Stafford Loan Justice

FOIA Response

In late September, I received a response to my March 20, 2010 FOIA request, where I asked the Department of Education for the following information:

Any and all current documents, including Department of Education internal policies, procedures, and formulas concerning the determination of capitalization on Stafford loans.

I also requested the identification of the department or sub-agency responsible within the Dept. of Education responsible for the calculation of capitalization on Stafford loans and for carrying out Stafford loan capitalization activities through William D. Ford.

The FOIA officer that worked my case interpreted the request as business rules; I didn’t want to limit the search to just this area, although it appears that’s what occurred. There was no adequate search.

Here are the documents I received:

DeptEd_Business Rules ~ which tells us borrowers nothing about how the capitalization is assessed in terms of formulas, rates, the current market, and so on. The first page of the file, “ACS RoboHelp, ” is essentially unreadable. And why is the Department of Education sending info from a vendor? Perhaps some borrower out there could submit a FOIA on this?

Also note the date on the document “Direct Loan Servicing” is March 2004.

Revised Capitalization Processes ~ all four pages, redacted.  The Department utilized Exemption 5 to defend its redaction:

Information that is exempt from disclosure pursuant to the FOIA 5 U.S.C. $ 552 (b)(5) and Departmental regulation 34 CFR $ 5.73(a), which permits agencies to withhold inter or intraagency memorandums or letters that would not be available by law to a pafi in litigation with the agency. Exemption 5 incorporates the government’s deliberative process privilege, inter alia, protecting records of predecisional internal communications reflecting the views or recommendations of agency employees in connection with govemment policy or legal matters that are both predecisional and deliberative in nature.

I am not an attorney, but it seems to me after reading of Exemption 5, for the Department to determine that “Revised Capitalization Policies” to be exempt under the deliberative process privilege, the document must be both predecisional and deliberative as the above information from the DOJ describes. Exemption 5 doesn’t appear to concern final policies or rules the Department follows.

As I’ve blogged here at staffordloanjustice, release of this information from the Department of Education’s vault would provide borrowers with a semblance of how their loans work and the level of prolonged debt. Release of this information would also greatly assist citizens in understanding government policy. This issue is one of truth in lending, right to know, and concerns accountability for policies. To not release this information equals government secrecy. I am torn if the withholding of docs by the Department constitutes bureaucratic or political secrecy.** Perhaps both?

I will submit an appeal.

UPDATE 12/13:

Filed an appeal and it was denied. The FOIA officer find my objection “unpersuasive.”

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Bureaucratic Secrecy, which refers to the largely unconscious hoarding and withholding of information that characterizes all bureaucracies, as classically described by Max Weber. Unlike political secrecy, there is no particular advantage to be gained from bureaucratic secrecy, nor is there a persuasive national security rationale.

Source: Steven Aftergood. “Secrecy is Back in Fashion.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists November-December 2000. http://www.thebulletin.org/article.php?art_ofn=nd00aftergood

Political Secrecy, which refers to the deliberate and conscious use of classification authority for political advantage, irrespective of any threat to national security. Typically, the intent here is to shield an official or a vulnerable program from embarrassment or controversy.

This is the smallest of the three categories but it is the most dangerous to the political health of the nation. For example, some of the early research on the effects of radiation exposure on human subjects was explicitly classified to evade public controversy and legal liability. [2]  More recently, the classification of a letter written by MIT Professor Ted Postol critical of missile defense technology was most likely an instance of political secrecy. [3]

Source: Steven Aftergood. “Secrecy is Back in Fashion.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists November-December 2000, 56(6): 24+

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Written by S.

October 25, 2011 at 2:43 am