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UMainah

FOIA & Benchmarking

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This is just something I was wondering about. Has anyone ever submitted a FOIA request (either a federal request or through your local laws depending on who's marker it is) for more information regarding a benchmark that isn't in a public online database?

 

It's not something I would encourage for our community since it'd mean the government would have to spend time(taxpayer money) on finding the information, but just something that popped into my head and figured I'd ask on the forums. I think some jurisdictions are allowed to charge a fee, but still.

 

I've never submitted a FOIA request (or FOAA request for me in Maine) before, so I have no idea what would be involved anyways.

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I never considered submitting an FOIA because I doubt that benchmarks come under that level of federal jurisdiction. A large number of marks not in the NGS database are not federal marks--they are state, county, city, and even private marks, and wouldn't be available to federal level researchers. Another reason is that showing a mark on this board will often get you enough information to research it further. There is a lot of knowledge here and I have seen some seemingly obscure marks fully explained by some of our more educated and experienced members.

There are also other databases of survey control--many states have them, and so do quite a few counties. I discovered local county marks when out hunting and contacted the county. Their engineer gladly sent me a list and I proceeded to look for all 240 of them and report them back to him. They are often happy to have that sort of help (I located quite a few that had previously been "lost").

If you spot a mark you want to know more about feel free to post a picture here and tell us where it is. Someone will either know what it is, or go crazy researching it just for the sheer joy of it!

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I never considered submitting an FOIA because I doubt that benchmarks come under that level of federal jurisdiction. A large number of marks not in the NGS database are not federal marks--they are state, county, city, and even private marks, and wouldn't be available to federal level researchers. Another reason is that showing a mark on this board will often get you enough information to research it further. There is a lot of knowledge here and I have seen some seemingly obscure marks fully explained by some of our more educated and experienced members.

There are also other databases of survey control--many states have them, and so do quite a few counties. I discovered local county marks when out hunting and contacted the county. Their engineer gladly sent me a list and I proceeded to look for all 240 of them and report them back to him. They are often happy to have that sort of help (I located quite a few that had previously been "lost").

If you spot a mark you want to know more about feel free to post a picture here and tell us where it is. Someone will either know what it is, or go crazy researching it just for the sheer joy of it!

 

I know not all markers come under federal jurisdiction, I even mentioned it in my post. I just used the FOIA as an example. Each state has it's own equivalent to FOIA(each has varying levels of openness). For example where I am you can submit request under the Maine Freedom of Access Act. It applies to all state, county, and municipal levels of government.

I am well aware of the usefulness of this board, but what planted the very seed for my question was the post asking about a DC Metro marker. I saw the post and went off to see if the WMATA had a database on their website. It turns out they don't, but while on their website I stumbled upon their Records Policy http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/docs/pi_9_3_1.pdf which gave me the idea to ask the question to the board.

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I think a FOIA req isn't needed, because NGS stores the info publically, and USGS will give the info to anyone that asks. I've seen ones from National Transportation Board or something like that, but that's rare.

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This is just something I was wondering about. Has anyone ever submitted a FOIA request (either a federal request or through your local laws depending on who's marker it is) for more information regarding a benchmark that isn't in a public online database?

 

It's not something I would encourage for our community since it'd mean the government would have to spend time(taxpayer money) on finding the information, but just something that popped into my head and figured I'd ask on the forums. I think some jurisdictions are allowed to charge a fee, but still.

 

I've never submitted a FOIA request (or FOAA request for me in Maine) before, so I have no idea what would be involved anyways.

 

Just what type of information are you looking for that would require a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain?

 

John

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One subset of benchmarks where a FOIA request might be needed would be the locations of US Army COE benchmarks, since they aren't listed in a publicly available dataset (other than the Jacksonville district). Someone actually asked about these recently in another thread, referring specifically to the ones on US bases in foreign countries, but the COE has also built quite a few dams, flood control projects, and so forth in the US that you would assume each have a set of associated benchmarks.

 

As far as the OP's comment about 'cost', the FOI act allows agencies to charge fees for any requests that require 'extensive' searches...

 

http://www.foia.gov/faq.html#cost

 

Based on comments I've seen in the past in other contexts, the 'preferred' way to make a FOIA request is with an initial one for copies of relevant indexes, and then a second request for 'datasets' that would include the relevant data. For anything that doesn't include Privacy Act info, this moves the burden of the actual 'search' from the agency to the requester, and reduces the chance of being charged for employee time.

Edited by revent

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One subset of benchmarks where a FOIA request might be needed would be the locations of US Army COE benchmarks, since they aren't listed in a publicly available dataset (other than the Jacksonville district). Someone actually asked about these recently in another thread, referring specifically to the ones on US bases in foreign countries, but the COE has also built quite a few dams, flood control projects, and so forth in the US that you would assume each have a set of associated benchmarks.

 

As far as the OP's comment about 'cost', the FOI act allows agencies to charge fees for any requests that require 'extensive' searches...

 

http://www.foia.gov/faq.html#cost

 

Based on comments I've seen in the past in other contexts, the 'preferred' way to make a FOIA request is with an initial one for copies of relevant indexes, and then a second request for 'datasets' that would include the relevant data. For anything that doesn't include Privacy Act info, this moves the burden of the actual 'search' from the agency to the requester, and reduces the chance of being charged for employee time.

 

Before making an FOIA request, it might be better to just ask the agency that place the mark if there is information available and how to acquire it. For example - the USGS has info available if you just ask them for it. By requesting an FOIA from them you might well irritate them and prolong the time frame before you would receive the information you desire. The USGS doesn't have a publicly available dataset, but by asking it is possible to obtain the datasheets for a given area.

 

Just try a polite asking of the agency that set the benchmarks for the datasheets and an offer to submit to them the current status of their marks (when you recover them), if they would be interested it such information. If you demand the information first, you will have a long hard road to travel.

 

Better to make friends first.

 

John

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Before making an FOIA request, it might be better to just ask the agency that place the mark if there is information available and how to acquire it. For example - the USGS has info available if you just ask them for it. By requesting an FOIA from them you might well irritate them and prolong the time frame before you would receive the information you desire. The USGS doesn't have a publicly available dataset, but by asking it is possible to obtain the datasheets for a given area.

 

Just try a polite asking of the agency that set the benchmarks for the datasheets and an offer to submit to them the current status of their marks (when you recover them), if they would be interested it such information. If you demand the information first, you will have a long hard road to travel.

 

Better to make friends first.

 

John

 

As I said, 'might' be needed. :) Contacting them first of course makes sense, but some agencies use their FOI office as the 'generic' contact point for public records inquiries. Others don't. Since all that is required to make an inquiry into a FOI request is to say 'this is an FOIA request' on your contact letter, the only real effect of calling it that is to prevent the agency from saying "we don't want to spend our time or resources finding that information".

 

As far as it prolonging the time frame, by making a FOIA request you are placing the agency under a statutory obligation to respond within a specified period, usually a month.

 

There have also been cases in the past of government agencies responding to FOI requests by simply putting the information online if it was already in a digital format.

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Before making an FOIA request, it might be better to just ask the agency that place the mark if there is information available and how to acquire it. For example - the USGS has info available if you just ask them for it. By requesting an FOIA from them you might well irritate them and prolong the time frame before you would receive the information you desire. The USGS doesn't have a publicly available dataset, but by asking it is possible to obtain the datasheets for a given area.

 

Just try a polite asking of the agency that set the benchmarks for the datasheets and an offer to submit to them the current status of their marks (when you recover them), if they would be interested it such information. If you demand the information first, you will have a long hard road to travel.

 

Better to make friends first.

 

John

 

As I said, 'might' be needed. :) Contacting them first of course makes sense, but some agencies use their FOI office as the 'generic' contact point for public records inquiries. Others don't. Since all that is required to make an inquiry into a FOI request is to say 'this is an FOIA request' on your contact letter, the only real effect of calling it that is to prevent the agency from saying "we don't want to spend our time or resources finding that information".

 

As far as it prolonging the time frame, by making a FOIA request you are placing the agency under a statutory obligation to respond within a specified period, usually a month.

 

There have also been cases in the past of government agencies responding to FOI requests by simply putting the information online if it was already in a digital format.

 

A guy came into my office the other day and stated he had an FOIA request for files for all the benchmarks around several dams that our agency placed. According to law I must supply those files in a timely manner. Fine, but there is a question of security concerning the dams and these benchmarks, so I will notify the Department of Homeland Security of this request. I will also redact any info in those file that I feel are of a sensitive nature. There may not be much info in the files he receives, but it will then be up to him to prove that the info is not of a sensitive nature and he can have fun trying to prove his case to a judge.

 

The same would apply to someone seeking an FOIA request about our military bases.

 

Why raise suspicions when a polite question about the availability of the info that is wanted will suffice in most cases.

 

Do your FOIA and hope you don't get redacted files that lack the coordinates and descriptions of where exactly the benchmarks are located.

 

I did ask politely for a chance to enter restricted areas inside Glen Canyon Dam and powerhouse and was given permission to locate and take photos (some photo directions were off-limits) and did log them on GC.com. We even ran a thread about that adventure. We had a personal guide and a security guard showing us where the marks were located.

 

Go for your FOIA right out of the box and have fun finding all those marks.

 

John

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Before making an FOIA request, it might be better to just ask the agency that place the mark if there is information available and how to acquire it. For example - the USGS has info available if you just ask them for it. By requesting an FOIA from them you might well irritate them and prolong the time frame before you would receive the information you desire. The USGS doesn't have a publicly available dataset, but by asking it is possible to obtain the datasheets for a given area.

 

Just try a polite asking of the agency that set the benchmarks for the datasheets and an offer to submit to them the current status of their marks (when you recover them), if they would be interested it such information. If you demand the information first, you will have a long hard road to travel.

 

Better to make friends first.

 

John

 

As I said, 'might' be needed. :) Contacting them first of course makes sense, but some agencies use their FOI office as the 'generic' contact point for public records inquiries. Others don't. Since all that is required to make an inquiry into a FOI request is to say 'this is an FOIA request' on your contact letter, the only real effect of calling it that is to prevent the agency from saying "we don't want to spend our time or resources finding that information".

 

As far as it prolonging the time frame, by making a FOIA request you are placing the agency under a statutory obligation to respond within a specified period, usually a month.

 

There have also been cases in the past of government agencies responding to FOI requests by simply putting the information online if it was already in a digital format.

 

A guy came into my office the other day and stated he had an FOIA request for files for all the benchmarks around several dams that our agency placed. According to law I must supply those files in a timely manner. Fine, but there is a question of security concerning the dams and these benchmarks, so I will notify the Department of Homeland Security of this request. I will also redact any info in those file that I feel are of a sensitive nature. There may not be much info in the files he receives, but it will then be up to him to prove that the info is not of a sensitive nature and he can have fun trying to prove his case to a judge.

 

The same would apply to someone seeking an FOIA request about our military bases.

 

Why raise suspicions when a polite question about the availability of the info that is wanted will suffice in most cases.

 

Do your FOIA and hope you don't get redacted files that lack the coordinates and descriptions of where exactly the benchmarks are located.

 

I did ask politely for a chance to enter restricted areas inside Glen Canyon Dam and powerhouse and was given permission to locate and take photos (some photo directions were off-limits) and did log them on GC.com. We even ran a thread about that adventure. We had a personal guide and a security guard showing us where the marks were located.

 

Go for your FOIA right out of the box and have fun finding all those marks.

 

John

 

Yeesh, this is getting silly. I just said "One case in which an FOIA might be needed...." not "These are directions for getting this information". Then I responded to a couple of 'misapprehensions' about FOIAs. If you read back, I actually agreed with you that asking first made sense. While, yes, that is a cool story, please don't be antagonistic about something I didn't even say.

 

By the way, you totally misunderstand how FOIA works, in that your interpretation is that the responding official just gets to make s*** up about what to redact. A accurate reading would be "redact personally identifiable information and anything that is already explicitly classified under an existing Executive Order" and some other irrelevant exemptions.

 

I would sincerely hope that the government is competent enough that you won't get sensitive information no matter how nicely you ask.

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