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FIA-13-0049 - In the Matter of UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic

On July 25, 2013, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Hearings and Appeals (OHA) denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Appeal filed by UNROW Human Rights Impact Litigation Clinic (Appellant) of a determination issued by the Office of Information Resources (OIR).  In its request, the Appellant asked for a copy of the “cable from the Embassy of the United State in London bearing the reference ID ‘09LONDON1156’ sent on May 15, 2009, with the subject ‘HMG Floats Proposal for Marine Reserve Covering the Chagos Archipelago (British Indian Ocean Territory.’” In its determination, OIR stated that the document was “under the jurisdiction of the Department of State (DOS).”  The Appellant asserted that “the DOE is not released from the responsibility of fulfilling our request simply because the document originated within another agency.”  OHA agreed that the determination issued by OIR was inadequate.  The determination did not describe OIR’s search for the requested document.  After receipt of the Appeal, OHA contacted OIR and determined that it did conduct a search.  OIR searched the Office of Legacy Management, which did not have possession of the document and suggested that either the Office of Policy and International Affairs or the Office of Intelligence and Counterintelligence (IN) may have the document.  OIR contacted both these offices, neither of which had the document.  IN suggested that OIR contact DOS to determine if it had the document.  OIR contacted DOS, which stated that it had received the same request and that the request was under review.  OIR also contacted the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Golden Field Office, neither of which had the document.  After receipt of the Appeal, OIR also conducted a searched of the headquarters computer system that included documents from the Secretary’s office.  It conducted a search using the terms London, Chagos, HMG, and Marine.  The requested document was not within the system.  OHA found that, given the previous information, OIR’s search for the requested document was adequate.  OIR asked those offices most likely to have the document and the document was not located.  The standard for agency search procedures is reasonableness, not exhaustion of files.  Therefore, OHA denied the Appeal.