FAA FOIA requests

FAA FOIA requests
« on: January 05, 2017, 09:53:56 pm »
All,

The FAA is currently, for some inexplicable reason, taking the stance that VATSIM is a commercial entity, and attempting to charge our members to fulfill FOIA requests.

ZBW is currently engaging quite professionally with the FAA to understand the FAA's current stance and respectfully reverse it.  The most recent correspondence to the FAA included an amazing explanation of who we are, what we do, the fact that we are indeed a nonprofit, noncommercial entity, and requesting formal recharacterization of VATSIM in their system as a nonprofit, noncommercial entity.

Depending on what the FAA replies with, we’re prepared to take the matter to the U.S. Senate Transportation Committee.

In the meantime, suggest all facilities limit FOIA requests through the FAA until we get this resolved.
Don Desfosse
Vice President, Membership, VATSIM
Division Director Emeritus, VATUSA

Rick Rump

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #1 on: January 06, 2017, 09:35:38 am »
I do wonder if vatsim was a registered nonprofit with a 501 status would help knock out three of the four prongs for fee  waiver.

VATUSA Training Director
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Former ZDC ATM, DATM, TA & WM

Nicholas Watkins

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #2 on: January 06, 2017, 10:12:58 am »
We have noticed this trend at ZTL as well.  To Rick's point, I believe, reading somewhere in the forums, that VATSIM didn't want to become a 501(c)(3), due to some legal/regulatory complications.  The question I have is, is it appropriate and/or allowed for an individual ARTCC to become a Not-For-Profit organization 501(c)(3)?

Josh Glottmann

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #3 on: January 06, 2017, 10:52:47 am »
The question I have is, is it appropriate and/or allowed for an individual ARTCC to become a Not-For-Profit organization 501(c)(3)?
Or probably better, VATUSA.

Dhruv Kalra

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #4 on: January 06, 2017, 12:32:40 pm »
I've been dealing with this issue for several months, DO. I may have some documentation that will help the cause.
Dhruv Kalra
ZMP ATM | Instructor | Grumpy Old Man

Daniel Hawton

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #5 on: January 06, 2017, 07:57:20 pm »
We have noticed this trend at ZTL as well.  To Rick's point, I believe, reading somewhere in the forums, that VATSIM didn't want to become a 501(c)(3), due to some legal/regulatory complications.  The question I have is, is it appropriate and/or allowed for an individual ARTCC to become a Not-For-Profit organization 501(c)(3)?

501(c)(3) requires legally forming as a company and filing a mountain of paper yearly... all of which is very costly and I'm sure Don and Ira don't want to be picking up that tab.
retiring VATUSA Data Services Manager
Projects: VATUSA | AirStats | AirCharts

Ira Robinson

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #6 on: January 07, 2017, 01:30:06 am »
We have noticed this trend at ZTL as well.  To Rick's point, I believe, reading somewhere in the forums, that VATSIM didn't want to become a 501(c)(3), due to some legal/regulatory complications.  The question I have is, is it appropriate and/or allowed for an individual ARTCC to become a Not-For-Profit organization 501(c)(3)?

501(c)(3) requires legally forming as a company and filing a mountain of paper yearly... all of which is very costly and I'm sure Don and Ira don't want to be picking up that tab.

For those who may not know, let me point out that a 501(c)(3) is an IRS designation for a corporate entity, not the entity itself. The requirements to first qualify for that designation are not easy to meet, the requirements to maintain that designation even harder.

And I can think of 52 reasons why VATUSA will not be creating a corporation, of any tax designation, to do business in the US. One need only count the number of state agencies that we would have to account to.  It is for these same reasons, and many more I am sure, that VATSIM too, has chosen not to take this route.

On the other hand, FOIA requests do not require VATUSA or any of the individual groups that make it up, to be of any specific corporate designation. It is something an individual can file.  So if the FAA has choose all of a sudden to charge us for this information than something has changed on their end. An interpretation of the regulations perhaps, or a new person making those decisions.   The object is to address that as, it seems, ZBW is attempting to do.

Talk of new corporations and wholesale changes when all we need do is to perhaps  hit upon the proper paperwork are over the top, and serve no purpose.  And I am comfortable speaking for The Boss here when I say that no, Don & Ira will not be doing anything other than trying to support the current effort to determine what has changed and why, in order that we can address the specific problem.

We remain focused on finding that one tree that needs attention, not cutting down the whole forest until we hit upon the right one.
Ira Robinson
VATUSA4

Tony Jeppesen

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #7 on: January 07, 2017, 11:43:20 am »
Why don't we just make a request as an individual instead of filing as an ARTCC, VATUSA or VATSIM.  Unfortunately if we don't hold a 501(c)3 the federal government will not give us exempt status while filing these requests as any entity.  I fear ZBW's attempt may be a waste of time, I deal with a lot of FOIA requests weekly and I work for the Feds.  I'm not a fan of individual ARTCC's becoming a 501(c)3 either and would not support this idea. 
Tony Jeppesen
Depurty Division Director - VATUSA

Christopher Denton

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #8 on: January 07, 2017, 12:13:35 pm »
Why don't we just make a request as an individual instead of filing as an ARTCC, VATUSA or VATSIM.  Unfortunately if we don't hold a 501(c)3 the federal government will not give us exempt status while filing these requests as any entity.  I fear ZBW's attempt may be a waste of time, I deal with a lot of FOIA requests weekly and I work for the Feds.  I'm not a fan of individual ARTCC's becoming a 501(c)3 either and would not support this idea.

I have always done FOIA requests as an individual and never had a problem except that replies take forever. Not to get off topic, but is there a max time limit for responses?
Christopher Denton
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Dhruv Kalra

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #9 on: January 07, 2017, 12:22:44 pm »
Why don't we just make a request as an individual instead of filing as an ARTCC, VATUSA or VATSIM.
The roadblock that many of us are hitting with this idea is that the FOIA office is literally going to Google and typing in "[Requester Name] VATSIM", and if results are returned that show any affiliation, they're classifying the request as commercial in nature.

Interestingly enough, I have a FOIA response dated December 12 of last year for video maps that categorizes the fee category as "All Other Requesters". If ZBW's attempts are met with further resistance, I'd strongly suggest citing that particular request's release as setting a precedent.
Dhruv Kalra
ZMP ATM | Instructor | Grumpy Old Man

Tony Jeppesen

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #10 on: January 07, 2017, 12:34:49 pm »

I have always done FOIA requests as an individual and never had a problem except that replies take forever. Not to get off topic, but is there a max time limit for responses?

Generally they are required at a minimum of give you a response within 2 business days of the request, however this doesn't apply to actually delivery of the information requested. This also doesn't apply to criminal investigations or matters "currently under investigation"

Dhruv, thats crazy they are going that far with their request.  Generally when we do them we are only checking for fugitive from justice status or looking for a warrant to insure they aren't attempting to gain access to an active investigation they are possibility involved in; but my experience with FOIA procedures or more related to criminal matters.  Its to bad the FOIA Office has that much time on their hands. 
Tony Jeppesen
Depurty Division Director - VATUSA

Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #11 on: January 07, 2017, 12:37:29 pm »
Indeed, the FOIA office has been researching the name of the requester to see if there is a VATSIM affiliation.
Don Desfosse
Vice President, Membership, VATSIM
Division Director Emeritus, VATUSA

Mustafa Ahmedani

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #12 on: January 07, 2017, 09:25:51 pm »
Good luck to you guys at ZBW. I hope they do reverse their stance, but at least at the office for the Western Region, they make it pretty clear they want us to pay up. Like Dhruv said, they do Google searches against our names, and for me it was pretty thorough, because I asked how the gentleman knew I was affiliated with VATSIM and essentially how he could prove it, he showed me at least 4 pages worth of Google searches and VATSIM Stats screens. I believe the reason that they did this in the first place was because individuals, whose names I do not know, were requesting large amounts of SOPs and video maps from the FAA that required hours of compiling and mailing, and I can respect they got sick of it. I think it's a bit extreme that they go performing what are VATSIM background checks in essence, and I don't appreciate it so hopefully we can at least get them to not charge us but give us a forfeit of some sort like a prolonged waiting period due to the volume of VATSIM requesters.

While I can understand their frustration, I stand with practically everyone else on the subject - these fines (which were cited as "at least $200" in the email I received in response to my request filed in summer 2016) are completely unjust for people requesting digital information that requires minimal compiling. I can understand if it was video maps and SOPs from all sorts of different facilities, but this is a bit much. On another note, I remember filing a FOIA request on February 12th of 2016, and not receiving it until May, and this was around the time peoples' FOIA requests started bouncing.

Again, all the best of luck to you guys. Since I've worked on a few projects with the ZLA guys to do with sector files, I told them I'd be willing to pitch in a bit of money when our new procedures come out. Hopefully it doesn't come to that, though.

Russell DeSpain

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2017, 12:10:57 am »
I've also ran into issues during the past month due to "my affiliation with VATSIM" when requesting RVM's.

The full text: "Please be advised that you have been designated as a Commercial fee category requester due to your affiliation with VATSIM.  Commercial requesters are responsible for all search, review, and duplication costs.  You have indicated that you are willing to pay $25.  We cannot begin processing your request until we have your assurance that you are willing to pay the fees that will be incurred by your request of ($66.00 hourly rate for search x 10 hours search/review)= $660.00.  If you agree to the fee estimates, we will begin processing your request.
 
Your request has been placed in “pending fee concurrence” and our time to respond has tolled until I receive your written agreement.  If I do not hear from you within 20 days, I will close your request."
Russell DeSpain
ZID Facilities Engineer - C1
VATSIM P1 Pilot


Mustafa Ahmedani

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Re: FAA FOIA requests
« Reply #14 on: January 08, 2017, 12:12:34 am »
Quote
We cannot begin processing your request until we have your assurance that you are willing to pay the fees that will be incurred by your request of ($66.00 hourly rate for search x 10 hours search/review)= $660.00.

Jeez, man, what are you requesting?