Q. Why has the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) taken the Animal Care Search Tool, regulatory correspondence (such as official warnings), and enforcement records off the APHIS website?
During the past year, APHIS has conducted a comprehensive review of the information it posts on the APHIS website for the general public to view and has implemented actions to remove certain personal information posted on its website involving the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) and Horse Protection Act (HPA). APHIS is removing from its website inspection reports, research facility annual reports, regulatory correspondence (such as official warnings), and certain enforcement records (such as pre-litigation settlement agreements and administrative complaints) that have not received final adjudication.
Q: What has occurred?
Courts are continuously issuing decisions that provide agencies with guidance on interpreting and applying laws applicable to the release of information to the public by the Federal government, including the Privacy Act and Freedom of Information Act. In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice maintains comprehensive guidance involving the Privacy Act, Freedom of Information Act, and other laws, and updates such guidance based on legal developments. APHIS, with the support from the Office of the General Counsel, continuously monitors these sources of information and refinements to APHIS’ practices are made accordingly.
Q. What are the new changes that APHIS is implementing?
APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence (such as official warnings), research facility annual reports and enforcement records (such as pre-litigation settlement agreements and administrative complaints) that have not received final adjudication. APHIS will review and redact, as necessary, the lists of licensees and registrants maintained under the AWA, as well as the lists of persons licensed by Horse Industry Organizations to inspect horses for compliance with the HPA.
Q. Can the public still access these documents?
Those seeking information from APHIS regarding inspection reports, research facility annual reports, regulatory correspondence, lists of regulated entities, and enforcement related matters may submit Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for that information. FOIA requests can be submitted here: https://efoia-pal.usda.gov/palMain.aspx. Records will be released when authorized and in a manner consistent with the FOIA and Privacy Act. Also, consistent with recent amendments to the FOIA, if the same records are frequently requested records under the FOIA, and are subject to release under the FOIA and Privacy Act, APHIS will post the appropriately redacted versions to its website.
We remain equally committed to being transparent and responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals with whom we come in contact. For more information on preparing and submitting Freedom of Information Act requests, please visit https://efoia-pal.usda.gov/palMain.aspx.