeches, testimony, press releases, fact sheets and op-eds. 

USTR Public Affairs Office

You may also write or call this office and request copies of many USTR reports, speeches, testimony and press releases. However, only recently published reports are available from the office. These materials will be sent to you via regular mail. Frequently, due to the high volume of requests, the office may not respond to your request the day it is received. Non-current published reports are available in the Public Reading Room or at a federal depository library. A listing of USTR reports appears below in the section describing the USTR Public Reading Room.

The USTR Public Affairs Office is located at:

600 17th Street NW
Room 103
Washington, D.C. 20508
(202) 395-3230

A public reading room is located in the annex building of USTR at 1724 F Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20508. It is open to the public by appointment every federal workday between the hours of 9:30AM to 12:00PM and 1:00PM to 4:00PM. You may call (202) 395-6186 to make an appointment. The reading room makes available USTR produced reports, speeches, testimony, statements and press releases for review. The reading room is a particularly good source for those documentary items that pre-date the expansions of the USTR website or are no longer in print. These materials may be reviewed at no cost and photocopier services are available for a fee. Current testimony, statements, and press releases are also frequently available at no cost.

Current and non-current reports that are available include the following: Semiannual Report on Section 301 Program, an annual report on Subsidies Enforcement, the Annual Report on the World Trade Organization, the Annual Report on the Trade Agreements Program and the Trade Policy Agenda, the National Trade Estimate Report, and the annual Special 301 Report identifying countries denying adequate protection for intellectual property rights.