The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), § 2.2-3700 et seq. of the Code of Virginia, guarantees citizens of the Commonwealth and representatives of the media access to public records held by public bodies, public officials and public employees.
A public record is any writing or recording -- regardless of whether it is a paper record, an electronic file, an audio or video recording, or any other format -- that is prepared or owned by, or in the possession of, a public body or its officers, employees or agents in the transaction of public business. All public records are presumed to be open, and may only be withheld if a specific, statutory exemption applies.
The policy of FOIA states that the purpose of FOIA is to promote an increased awareness by all persons of governmental activities. In furthering this policy, FOIA requires that the law be interpreted liberally, in favor of access, and that any exemption allowing public records to be withheld must be interpreted narrowly.
Your FOIA Rights
- You have the right to request to inspect or receive copies of public records, or both.
- You have the right to request that any charges for the requested records be estimated in advance. FOIA requires that VRS notify you in advance if charges are expected and ask if you want an estimate prior to searching for and producing the records, regardless of the expected cost.
- If you believe that your FOIA rights have been violated, you may file a petition in district or circuit court to compel compliance with FOIA. Alternatively, you may contact the FOIA Council for a nonbinding advisory opinion.
Making a Request
- You may request records by U.S. mail, fax, email, in person, or over the phone. FOIA does not require that your request be in writing, nor do you need to specifically state that you are requesting records under FOIA.
- From a practical perspective, it may be helpful to both you and the person receiving your request to put your request in writing. This allows you to create a record of your request. It also gives the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) a clear statement of the records that you are requesting and serves to help avoid a potential misunderstanding regarding a verbal request. However, VRS cannot refuse to respond to your FOIA request if you do not put it in writing.
- Your request must identify the records you are seeking with "reasonable specificity." This is a common-sense standard. It does not refer to or limit the volume or number of records that you are requesting; instead, it requires that you be specific enough so that VRS can identify and locate the records that you are seeking.
- Your request must ask for existing records or documents. FOIA gives you a right to inspect or copy records; it does not apply to a situation where you are asking general questions about the work of VRS, nor does it require VRS to create a record that does not exist.
- You may choose to receive electronic records in any format used by VRS in the regular course of business.
- For example, if you are requesting records maintained in an Excel database, you may elect to receive those records electronically, via email or on a flash/thumb drive, or to receive a printed copy of those records.
- If we have questions about your request, please cooperate with staff's efforts to clarify the type of records that you are seeking, or to attempt to reach a reasonable agreement about a response to a large request. Making a FOIA request is not an adversarial process, but VRS may need to discuss your request with you to ensure that we understand what records you are seeking.
To request records from VRS or to ask a question about FOIA or requesting records, you may direct your request to VRS’ FOIA Officer, Jillian L. Sherman, ACP, MPA, Legislative Liaison and Policy Analyst:
Virginia Retirement System
1200 East Main Street
Richmond, VA 23219
If sending a FOIA request by mail or fax, it would be helpful to clearly address it as a FOIA request. Please be aware that there will be a delay in receipt of mail or fax requests due to VRS processing procedures.
In addition, the Freedom of Information Advisory Council is available to answer any questions you may have about FOIA. The Council may be contacted by e-mail at email@example.com, or by phone at 804-225-3056 or toll-free 1-866-448-4100.
VRS Responsibilities in Responding
VRS must respond to your request within five working days of receiving it. "Day One" is considered the day after your request is received. The five-day period does not include weekends or holidays.
The reason behind your request for public records from VRS is irrelevant, and you do not have to state why you want the records before we respond to your request. FOIA does, however, allow VRS to require you to provide your name and legal address.
FOIA requires that VRS make one of the following responses to your request within the five-day time period:
- We provide you with the records that you have requested in their entirety
- We withhold all of the records that you have requested, because all of the records are subject to a specific statutory exemption. If all of the records are being withheld, we must send you a response in writing. That writing must identify the volume and subject matter of the records being withheld, and state the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows us to withhold the records
- We provide some of the records that you have requested, but withhold other records. We cannot withhold an entire record if only a portion of it is subject to an exemption. In that instance, we may redact the portion of the record that may be withheld, and must provide you with the remainder of the record. We must provide you with a written response stating the specific section of the Code of Virginia that allows portions of the requested records to be withheld
- We inform you in writing that the requested records cannot be found or do not exist (we do not have the records you want). However, if we know that another public body has the requested records, we must include contact information for the other public body in our response to you
- If it is practically impossible for VRS to respond to your request within the five-working-day period, we must state this in writing, explaining the conditions that make the response impossible. This will allow us seven additional working days to respond to your request, giving us a total of 12 working days to respond to your request
If you make a request for a very large number of records, and we feel that we cannot provide the records to you within 12 working days without disrupting our other organizational responsibilities, we may petition the court for additional time to respond to your request. However, FOIA requires that VRS make a reasonable effort to reach an agreement with you concerning the production of the records before we go to court to ask for more time.
- A public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying or searching for the requested records and shall make all reasonable efforts to supply the requested records at the lowest possible cost. No public body shall impose any extraneous, intermediary, or surplus fees or expenses to recoup the general costs associated with creating or maintaining records or transacting the general business of the public body. Any duplicating fee charged by a public body shall not exceed the actual cost of duplication. The actual cost of producing records will include items like staff time spent searching for the requested records, copying costs, time spent redacting exempt information from records, or any other costs directly related to supplying the requested records. It cannot include general overhead costs
- Prior to conducting a search for records, the public body shall notify the requestor in writing that the public body may make reasonable charges not to exceed its actual cost incurred in accessing, duplicating, supplying or searching for requested records and inquire of the requester whether they would like to request a cost estimate in advance of the supplying of the requested records as set forth in subsection F of § 2.2-3704 of the Code of Virginia
- VRS shall provide a cost estimate if requested. The period within which VRS must respond to your request shall be tolled (paused) between notice of the cost estimate and your response requesting that VRS proceed with the request. If you do not respond within 30 days of sending the cost estimate, VRS shall consider the FOIA request withdrawn
- If we estimate that it will cost more than $200 to respond to your request, we may require you to pay a deposit, not to exceed the amount of the estimate, before proceeding with your request. The five working days that we have to respond to your request does not include the time between when we ask for a deposit and when you respond
- You may request that we estimate in advance the charges for supplying the records that you have requested. This will allow you to know about any costs up front, or give you the opportunity to modify your request in an attempt to lower the estimated costs. The five days that we have to respond to your request does not include the time between when we send you the estimate and when you respond. If you do not respond within 30 days, then your request will be deemed to be withdrawn
- Any deposits or fees paid in advance to VRS for a FOIA request shall be credited toward the final actual cost of supplying the requested records
- VRS does not accept credit cards for any payments. VRS will accept checks for payment of any FOIA costs
- If you owe VRS money from a previous FOIA request that has remained unpaid for more than 30 days, VRS may require payment of the past-due bill before it will respond to your new FOIA request
FOIA Charges Policy
It is VRS’ policy generally not to charge requesters for the first hour of time spent by the VRS FOIA Officer for producing requested records. VRS does charge for all time spent by other VRS staff, and for any time in excess of one hour spent by the VRS FOIA Officer. VRS staff involved in producing records for a FOIA request track the start and end of time spent on the request as well as the general type of work being done during that time.
VRS uses the hourly salary, hourly wage rate, or hourly contractor rate of each VRS employee involved in producing records responsive to FOIA requests, as reported by the VRS Human Resources department on the day the FOIA invoice is created.
Types of Records Held by VRS
VRS maintains a wide variety of public records including but not limited to:
- Policies and procedures related to VRS’ administration of retirement benefits and other post-employment benefits
- General records related to the administration of VRS
- VRS publications
- Member, deferred member, retiree, beneficiary, and survivor records
- Investment records
- Social Security Administration Section 218 agreements
- VRS-participating employer records
- Portability agreements with independent Virginia public retirement systems
- Procurement records
- Actuarial valuations
- Board of Trustees and Committee records, including meeting materials
- Virginia Volunteer Firefighters’ and Rescue Squad Workers’ Service Award Program (VOLSAP) records
- Line of Duty Act (LODA) claim records (note that LODA Health Benefits Plan records are maintained by the Department of Human Resource Management)
- VRS personnel records
The Code of Virginia allows any public body to withhold certain records from public disclosure. VRS commonly withholds records subject to the following exemptions:
- Personnel records (§ 2.2-3705.1 (1) of the Code of Virginia), including retirement records of members of VRS (FOIA Council Opinion AO-01-02)
- VRS will release a member’s or retiree’s own records to them
- VRS generally will not release personnel records of an identifiable individual to anyone other than the subject of the record
- Records subject to attorney-client privilege (§ 2.2-3705.1 (2)) or attorney work product (§ 2.2-3705.1 (3))
- Vendor proprietary information (§ 2.2-3705.1 (6))
- Records relating to the negotiation and award of a contract, prior to a contract being awarded (§ 2.2-3705.1 (12))
- Records relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of a security or other ownership interest in an entity, where such security or ownership interest is not traded on a governmentally regulated securities exchange (§ 2.2-3705.7 (12))
- Records of VRS relating to the pursuit of particular investment strategies, or the selection or termination of investment managers, and trade secrets (§ 2.2-3705.7 (24))