Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

Last updated February 13, 2024

The Rights of Requesters and The Responsibilities of Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) guarantees access by citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media to public records held by public bodies, public officials, and public employees.

A public record is any writing or recording—regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format—which is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of, a public body or its officers, employees, or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.

FOIA seeks to promote an increased awareness of governmental activities and an opportunity to witness the operations of government. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.

YOUR FOIA RIGHTS
  • You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
  • You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance.
  • If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you have the right to file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA. You may also contact Virginia’s FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.


MAKING A REQUEST FOR RECORDS

Submit your request in writing, in person, or over the phone.

You may request records by U.S. mail, email, in person, or over the phone - FOIA does not require that you use any particular method to convey your request. FOIA also does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to state that you are requesting records pursuant to FOIA.

Although not required to be in writing, written requests are helpful.

From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request and it also gives us a clear statement of what records you are requesting, so that there is no misunderstanding over a verbal request. However, we cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you elect to not put it in writing.

Your request must seek existing records or documents.

FOIA gives you access to records; it does not provide for public bodies to answer questions about their work. FOIA also does not require us to create a record that does not exist.

Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity."

This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that we can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.

Tell us in what format you would like to receive the records.

You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by us in the regular course of business. For example, if you are requesting records we maintain in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via email, on a computer disk or flash drive, or to receive a printed copy of those records.

We may need to discuss your request with you.

If we have questions about your request, please cooperate with our efforts to clarify the type of records that you are seeking, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, and we may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand which records you are seeking.

WHERE TO SEND A REQUEST

You may direct your request to Lynne Whitfield. She may be reached at:

Lynne Whitfield, FOIA Officer
Virginia Commercial Space Flight Authority
101 W. Main Street, Suite 602
Norfolk, VA 23510
Phone: 757-683-5526 Email: foia@vaspace.org

You may also contact her with questions you have concerning requesting records from VCSFA.

Virginia’s Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about how FOIA works. The Council may be contacted by email at foiacouncil@dls.virginia.gov, or by phone at (804) 698-1810 or toll-free at 1-866-448-4100.

VCSFA'S RESPONSIBILITY IN RESPONDING TO YOUR REQUEST

We must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it.

"Day One" is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends, holidays or other days when we are closed for business.

The reason behind your request for public records is irrelevant.

You do not have to state why you want the records before we respond to your request. FOIA does, however, allow us to require you to provide your name and legal address to confirm you are a Virginia resident or member of the media.

There are five possible responses to your request.

FOIA requires that we provide one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:

  1. The records that you have requested are being provided in their entirety.
  2. All of the records that you have requested are being withheld, because they are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If this is our response, we must send the response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld, and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records.
  3. Some of the records that you have requested are being provided, but some are being withheld. We cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld.
  4. The records that you have requested from VCSFA cannot be found or do not exist (we do not have the records you requested); however, if we know that another public body has the requested records, we must include contact information for the other public body in our response to you.
  5. It is practically impossible for us to respond to your request within the five-day period. If this is the case, we must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow us an additional seven working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of 12 working days from receipt of your original request to respond.

We may work with you or petition the court for additional response time.

If you make a request for a very large number of records, and we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within 12 working days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. Prior to petitioning a court for more time, FOIA requires that we make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production of the records.

CHARGES

You may ask for an estimate of potential charges.

A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for the requested records and shall take all reasonable efforts to supply the requested records at the lowest possible cost. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. Prior to conducting a search for records, the public body shall notify the requestor in writing that the public body may assess reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying, or searching for requested records and inquire of the requester whether he would like to request a cost estimate in advance of the supplying of the requested records as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia. Any costs incurred by the public body in estimating the cost of supplying the requested records shall be applied toward the overall charges to be paid by the requester for the supplying of such requested records.

We evaluate whether to charge on a request-by-request basis. The charges that we assess are based on the time that our personnel spend on the request, such as time reviewing and redacting records. The hourly rate that we would apply to such time charges is based on the salary (not including benefits) of VCSFA personnel. Generally, we choose not to charge for routine requests, but reserve the right to charge as allowed under FOIA for unusually voluminous or time-consuming requests. As a rule of thumb, any request that can be processed in one hour or less will be provided free of charge.

You may be required to pay a deposit.

An estimate will allow you to know about any costs upfront, or give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs. If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we may require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The five days that we have to respond to your request is suspended during the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you respond.

Failure to respond to a cost estimate within 30 days will result in your request deemed to have been withdrawn.

Final payment is due upon receipt of records.

You may also pay in advance. If you owe us money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, we may require payment of the past-due bill before we respond to your new FOIA request.

TYPES OF RECORDS AVAILABLE

The following is a general description of the types of records held by VCSFA:

  • Personnel records concerning employees and officials of VCSFA
  • Records of agreements which VCSFA has entered into with vendors, customers, and other governmental entities

If you are unsure whether VCSFA has the record(s) you seek, please contact our FOIA Officer, Lynne Whitfield, whose contact information is above.

COMMONLY USED EXEMPTIONS

The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. VCSFA commonly withholds records pursuant to the following exemptions:

  • Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1) of the Code of Virginia)
  • Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2)) or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.1 (3))
  • Information categorized as classified or sensitive but unclassified (Sec. 2.2-3705.2(15))
  • Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2-3705.1 (12))

Furthermore, FOIA does not require public bodies to provide records in response to a request from an incarcerated or civilly committed individual.

POLICY REGARDING THE USE OF EXEMPTIONS

Note the following general policies:

  • We invoke the personnel records exemption in those instances where it applies in order to protect the privacy of employees and officials of VCSFA.
  • We invoke the contract negotiations exemption whenever it applies in order to protect VCSFA’s bargaining position and negotiating strategy.
  • Our general policy is to not invoice where charges will be less than $200.

COMMENTS

To comment on the quality of assistance provided to you by VCSFA with regard to public records, please use the “Public Comment Form” on the FOIA Council’s website, which can be found here: FOIA COUNCIL

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