[Federal Register Volume 83, Number 66 (Thursday, April 5, 2018)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 14613-14621]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2018-06097]


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DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS

38 CFR Part 1

RIN 2900-AQ27


Release of Information From Department of Veterans Affairs' 
Records

AGENCY: Department of Veterans Affairs.

ACTION: Proposed rule.

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SUMMARY: This document amends the Department of Veterans Affairs' (VA) 
regulations governing the submission and processing of requests for 
information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and the Privacy 
Act in order to reorganize, streamline, and clarify existing 
regulations.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before June 4, 2018.

ADDRESSES: Written comments may be submitted through http://www.Regulations.gov/; by mail or hand-delivery to the Director, 
Regulations Management (00REG), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 
Vermont Avenue NW, Room 1063B, Washington, DC 20420; or by fax to (202) 
273-9026. Comments should indicate that they are submitted in response 
to ``RIN 2900-AQ27, Release of Information from Department of Veterans 
Affairs Records.'' Copies of comments received will be available for 
public inspection in the Office of Regulation Policy and Management, 
Room 1063B, between the hours of 8:00 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Monday 
through Friday (except holidays). Please call (202) 461-4902 for an 
appointment. In addition, during the comment period, comments may be 
viewed online through the Federal Docket Management System at http://www.Regulations.gov/.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Catherine Nachmann, Attorney, Office 
of General Counsel (024), Department of Veterans Affairs, 810 Vermont 
Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20420, (202) 461-7742 (this is not a toll-
free number).

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: VA's authority for publishing this proposed 
rule reads as follows: 5 U.S.C. 552, 552a, 38 U.S.C. 501(a), unless 
otherwise noted. The FOIA, codified at 5 U.S.C. 552, requires an agency 
to publish public guidance regarding its implementation of the statute, 
such as rules of procedure and substantive rules of general 
applicability. The Privacy Act of 1974, as amended, codified at 5 
U.S.C. 552a, requires an agency to publish its rules and procedures 
implementing that statute. Section 501(a) of title 38, U.S.C., 
authorizes the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to prescribe rules and 
regulations to carry out the laws administered by VA.
    We propose to update VA's regulations pertaining to the release of 
information from VA claimant records; the regulations are codified at 
38 CFR 1.500 through 1.527. Specifically, VA proposes to amend 38 CFR 
1.519 regarding the release of lists of names and addresses.
    In addition, we propose to amend VA's regulations pertaining to 
release of information under the FOIA. VA's current FOIA regulations 
are codified at 38 CFR 1.550 through 1.562. We propose to update these 
regulations to ensure compliance with the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, 
Public Law 114-185, streamline existing procedures based on our 
experience administering the FOIA, clarify portions of the regulations 
to make the regulations and VA's implementing procedures consistent 
with applicable law and easier for the public to understand, eliminate 
inherent conflict, ensure that the Department's intent is clear with 
regard to the agency's processing of requests for records and 
information under these statutes, and generally reorganize provisions 
as necessary.
    We have also made minor, non-substantive changes to the regulations 
to correct typographical or grammatical errors and make the language of 
the text generally more consistent.
    Finally, we propose to amend VA's regulations pertaining to the 
release of information from claimant records protected under the 
Privacy Act of 1974; the regulations are codified at 38 CFR 1.575 
through 1.584. Specifically, we propose to amend 38 CFR 1.577(c) and 
1.577(e) pertaining to VA's procedures regarding requests for access to 
records and fees, respectively, and 38 CFR 1.580 pertaining to 
administrative review of denials of requests for amendment of records.

Changes to 38 CFR Part 1

Release of Information From Department of Veterans Affairs Claimant 
Records, 1.500-1.527

1.519 Lists of Names and Addresses
    Current Sec.  1.519(c) provides, in part, that the Associate Deputy 
Assistant Secretary for Information Resources Management, with the 
concurrence of the General Counsel (emphasis added), is authorized to 
release names and addresses of present or former personnel of the armed 
services and their dependents from VA records to organizations under 
specific circumstances outlined in that section. Current Sec.  1.519(e) 
provides that a denial of a request for the release of names and 
addresses of present or former personnel of the armed services and 
their dependents from VA records may be appealed to the General 
Counsel.
    We propose to amend Sec.  1.519(c) to delete the requirement that 
the General Counsel concur in a release of names and addresses; this 
requirement inherently conflicts with the General Counsel's authority 
to address appeals in these cases. As it stands, the regulation 
requires the General Counsel to be involved in the initial 
determination and address the appeal regarding the release of 
information. In order to preserve the integrity of the appeals process, 
however, the General Counsel should review the request for the first 
time on appeal. Removing the requirement that the General Counsel 
concur in the determination of Information Resources Management in 
these cases would resolve this conflict.

Procedures for Disclosure of Records Under the Freedom of Information 
Act, 1.550-1.562

    We propose to make minor stylistic changes throughout the 
regulations as necessary that have no substantive effect. We also 
propose more specific and substantive revisions as outlined below.

[[Page 14614]]

1.552 General Provisions
    Current Sec.  1.552(a) contains the internet address established by 
VA to obtain information regarding VA's FOIA processing and information 
that VA makes electronically available under the FOIA. The internet 
address has changed since the last publication of VA's FOIA 
regulations. Proposed Sec.  1.552(a), therefore, would replace the 
existing internet address with the new, current internet address.
1.554 Requirements for Making Requests
    Current Sec.  1.554(a) covers FOIA requests submitted by letter or 
fax and contains general information regarding the submission of 
requests; the provision advises, e.g., that the requester send the 
request to the FOIA Officer for the component that he or she believes 
maintains the records requested. The section also contains signature 
requirements when requesting records about which the requester believes 
he or she has a privacy interest or to which a confidentiality statute 
applies. Current Sec.  1.554(a) also contains two references to the 
availability of a list of FOIA contacts available on the internet.
    Current Sec.  1.554(b) covers FOIA requests submitted by email, 
including circumstances under which signature requirements are 
triggered. Current Sec.  1.554(c) addresses requirements when 
requesting records pertaining to another individual.
    Proposed Sec.  1.554(a) would address requests by letter and fax 
and would delete the redundant reference to internet information 
regarding the availability of VA FOIA contacts. Proposed Sec.  1.554(b) 
would address requests by email. Proposed Sec.  1.554(a) and Sec.  
1.554(b) would contain administrative details such as where to send 
FOIA requests and would remove signature requirements. Proposed Sec.  
1.554(c) would address the content of requests by letter, fax and email 
and would address the circumstances under which a signature requirement 
is triggered and options for providing a signature; specifically, 
proposed Sec.  1.554(c) would require the requester to comply with the 
verification of identity requirements set forth in Sec.  1.577 of 38 
CFR part 1 when seeking records about himself or herself. Proposed 
Sec.  1.554(c) also would provide that if the requester is seeking 
records not covered by the Privacy Act, but which the requester 
believes may pertain to him or her, the requester may provide proof of 
identity, such as by a notarized, signed statement affirming his or her 
identity or a declaration made in compliance with 28 U.S.C. 1746. 
Further, proposed Sec.  1.554(c) would require that if the requester is 
seeking records pertaining to another individual who is the record 
subject, whether by letter, fax, or email, the requester may obtain 
greater access to the records, if he or she provides satisfactory 
authorization to act on behalf of the record subject. Proposed 
Sec. Sec.  1.554(a) through (c), would be synthesized and reorganized 
to make it easier for the public to understand and to clarify this 
portion of the regulations.
    In proposed Sec. Sec.  1.554(d)(2) and (d)(4), we would make a 
minor stylistic revision to use numerals only rather than both numerals 
and words.
    Current Sec.  1.554(e) addresses circumstances in which a FOIA fee 
issue is unresolved. Proposed Sec.  1.554(e) streamlines and organizes 
the language to make it easier for the public to understand.
1.556 Timing of Responses to Requests
    Current Sec.  1.556(c)(1) contains VA procedures with regard to 
FOIA requests that involve ``unusual circumstances,'' including 
notification when the agency is extending the 20-day response time 
limit by 10 or more days. Proposed Sec.  1.556(c)(1) would provide that 
in cases where an extension of more than 10 days is needed, the FOIA 
Officer also must advise the requester that the VA FOIA Liaison is 
available to assist in any disputes between the requester and VA (as 
required by the FOIA) and that the requester has the right to seek 
dispute resolution from the Office of Government Information Services 
(as required by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016). In proposed Sec.  
1.556(c)(1) and Sec.  1.556(d)(3), we would also make a minor stylistic 
revision to eliminate use of numerals and written words in favor of 
using only numerals.
1.557 Responses to Requests
    Current Sec.  1.557 addresses the agency's procedures regarding 
responses to requests, including the agency's acknowledgment and timing 
of responses and adverse determinations. Current Sec.  1.557(a) 
addresses the FOIA Officer's responsibility to assign a number to the 
request and acknowledge the FOIA request. Proposed Sec.  1.557(a) adds 
specific provisions that the FOIA Officer will advise the requester of 
the assigned FOIA request number and how the requester may obtain the 
status of his or her request.
    Current Sec.  1.557(c) addresses time limits for processing 
requests. Proposed Sec.  1.557(c) would streamline and clarify this 
provision. Current Sec.  1.557(d) addresses adverse determinations of 
requests. We propose to add a new provision at Sec.  1.557(d) to 
address grants of requests in full and to redesignate current Sec.  
1.557(d) as Sec.  1.557(e) and revise Sec.  1.557(e). In addition to 
complying with the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, these amendments would 
provide clarification and make the section easier to understand.
1.558 Business Information
    Current Sec.  1.558(c)(3) provides for notification to both the 
submitter of information and the requester when a final decision is 
made regarding release of business information. We propose to clarify 
Sec.  1.558(c)(3) to ensure that the requirements of the submitter 
notification process are met and to make it easier for the public to 
understand. We also propose to delete the last sentence of current 
Sec.  1.558(c)(3), which would become unnecessary based on the 
clarifications made in the proposed revision.
    We propose to make a minor stylistic revision to Sec.  1.558(e)(3) 
to use only the numeral 10 rather than using the written form of the 
numeral and the numeral as in current Sec.  1.558(e)(3).
1.559 Appeals
    Current Sec.  1.559 addresses the agency's procedures for filing 
administrative appeals of adverse determinations under the FOIA. 
Current Sec.  1.559(b) through Sec.  1.559(d) include the requirements 
for an appeal by letter and email and the time limit and content of the 
appeal, including the requirement for identity verification when the 
appeal involves records protected by a confidentiality statute; the 
latter requirement is contained in both paragraphs (b) and (c). We 
propose to streamline Sec.  1.559(b) through Sec.  1.559(d) by deleting 
redundancy in paragraphs (b) and (c) and by including requirements 
applicable to all appeals in paragraph (d); the proposed revisions 
would make the section more organized and easier for the public to 
understand. The proposed revision would also provide other means by 
which an individual could provide verification of his or her identity; 
the proposed revision in this regard would make it more efficient and 
easier for requesters to provide identity verification.
    Current Sec.  1.559(d) establishes a 60-day period within which to 
file an appeal and describes the information that should be included in 
an appeal. Proposed Sec.  1.559(d) would extend the appeal period to 90 
days in accordance with the FOIA Improvement Act. In addition, current 
Sec.  1.559(d) describes the titles of individuals within the VA Office 
of General Counsel responsible

[[Page 14615]]

for addressing FOIA appeals. We propose to revise Sec.  1.559(d) to 
instead provide a more general description of the responsible office in 
order to account for past and future changes in nomenclature within the 
Office of General Counsel. Lastly, the language of Sec.  1.559(d) is 
disorganized with regard to the information that must be included with 
an appeal and that which may be included. Proposed Sec.  1.559(d) would 
reorganize the language to clarify the provision and make it easier for 
the public to understand.
1.561 Fees
    Current Sec.  1.561(a) provides the general requirements for 
charging fees under the FOIA. We propose to amend Sec.  1.561(a) to 
eliminate unnecessary references to other paragraphs of the section and 
streamline the regulation.
    Current Sec.  1.561(b)(3) uses the term ``salary'' when referring 
to the employee performing the work. We propose to revise Sec.  
1.561(b)(3) to replace the term ``salary'' with ``hourly wage'' to 
clarify the meaning and to provide consistency in the regulations. In 
addition, we propose to revise the description of direct costs so as to 
eliminate redundancy in the paragraph.
    Current Sec.  1.561(d)(2) provides information on the cost of 
duplication by paper copy and provides that for other types of 
duplication, VA will charge for the direct costs of the duplication. 
Proposed Sec.  1.561(d)(2) would delete the references to the specific 
cost of duplication or other services in Sec.  1.561(d)(2) and instead, 
would include those costs in the schedule of fees set forth in proposed 
Sec.  1.561(g)(1); the proposed revision would eliminate redundancy and 
confusion. Proposed Sec.  1.561(d)(2) would include language advising 
requesters that only one copy of duplicated records will be provided.
    Current Sec.  1.561(e) provides for limitations on charging fees; 
parts of the section contain information that is redundant of other 
sections. Proposed Sec.  1.561(e) would streamline the regulation in 
order to eliminate repetitive portions (e.g., paragraphs (e)(4) and 
(e)(5)) and make the section easier to understand. Proposed Sec.  
1.561(e) also would add language to address requirements imposed by the 
FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.
    Current Sec.  1.561(f) contains a table describing fees that each 
category of requester may be charged. The table does not include 
duplication fee information as it pertains to electronic media; we 
propose to add this information to Sec.  1.561(f).
    Current Sec.  1.561(g) contains information regarding fee 
assessments that is redundant of other sections of the FOIA 
regulations. In addition, current Sec.  1.561(g)(1) provides a fee 
schedule that includes reference to ``DC locality payment'' and 
specific grades of Federal employees. In proposed Sec.  1.561(g), we 
would eliminate references to specific forms of potential costs and 
would instead refer to direct costs and the requester's fee category; 
the revision would eliminate redundancy and add consistency to the 
provision. In proposed Sec.  1.561(g)(1), we would add specific-cost 
information in order to synthesize fee elements as much as possible 
into one provision. We would also eliminate the reference to DC 
locality pay in Sec.  1.561(g)(1); locality pay is based on where the 
employee performing the work is located and would not be tied to one 
particular locality. In addition, the proposed change would clarify the 
section generally and make it consistent with other parts of the 
regulation by providing that the assessment of a fee is based on the 
hourly salary of the employee performing the work, which would include 
the particular locality pay of that employee. The references to the 
specific job type of the employee involved would be eliminated as 
unnecessary and confusing. Overall, the proposed revisions would make 
the section easier to understand and more consistent with the remainder 
of this section.
    Current Sec.  561(g)(1) includes a provision that fees are charged 
in quarter hour increments. The proposed revision would eliminate the 
text of current Sec.  561(g)(1). Current Sec.  561(g)(2) contains the 
schedule of fees. In view of the elimination of the text of current 
Sec.  561(g)(1), current Sec.  561(g)(2) would become Sec.  561(g)(1). 
Section 561(g)(2) would be reserved.
    Current Sec.  1.561(h) addresses notification to the requester of a 
fee estimate. We propose to streamline and clarify this section.
    Current Sec. Sec.  1.561(i) and (l)(3),(5) address charges for 
other services and advance payments, respectively. We propose to make 
minor stylistic revisions to Sec. Sec.  1.561(i) and (l)(3),(5) in 
order to clarify the meaning of the sections and make the sections 
consistent with the other sections.
    Current Sec.  1.561(n) sets forth the requirements for a fee waiver 
or reduction; proposed Sec.  1.561(n) would clarify that if a FOIA 
Officer communicates with a requester to seek necessary additional 
information, the fee-waiver request will be closed if the information 
is not received within 10 days of the request for additional 
information. Proposed Sec.  1.561(n) also would provide that if the fee 
waiver is denied or closed, the underlying FOIA request will be 
processed in accordance with applicable provisions.

Safeguarding Personal Information in Department of Veterans Affairs 
Records, 1.575-1.584

1.577 Access to Records
    Current Sec.  1.577(c) provides that the VA staff office having 
jurisdiction over the records involved in a request will establish 
appropriate disclosure procedures. Proposed Sec.  1.577(c) would 
specify that access requests for Privacy Act records or information 
must be sent to the staff office that maintains the records and refer 
the individual to the system of record notice in order to identify the 
office to which the request should be sent.
    Current Sec.  1.577(e) describes the fees to be charged for 
providing an individual a copy of his or her records and contains a fee 
table that includes an outdated reference to ``direct cost.'' Proposed 
Sec.  1.577(e) would provide the correct reference to direct cost. 
Current Sec.  1.577(e) includes no provision for the waiver of fees 
totaling less than $25.00. Currently, Sec.  1.561(g) provides for the 
waiver of fees totaling under $25.00 under the Privacy Act; Sec.  
1.561(g), however, is in the FOIA section of VA regulations. Proposed 
Sec.  1.577(e) would include the waiver language of fees of $25.00 or 
less in the Privacy Act regulations. The revision would make it easier 
for record subjects to find relevant information when making a Privacy 
Act request. Finally, proposed Sec.  1.577(e) would include a 
clarification that the first 100 pages are provided free of charge 
whether provided in paper or an electronic medium.
1.580 Administrative Review
    Current Sec.  1.580 provides that upon denial of a request for 
access or amendment to VA records, the requester will be advised of the 
decision in writing and will be provided appeal rights to OGC; the 
regulation does not distinguish between a written response and the lack 
of a response. As a result, OGC receives appeals from individuals who 
have received no response from the component or staff office; OGC 
directs these communications back to the originating office to respond. 
The proposed amendment clarifies that Sec.  1.580 applies to a written 
denial of the request and not to the absence of a response to the 
request. The proposed revision represents an effort to effectuate an 
expeditious review of the

[[Page 14616]]

record request, i.e., eliminate OGC involvement in order to streamline 
review procedures when circumstances involve the absence of a response, 
ensure that access requests are done by the correct component or staff 
office at the outset, and provide a quicker response to the requester. 
The proposed revisions result in the addition of section 38 CFR 
1.580(c).
    We also propose to correct a typographical error in the first 
sentence of Sec.  1.580, i.e., ``denial or'' to ``denial of'' a 
request.

Paperwork Reduction Act

    This document contains no provisions constituting a collection of 
information under the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. 3501-3521).

Regulatory Flexibility Act

    The Secretary of Veterans Affairs hereby certifies that this 
proposed rule will not have a significant economic impact on a 
substantial number of small entities as they are defined in the 
Regulatory Flexibility Act, 5 U.S.C. 601-612. This proposed rule 
concerns the procedures for requesting information from VA and the 
payment of certain fees for processing such requests. The fees 
prescribed by this proposed rule will generally comprise only an 
insignificant portion of a small entity's expenditures. Therefore, this 
proposed rule is exempt, pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 605(b), from the initial 
and final regulatory flexibility analysis requirements of sections 603 
and 604.

Executive Orders 12866, 13563 and 13771

    Executive Orders (E.O.s) 12866 and 13563 direct agencies to assess 
all costs and benefits of available regulatory alternatives and, if 
regulation is necessary, to select regulatory approaches that maximize 
net benefits (including potential economic, environmental, public 
health and safety effects, distributive impacts, and equity). E.O. 
13563 emphasizes the importance of quantifying both costs and benefits 
of reducing costs, of harmonizing rules, and of promoting flexibility. 
E.O. 12866, Regulatory Planning and Review, defines ``significant 
regulatory action'' to mean any regulatory action that is likely to 
result in a rule that may: ``(1) Have an annual effect on the economy 
of $100 million or more or adversely affect in a material way the 
economy, a sector of the economy, productivity, competition, jobs, the 
environment, public health or safety, or State, local, or tribal 
governments or communities; (2) Create a serious inconsistency or 
otherwise interfere with an action taken or planned by another agency; 
(3) Materially alter the budgetary impact of entitlements, grants, user 
fees, or loan programs or the rights and obligations of recipients 
thereof; or (4) Raise novel legal or policy issues arising out of legal 
mandates, the President's priorities, or the principles set forth in 
this Executive order.''
    VA has examined the economic, interagency, budgetary, legal, and 
policy implications of this regulatory action, and it has been 
determined not to be a significant regulatory action under E.O. 12866. 
This proposed rule is not expected to be an E.O. 13771 regulatory 
action because this proposed rule is not significant under E.O. 12866.

Unfunded Mandates

    The Unfunded Mandates Reform Act of 1995 requires, at 2 U.S.C. 
1532, that agencies prepare an assessment of anticipated costs and 
benefits before issuing any rule that may result in an expenditure by 
state, local, and tribal governments, in the aggregate, or by the 
private sector, of $100 million or more (adjusted annually for 
inflation) in any year. This proposed rule would have no such effect on 
state, local, and tribal governments, or on the private sector.

Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance

    There is no Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance number for the 
program affected by this proposed rule.

List of Subjects in 38 CFR Part 1

    Administrative practice and procedure, Archives and records, 
Cemeteries, Claims, Courts, Crime, Flags, Freedom of information, 
Government contracts, Government employees, Government property, 
infants and children, Inventions and patents, Parking, Penalties, 
Privacy, Reporting and Recordkeeping requirements, Seals and insignia, 
Security measures, and Wages.

Signing Authority

    The Secretary of Veterans Affairs, or designee, approved this 
document and authorized the undersigned to sign and submit the document 
to the Office of the Federal Register for publication electronically as 
an official document of the Department of Veterans Affairs. Jacquelyn 
Hayes-Byrd, Deputy Chief of Staff, Department of Veterans Affairs, 
approved this document on March 19, 2018, for publication.

    Dated: March 20, 2018.
Consuela Benjamin,
Regulation Development Coordinator, Office of Regulation Policy & 
Management, Office of the Secretary, Department of Veterans Affairs.

    For the reasons stated in the preamble, VA proposes to amend 38 CFR 
part 1 as follows:

PART 1--GENERAL PROVISIONS

0
1. The authority citation for part 1 continues to read as follows:

    Authority:  38 U.S.C. 501(a), and as noted in specific sections.

0
2. Revise Sec.  1.519 paragraph (c) to read as follows.


Sec.  1.519  Lists of names and addresses.

* * * * *
    (c) The Associate Deputy Assistant Secretary for Information 
Resources Management is authorized to release lists of names and 
addresses to organizations which have applied for such lists in 
accordance with paragraph (a) of this section, if he or she finds that 
the purpose for which the organization desires the names and addresses 
is directly connected with conduct of programs and the utilization of 
benefits under title 38 U.S.C. Lists of names and addresses authorized 
to be released pursuant to this paragraph shall not duplicate lists 
released to other elements, segments, or chapters of the same 
organization.
* * * * *
0
3. Revise Sec.  1.552 paragraph (a) to read as follows:


Sec.  1.552   General provisions.

    (a) Additional information. Information regarding VA's FOIA and 
Privacy Act process generally, including how to file FOIA requests, and 
information made available by VA under the FOIA, is available at the 
following internet address: http://www.oprm.va.gov/foia/.
* * * * *
0
4. Revise Sec.  1.554 paragraphs (a) through (c), (d)(2),(d)(4), and 
(e) to read as follows:


Sec.  1.554   Requirements for making requests.

    (a) Requests by letter and facsimile (fax). The FOIA request must 
be in writing and may be by letter or fax. To assist in processing, the 
request letter, envelope, or fax cover sheet of any FOIA request should 
be marked ``Freedom of Information Act Request.'' Information helpful 
for filing a request, such as a list of VA FOIA contacts, VA's FOIA 
Reference Guide, and the text of the FOIA, are available on VA's FOIA

[[Page 14617]]

homepage on the internet. See Sec.  1.552(a) for the pertinent internet 
address. VA has a decentralized FOIA system, meaning that each VA 
component, i.e., administrations and staff offices, the Veterans Health 
Administration (VHA) medical centers, Veterans Benefits Administration 
(VBA) regional offices, or offices located within the VA Central Office 
in Washington, DC (e.g., the Office of the Secretary), maintain their 
own FOIA processes and respond to FOIA requests directly. Accordingly, 
requesters must write directly to the FOIA Officer for the VA component 
that maintains the records. If requesting records from a particular 
medical facility, regional office, or Central Office component, the 
request should be sent to the FOIA Office at the address listed for 
that component. A legible return address must be included with the FOIA 
request; the requester may wish to include other contact information as 
well, such as a telephone number and email address. If the requester is 
not sure where to send the request, he or she should seek assistance 
from the FOIA Contact for the office believed to manage the programs 
whose records are being requested or, if these efforts fail, he or she 
should send the request to the Director, FOIA Service (005R1C), 810 
Vermont Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20420, who will refer it for action 
to the FOIA contact at the appropriate component.
    (b) Requests by email. VA accepts email FOIA requests. To assure 
prompt processing, email FOIA requests must be sent to official VA FOIA 
mailboxes established for the purpose of receiving FOIA requests. An 
email FOIA request that is sent to an individual VA employee's mailbox, 
or to any other entity, will not be considered a perfected FOIA 
request. Mailbox addresses designated to receive email FOIA requests 
are available on VA's FOIA homepage. See Sec.  1.552(a) for the 
pertinent internet address.
    (c) The content of a request. Whether submitting the request by 
letter, fax, or email, the following applies: If the requester is 
seeking records about himself or herself or to which a confidentiality 
statute applies (38 U.S.C. 5701, e.g.), the requester must comply with 
the verification of identity requirements set forth in 1.577 of this 
Part, which applies to requests for records maintained under the 
Privacy Act. If the requester is seeking records not covered by the 
Privacy Act, but which the requester believes may pertain to him or 
her, the requester may obtain greater access to the records by 
complying with the verification of identity requirements set forth in 
1.577 of this Part, by providing the image of the requester's signature 
(such as an attachment that shows the requester's handwritten 
signature), or by submitting a notarized, signed statement affirming 
his or her identity or a declaration made in compliance with 28 U.S.C. 
1746. The suggested language for a statement under 28 U.S.C. 1746 is 
included on VA's FOIA homepage; see Sec.  1.552(a) for the pertinent 
internet address. If the requester is seeking records pertaining to 
another individual under the FOIA, whether by letter, fax, or email, 
the requester may obtain greater access to the records if he or she 
provides satisfactory authorization to act on behalf of the record 
subject to receive the records or by submitting proof that the record 
subject is deceased (e.g., a copy of a death certificate or an 
obituary). Each component has discretion to require that a requester 
supply additional information to verify that a record subject has 
consented to disclosure.
    (d) * * *
    (2) Requests for voluminous amounts of records may be placed in a 
complex track of a multitrack processing system pursuant to Sec.  
1.556(b); such requests also may meet the criteria for ``unusual 
circumstances,'' which are processed in accordance with Sec.  1.556(c) 
and may require more than 20 business days to process despite the 
agency's exercise of due diligence.
* * * * *
    (4) The time limit for VA to process the FOIA request will not 
start until the FOIA Officer determines that the requester has 
reasonably described the records sought in the FOIA request. If the 
FOIA Officer seeks additional clarification regarding the request and 
does not receive the requester's written response within 30 calendar 
days of the date of its communication with the requester, he or she 
will conclude that the requester is no longer interested in pursuing 
the request and will close VA's files on the request.
    (e) Agreement to pay fees. The time limit for processing a FOIA 
request will be tolled while any fee issue is unresolved. Depending on 
the circumstances, the FOIA Officer will notify the requester: That the 
FOIA Officer anticipates that the fees for processing the request will 
exceed the amount that the requester has stated a willingness to pay or 
will amount to more than $25.00 or the amount set by Office of 
Management and Budget fee guidelines, whichever is higher; whether the 
FOIA Officer is requiring the requester to agree in writing to pay the 
estimated fee; or whether advance payment of the fee is required prior 
to processing the request (i.e., if the estimated fee amount exceeds 
$250 or the requester previously has failed to pay a FOIA fee in a 
timely manner). If the FOIA Officer does not receive the requester's 
written response to the notice regarding any of these items within 10 
business days of the date of the FOIA Officer's written communication 
with the requester, the FOIA Officer will close the request. If 
requesting a fee waiver underSec.  1.561, the requester nonetheless may 
state his or her willingness to pay a fee up to an identified amount in 
the event that the fee waiver is denied; this will allow the component 
to process the FOIA request while considering the fee waiver request. 
If the requester pays a fee in advance, and VA later determines that 
the requester overpaid or is entitled to a full or partial fee waiver, 
a refund will be made. (For more information on the collection of fees 
under the FOIA, see Sec.  1.561.)
* * * * *
0
5. Revise Sec.  1.556 paragraphs (c)(1) and (d)(3) to read as follows:


Sec.  1.556   Timing of responses to requests.

* * * * *
    (c) * * *
    (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 an extension of more than 
10 business days is needed, the FOIA Officer will notify the requester 
in writing and will include in the notice the following: An opportunity 
to modify the request so that it may be processed within the identified 
time limit; an opportunity to arrange an alternative time period with 
the FOIA Officer for processing the request or a modified request; 
notice of the availability of the agency FOIA 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

[[Page 14618]]

components or another agency having a substantial interest in the 
subject matter of a request.
* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (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.
0
6. Revise Sec.  1.557 paragraphs (a), (c), and (d) and revise and 
redesignate current paragraph (d) as paragraph (e) to read as follows:


Sec.  1.557  Responses to requests.

    (a) Acknowledgement of requests. When a request for records is 
received by a component designated to receive requests, the component's 
FOIA Officer will assign a FOIA request number; the FOIA Officer will 
send the requester written acknowledgement of receipt of the request 
and will advise the requester of the assigned FOIA request number and 
how the requester may obtain the status of his or her request.
* * * * *
    (c) Time limits for processing requests. A component must advise 
the requester within 20 business days from the date of VA's receipt of 
the request whether the request is granted in its entirety, granted in 
part, or denied in its entirety and provide the reasons therefor. If 
the request must be referred to another component, the response time 
will begin on the date that the request was received by the appropriate 
component, but in any event not later than 10 business days after the 
referring office receives the FOIA request; the referring component has 
an affirmative duty to refer the FOIA request within 10 business days.
    (d) Grants of requests in full. When a component makes a 
determination to grant a request in full, it shall notify the requester 
in writing. The component also shall inform the requester of any fees 
charged under Sec.  1.561. The component also must inform the requester 
of his or her right to seek the assistance of the appropriate VA FOIA 
Public Liaison and provide the contact information for the Liaison.
    (e) Adverse determinations of requests. When a component makes an 
adverse determination denying the request in any respect, the component 
FOIA Officer shall promptly notify the requester of the adverse 
determination in writing. Adverse determinations include decisions that 
a requested record is exempt from release in whole or in part, does not 
exist or cannot be located, is not readily reproducible in the form or 
format sought by the requester, or is not a record subject to the FOIA; 
adverse determinations also include denials regarding requests for 
expedited processing and requests involving fees, such as requests for 
fee waivers. The adverse determination notice must be signed by the 
component head or the component's FOIA Officer, and shall include the 
following:
    (1) The name and title or position of the person responsible for 
the adverse determination;
    (2) A brief statement of the reason(s) for the denial, including 
any FOIA exemptions applied by the FOIA Officer in denying the request;
    (3) The amount of information withheld in number of pages or other 
reasonable form of estimation; an estimate is not necessary if the 
volume is indicated on redacted pages disclosed in part or if providing 
an estimate would harm an interest provided by an applicable exemption;
    (4) Notice that the requester may appeal the adverse determination 
and a description of the requirements for an appeal under Sec.  1.559 
of this part; and
    (5) Notice that the requester may seek assistance or dispute 
resolution services from the appropriate VA FOIA Liaison or dispute 
resolution services from the Office of Government Information Services.
0
7. Revise Sec.  1.558 paragraphs (c)(3) and (e) to read as follows:


Sec.  1.558   Business information.

* * * * *
    (c) * * *
    (3) Whenever the FOIA Officer notifies the submitter of VA's intent 
to disclose over the submitter's objections, the FOIA Officer will also 
notify the requester by separate correspondence.
* * * * *
    (e) Consideration of objection(s) and notice of intent to disclose. 
The FOIA Officer will consider all pertinent factors, including but not 
limited to, the submitter's timely objection(s) to disclosure and the 
specific grounds provided by the submitter for non-disclosure in 
deciding whether to disclose business information. Information provided 
by the submitter after the specified time limit and after the component 
has made its disclosure decision generally will not be considered. In 
addition to meeting the requirements of Sec.  1.557, when a FOIA 
Officer decides to disclose business information over the objection of 
a submitter, the FOIA Officer will provide the submitter with written 
notice, which includes:
    (1) A statement of the reason(s) why each of the submitter's 
disclosure objections were not sustained;
    (2) A description of the business information to be disclosed; and
    (3) A specified disclosure date of not less than 10 days from the 
date of the notice (to allow the submitter time to take necessary legal 
action).
* * * * *
0
8. Revise Sec.  1.559 paragraphs (b) through (d) to read as follows:


Sec.  1.559   Appeals

* * * * *
    (b) How to file and address a written appeal. The requester may 
appeal an adverse determination denying the request, in any respect, 
except for those concerning Office of Inspector General records, to the 
VA Office of the General Counsel (024), 810 Vermont Avenue NW, 
Washington, DC 20420. Any appeals concerning Office of Inspector 
General records must be sent to the VA Office of Inspector General, 
Office of Counselor (50), 810 Vermont Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20420. 
The FOIA appeal must be in writing and may be by letter or facsimile 
(fax); whichever method is used, the appeal must comply with all 
requirements of this paragraph and paragraph (d). Information regarding 
where to fax the FOIA appeal is available on VA's FOIA homepage on the 
internet. See Sec.  1.552(a) for the pertinent internet address.
    (c) How to file an email appeal. VA accepts email appeals; the 
appeal must comply with all requirements of this paragraph and 
paragraph (d). In order to assure initial processing of an appeal filed 
by email, the email must be sent to one of the official VA FOIA 
mailboxes established for the purpose of receiving FOIA appeals; an 
email FOIA appeal that is sent to an individual VA employee's mailbox, 
or to any other entity, will not be considered a perfected FOIA appeal. 
Mailbox addresses designated to receive email FOIA appeals are 
available on VA's FOIA homepage. See Sec.  1.552(a) for the pertinent 
internet address.
    (d) Time limits and content of appeal. The appeal to the VA OGC 
(024) or VA Office of Inspector General (50) must be received or 
postmarked no later than 90 calendar days after the date of the adverse 
determination and must contain the following: A legible return address; 
clear identification of the determination being appealed, including any 
assigned

[[Page 14619]]

request number (if no request number was assigned, other information 
must be provided such as the name of the FOIA officer, the address of 
the component, the date of the component's determination, if any, and 
the precise subject matter of the appeal); and identification of the 
part of the determination that is being appealed (if appealing only a 
portion of the determination). If the appeal involves records about the 
requester himself or herself or records to which a confidentiality 
statute applies, the requester must comply with the verification of 
identity requirements set forth in 1.577 of this Part, which applies to 
requests for records maintained under the Privacy Act. If the appeal 
involves records not covered by the Privacy Act, but which the 
requester believes may pertain to him or her, the requester may obtain 
greater access to the records by complying with the verification of 
identity requirements set forth in 1.577 of this Part, providing the 
image of the requester's signature (such as an attachment that shows 
the requester's handwritten signature), or submitting a notarized, 
signed statement affirming his or her identity or a declaration made in 
compliance with 28 U.S.C. 1746. The suggested language for a statement 
under 28 U.S.C. 1746 is included on VA's FOIA homepage. See Sec.  
1.552(a) for the pertinent internet address. If the appeal involves 
records pertaining to another individual (i.e., record subject), the 
requester may obtain greater access to the records if he or she 
provides satisfactory authorization to act on behalf of the record 
subject to receive the records or by submitting proof that the record 
subject is deceased (e.g., a copy of a death certificate or an 
obituary). Each component has discretion to require that a requester 
supply additional information to verify that a record subject has 
consented to disclosure. Appeals should be marked ``Freedom of 
Information Act Appeal.'' The requester may include other information 
as well, such as a telephone number and email address and a copy of the 
initial agency determination. An appeal is not perfected until VA 
either receives the required information identified above or the appeal 
is otherwise easily and sufficiently defined. The designated official 
within the Office of the General Counsel (024) will act on behalf of 
the Secretary on all appeals under this section, except those 
pertaining to the Office of Inspector General. The designated official 
in the Office of Inspector General will act on all appeals pertaining 
to Office of Inspector General records. A determination by the Office 
of General Counsel, or designated official within the Office of 
Inspector General, will be the final VA action.
* * * * *


Sec.  1.561   [Amended]

0
9. Amend Sec.  1.561 by:
0
a. Revising paragraphs (a), (b)(3), (d)(2), (e);
0
b. Adding paragraphs (e)(4)(iii) and (4)(iv);
0
c. Removing paragraphs (e)(5) and (e)(6);
0
d. Revising paragraph (f) and (g)(1);
0
e. Removing and reserving paragraph (g)(2), and
0
f. Revising paragraphs (h), (i), (l)(3), (l)(5), and (n)(1).
    The revisions and additions read as follows:


Sec.  1.561   Fees.

    (a) General. VA will charge for processing requests under the FOIA, 
as amended, and in accordance with this section. Requesters must pay 
fees by check or money order made payable to the Treasury of the United 
States. Payment by credit card also may be acceptable; the requester 
should contact the FOIA Officer for instructions on credit card 
payments. Note that fees associated with requests from VA 
beneficiaries, applicants for VA benefits, or other individuals, for 
records retrievable by their names or individual identifiers processed 
under 38 U.S.C. 5701 (records associated with claims for benefits) and 
5 U.S.C. 552a (the Privacy Act), will be assessed fees in accordance 
with the applicable regulatory fee provisions relating to VA benefits 
and VA Privacy Act records.
    (b) * * *
    (3) Direct costs mean expenses that VA incurs in responding to a 
FOIA request; direct costs include searching for and duplication of 
(and in the case of commercial use requesters, reviewing) records to 
respond to a FOIA request, the hourly wage of the employee performing 
the work plus 16 percent of the hourly wage, and the cost of operating 
duplication machinery. Direct costs do not include overhead expenses, 
such as the costs of space or heating and lighting of the facility 
where the records are kept.
* * * * *
    (d) * * *
    (2) Duplication. When the agency provides duplicated records in 
response to a request, no more than one copy will be provided.
    (3) * * *
    (e) Limitations on charging fees. (1) When VA determines that a 
requester is an educational institution, a non-commercial scientific 
institution, or a representative of the news media, VA will not charge 
search fees.
    (2) VA charges fees in quarter hour increments; no search or review 
fee will be charged for a quarter hour period unless more than half of 
that period is required for search or review.
    (3) VA may provide free copies of records or free services in 
response to an official request from another government agency or a 
congressional office and when a component head or designee determines 
that doing so will assist in providing medical care to a VA patient or 
will otherwise assist in the performance of VA's mission.
    (4)(i) If VA fails to comply with the time limit to respond to a 
request, it may not charge search fees, or, in cases of requests from 
requesters described in paragraph (e)(1) of this section, may not 
charge duplication fees, except as described in paragraph (e)(4)(ii)-
(iv).
    (ii) If VA has determined that unusual circumstances as defined by 
the FOIA apply and has provided timely written notice to the requester 
in accordance with the FOIA, a failure to comply with the time limit 
shall be excused for an additional 10 days.
    (iii) If VA has determined that unusual circumstances as defined by 
the FOIA apply and more than 5,000 pages are necessary to respond to 
the request, VA may charge search fees, or in the case of requesters 
described in paragraph (e)(1) of this section, may charge duplication 
fees, if the following steps are taken: VA must provide timely written 
notice of unusual circumstances to the requester in accordance with the 
FOIA and must discuss with the requester via written mail, email or 
telephone (and later confirmed in writing) (or have made not less than 
three good-faith attempts to do so) how the requester could effectively 
limit the scope of the request in accordance with 5 U.S.C. 
552(a)(6)(B)(ii). If this exception is satisfied, the component may 
charge all applicable fees incurred in the processing of the request.
    (iv) if a court has determined that exceptional circumstances 
exist, as defined by the FOIA, a failure to comply with the time limits 
shall be excused for the length of time provided by the court order.
    (e)(5) [Removed]
    (e)(6) [Removed]
    (f) The following table summarizes the chargeable fees for each 
category of requester.

[[Page 14620]]



----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
               Category                      Search fees              Review fees            Duplication fees
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
(1) Commercial Use...................  Yes....................  Yes....................  Yes.
(2) Educational Institution..........  No.....................  No.....................  Yes (100 pages or 1
                                                                                          disc free).
(3) Non-Commercial Scientific          No.....................  No.....................  Yes (100 pages or 1
 Institution.                                                                             disc free).
(4) News Media.......................  No.....................  No.....................  Yes (100 pages or 1
                                                                                          disc free).
(5) All other........................  Yes (2 hours free).....  No.....................  Yes (100 pages or 1
                                                                                          disc free).
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

    (g) Fee schedule. If it is determined that a fee will be charged 
for processing the FOIA request, VA will charge the direct cost to the 
agency and in accordance with the requester's fee category (see Sec.  
1.561(c)); to the extent possible, direct costs are itemized in 
paragraph 1 of this section. Duplication fees also are applicable to 
records provided in response to requests made under the Privacy Act 
(see Sec.  1.577(e),(f)).
    (1) Schedule of fees:

------------------------------------------------------------------------
                Activity                               Fees
------------------------------------------------------------------------
(i) Duplication of standard size (8\1/   Paper records: $0.15 per page.
 2\'' x 11''; 8\1/2\'' x 14'') paper     Electronic media: $3.00 per
 records or records on electronic media.  each compact disc (CD) or
                                          digital versatile disc (DVD).
(ii) Duplication of non-paper items      Direct cost to VA.
 (e.g., x-rays), paper records which
 are not of a standard size (e.g.,
 architectural drawings/construction
 plans or EKG tracings).
(iii) Record search by manual (non-      Hourly wage of the employee(s),
 automated) methods.                      plus 16 percent.
(iv) Record search using automated       Direct cost to VA.
 methods, such as by computer.
(v) Record review (for Commercial Use    Hourly rate of employees
 Requesters only).                        performing review to determine
                                          whether to release records and
                                          to prepare them for release,
                                          plus 16 percent.
(vi) Other activities, such as:          Direct cost to VA.
 Attesting under seal or certifying
 that records are true copies; sending
 records by special methods; forwarding
 mail; compiling and providing special
 reports, drawings, specifications,
 statistics, lists, abstracts or other
 extracted information; generating
 computer output; providing files under
 court process where the Federal
 Government is not a party to, and does
 not have an interest in, the
 litigation.
------------------------------------------------------------------------


    Note to paragraph (g)(1):  VA will charge fees consistent with 
the salary scale published by the Office of Personnel Management 
(OPM).

    (2) Reserved.
    (h) Notification of fee estimate or other fee issues. (1) VA will 
not charge the requester if the fee is $25.00 or less.
    (2) When a FOIA Officer determines or estimates that the fees to be 
charged under this section will amount to more than $25.00 or the 
amount set by OMB fee guidelines, whichever is higher, the FOIA Officer 
will notify the requester in writing of the actual or estimated amount 
of fees and ask the requester to provide written assurance of the 
payment of all fees or fees up to a designated amount, unless he or she 
has indicated a willingness to pay fees as high as those anticipated. 
Any such agreement to pay the fees shall be memorialized in writing. 
When the requester does not provide sufficient information upon which 
VA can identify a fee category (see paragraphs (c)(1) through (c)(4) of 
this section), or a clarification is otherwise required regarding a 
fee, the FOIA Officer may notify the requester and seek clarification; 
the notification to the requester will state that if a written response 
is not received within 10 days, the request will be closed. The 
timeline for responding to the request will be tolled and no further 
work will be done on the request until the fee issue has been resolved.
    (i) Charges for other services. Apart from the other provisions of 
this section, VA will charge the requester the direct costs of 
providing any special handling or services requested, such as 
certifying that records are true copies or sending them by other than 
ordinary mail. The FOIA Officer may choose to provide such a service as 
a matter of administrative discretion.
* * * * *
    (l) * * *
    (3) Where the requester previously has failed to pay a properly 
charged FOIA fee to VA within 30 days of the date of billing, a FOIA 
Officer may require the requester to pay the full amount due, plus any 
applicable interest as specified in this section, and to make an 
advance payment of the full amount of any anticipated fee, before the 
FOIA Officer begins to process a new request or continues to process a 
pending request from that requester.
* * * * *
    (5) In cases in which a FOIA Officer requires advance payment or 
payment is due under this section, the time for responding to the 
request will be tolled and further work will not be done on the request 
until the required payment is received.
* * * * *
    (n) Requirements for waiver or reduction of fees. (1) Waiving or 
reducing fees. Fees for processing the request may be waived if the 
requester meets the criteria listed in this section. The requester must 
submit adequate justification for a fee waiver; without adequate 
justification, the request will be denied. The FOIA Officer may, at his 
or her discretion, communicate with the requester to seek additional 
information, if necessary, regarding the fee waiver request. If the 
additional information is not received from the requester within 10 
days of the FOIA Officer's communication with the requester, VA will 
assume that the requester does not wish to pursue the fee waiver 
request and the fee waiver request will be closed. If the request for 
waiver or reduction is denied or closed, the underlying FOIA request 
will continue to be processed in accordance with the applicable 
provisions of this Part. Requests for fee waivers are decided on a 
case-by-case basis; receipt of a fee waiver in the past does not 
establish entitlement to a fee waiver each time a request is submitted.
* * * * *
0
10. Revise Sec.  1.577 paragraph (c) and (e) to read as follows:

[[Page 14621]]

Sec.  1.577   Access to Records.

* * * * *
    (c) The VA component or staff office having jurisdiction over the 
records subject to the Privacy Act request will establish appropriate 
disclosure procedures, including notifying the individual who filed the 
Privacy Act request of the time, place, and conditions under which the 
VA will comply with the request, in accordance with applicable laws and 
regulations. Access requests for Privacy Act records or information 
must be sent to the staff office that maintains the records; the 
individual seeking access may consult the system of record notice 
(https://www.oprm.va.gov/privacy/systems_of_records.aspx) in order to 
identify the office to which the request should be sent. Each component 
has discretion to require that a requester supply additional 
information to verify his or her identity.
* * * * *
    (e) Fees to be charged, if any, to any individual for making copies 
of his or her record shall not include the cost of and search for and 
review of the record. Fees under $25.00 shall be waived. Fees to be 
charged are as follows:

------------------------------------------------------------------------
                Activity                               Fees
------------------------------------------------------------------------
(1) Duplication of documents by any      $0.15 per page after first 100
 type of reproduction process to          one-sided pages or electronic
 produce plain one-sided paper copies     equivalent.
 of a standard size (8\1/2\'' x 11'';
 8\1/2\'' x 14''; 11'' x 14'').
(2) Duplication of non-paper records,    Direct cost to the Agency as
 such as microforms, audiovisual          defined in Sec.   1.561(b)(3)
 materials (motion pictures, slides,      of this part to the extent
 laser optical disks, video tapes,        that it pertains to the cost
 audio tapes, etc.), computer tapes and   of duplication.
 disks, diskettes for personal
 computers, and any other automated
 media output.
(3) Duplication of document by any type  Direct cost to the Agency as
 of reproduction process not covered by   defined in Sec.   1.561(b)(3)
 paragraphs (e)(1) or (2) of this         of this part to the extent
 section to produce a copy in a form      that it pertains to the cost
 reasonably usable by the requester.      of duplication.
------------------------------------------------------------------------

* * * * *
0
11. Revise Sec.  1.580 to read as follows:


Sec.  1.580  Administrative review.

    (a) Upon consideration and denial of a request under Sec.  1.577 or 
Sec.  1.579 of this section, the responsible VA official or designated 
employee will inform the requester in writing of the denial. The 
adverse determination notice must be signed by the component head or 
the component's Privacy Officer, and shall include the following:
    (1) The name and title or position of the person responsible for 
the adverse determination;
    (2) A brief statement of the reason(s) for the denial and the 
policy upon which the denial is based; and
    (3) Notice that the requester may appeal the adverse determination 
under Sec.  1.580(b) of this part to the Office of General Counsel 
(providing the address as follows: Office of General Counsel (024), 810 
Vermont Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20420), and instructions on what 
information is required for an appeal, which includes why the 
individual disagrees with the initial denial with specific attention to 
one or more of the four standards (e.g., accuracy, relevance, 
timeliness, and completeness), and a copy of the denial letter and any 
supporting documentation that demonstrates why the individual believes 
the information does not meet these requirements.
    (b) The final agency decision in appeals of adverse determinations 
described in paragraph (a) will be made by the designated official 
within the Office of General Counsel (024).
    (c) A written denial must have occurred in order to appeal to OGC. 
An absence of a response to an access or amendment request filed with a 
VA component is not a denial. If an individual has not received a 
response to a request for access to or amendment of records, the 
individual must pursue the request with the Privacy Officer of the 
administration office (e.g., the VHA, VBA, or National Cemetery 
Administration Privacy Officer) or staff office (e.g., the Office of 
Information Technology or Office of Inspector General Privacy Staff 
Officer) that has custody over the records.

[FR Doc. 2018-06097 Filed 4-4-18; 8:45 am]
 BILLING CODE 8320-01-P