Occasionally, we get a letter from a sponsor indicating that an individual or group is seeking to access one of our federally-funded contracts or agreements. Under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), we are required to honor their request to varying extent. If the document contains any confidential information that qualifies as exempt from disclosure, only that information can be removed/redacted from the requested information, and NOT the entire document itself. Consequently, the FOIA requires release of segregable portions of the document after authorized deletions are made by the ORA.
One such exemption to the FOIA protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information obtained from the person that is privileged and confidential.” Redacting information (i.e. the exemption to the obligation to disclose) is based on convincing the agency that the information meets certain requirements:
1. The information is a “trade secret”. . . .
(Specifically, “a secret, commercially valuable plan, formula, process, or device that is used for the making, preparing, compounding, or processing of trade commodities and that can be said to be the end product of either innovation or substantial effort.”
This definition requires a direct relationship between the trade secret and the productive process.)
2. . . . .is commercial or financial information (e.g. budgets, salaries, etc). . . .
3. . . . .is confidential:
a. It has not been disclosed to the public; and
b. Substantial harm to the competitive position of the person or entity would occur if it were used by competitors.
If you receive a FOIA request, please send it over to ORA as soon as possible, as there is a deadline for responding.
ORA will review the document with the Team Leader/Project Director to determine what, if anything, can be redacted from the information requested. (NOTE: The final determination is ultimately made by the agency through which the request was made.)
ORA will prepare the response letter, signed by the Associate Dean for Research Administration, which includes our proposed redactions and sets forth our specific rationale for doing so. Prior to sending, we will consult with the General Counsel’s Office to ensure compliance with all applicable regulations.
If we request items be withheld/redacted, we must certify in our letter that, to the best of our knowledge, information, and belief, the information is, in fact, confidential information that has not been disclosed to the public.