Section 4.6 — Time limits and expedited processing.

(a) In general. Components ordinarily shall respond to requests according to their order of receipt.

(b) Initial response and appeal. Subject to paragraph (c)(1) of this section, an initial response shall be made within 20 working days (i.e., excluding Saturdays, Sundays, and legal public holidays) of the receipt of a request for a record under this part by the proper component identified in accordance with Sec. 4.5(a), and an appeal shall be decided within 20 working days of its receipt by the Office of the General Counsel.

(c) Unusual circumstances. In unusual circumstances as specified in paragraph (c)(2) of this section, an official listed in Appendix B to this part may extend the time limits in paragraph (b) of this section by notifying the requester in writing as soon as practicable of the unusual circumstances and of the date by which processing of the request is expected to be completed. If the extension is for more than ten working days, the component shall provide the requester an opportunity either to modify the request so that it may be processed within the applicable time limit, or to arrange an alternative time frame for processing the request or a modified request.

As used in this section, unusual circumstances means, but only to the extent reasonably necessary to properly process the particular request:

(i) The need to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments separate from the office processing the request:

(ii) The need to search for, collect, and appropriately examine a voluminous amount of separate and distinct records that are the subject of a single request; or

(iii) The need for consultation, which shall be conducted with all practicable speed, with another component or Federal agency having a substantial interest in the determination of the request.

(3) If a component reasonably believes that multiple requests submitted by a requester, or by a group of requesters acting in concert, constitute a single request that would otherwise involve unusual circumstances, and the requests involve clearly related matters, the component may aggregate them.

(d) Multitrack processing. A component may use two or more processing tracks by distinguishing between simple and more complex requests based on the number of pages involved, or some other measure of the amount of work and/or time needed to process the request, and whether the request qualifies for expedited processing as described in paragraph (e) of this section.

(2) A component using multitrack processing may provide requesters in its slower track(s) with an opportunity to limit the scope of their requests in order to qualify for faster processing. A component doing so shall contact the requester by telephone, E-mail, or letter, whichever is most efficient in each case.

(e) Expedited processing. (1) Requests and appeals shall be taken out of order and given expedited treatment whenever it is determined that they involve:

(i) Circumstances in which the lack of expedited treatment could reasonably be expected to pose an imminent threat to the life or physical safety of an individual;

(ii) The loss of substantial due process rights;

(iii) A matter of widespread and exceptional media interest involving questions about the Government's integrity which affect public confidence; or

(iv) An urgency to inform the public about an actual or alleged Federal Government activity, if made by a person primarily engaged in disseminating information.

(2) A request for expedited processing may be made at the time of the initial request for records or at any later time. For a prompt determination, a request for expedited processing should be sent to the component listed in Appendix A to this part that maintains the records requested.

(3) A requester who seeks expedited processing must submit a statement, certified to be true and correct to the best of that person's knowledge and belief, explaining in detail the basis for requesting expedited processing. For example, a requester within the category described in paragraph (e)(1)(iv) of this section, if not a full-time member of the news media, must establish that he or she is a person whose main professional activity or occupation is information dissemination, though it need not be his or her sole occupation. A requester within the category described in paragraph (e)(1)(iv) of this section must also establish a particular urgency to inform the public about the Government activity involved in the request, beyond the public's right to know about Government activity generally.

(4) Within ten calendar days of its receipt of a request for expedited processing, the proper component shall decide whether to grant it and shall notify the requester of the decision. Solely for purposes of calculating the foregoing time limit, any request for expedited processing shall always be considered received on the actual date of receipt by the proper component. If a request for expedited processing is granted, the request shall be given priority and processed as soon as practicable, subject to Sec. 4.11(i). If a request for expedited processing is denied, any appeal of that decision shall be acted on expeditiously.