U.S. Department of Education Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Request Odyssey – Is the Department of Education Managed Any Better Now?

When I first submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the U.S. Department of Education in 2013, the good people at the FOIA Unit invented all sorts of obstacles so that they could refuse to process my request. I had to submit the request 3 times in row and then contact the Secretary of Education, asking why the FOIA Unit refuses to process my request. I also included my case background information with the request. So, instead of using any standard forms, the FOIA Unit people created a letter with special wording for me, where I had to declare under the penalty of perjury under the laws of the United States of America that everything that I stated about my case was true.

I signed these statements and then it took over 6 months and repeated requests from me, including letters to the Secretary of Education, before FOIA Unit submitted a response. With a letter dated March 11, 2014 the Office of the Management of the U.S. Department of Education responded that searches were conducted and that they “were unable to located any records responsive to your request.”

I had also requested information on the financial aid that I had received as a student. So, I requested more specific information on this. Then the people at the Department of Education must have decided that not having any documents looks really bad. If there are no documents that actually validate the alleged debt, then what basis do the people at the Department of Education have for their demands? So, the FOIA Unit people tried to nullify their initial response by sending me partial copies of financial aid applications that I had submitted years ago, internal documents which seem to have been generated after I had graduated from college, computer screen snapshots of records that seem to have been generated after I had graduated from college, copies of my previous correspondence with the U.S. Department of Education and other material that was completely irrelevant to the information and documents that I had requested from the U.S. Department of Education FOIA Office. None of the material that the FOIA Unit sent me validated that the alleged lending and borrowing transactions had taken place and that I had actually received the allegedly borrowed money either directly, or indirectly, as tuition support.

Because this internal record making, usage and enforcement dispute with the Department of Education continues, I submitted another FOIA request on April 25, 2017. In response received a letter, asking me to fill in and submit the attached Certification of Identity and Consent form – except, that there wasn’t any form attached or enclosed with that letter. So, I obtained the needed form myself and submitted a new FOIA request that is listed below.

Let’s see, how things will proceed under the current government. Of course, things can change for better if the Department of Education is managed better. Whether or not that is the case remains to be seen.

  • The letter published below was delivered to:
  • The U.S. Department of Education FOIA Unit, USPS Delivery Confirmation EL592799225US
  • The office of the Honorable Betsy DeVos, Secretary of Education, U.S. Department of Education, USPS Delivery Confirmation EL592799234US

ATTN: FOIA Officer

U.S. Department of Education

Office of the Chief Information Officer

Regulatory Information Management Services

400 Maryland Avenue S.W., PCP 9142

Washington, DC 20202-4700

Dear Sir or Madam,

This is a request for information under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 USC 552, as amended, and the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 USC 552a, as amended.

Please note that this is an open letter that I will publish on the Internet, on StopExtortion.org so that it is accessible to the general public and to other institutions.

I submitted Freedom of Information request on 04/24/2017. In response I received a letter dated 05/04/2017 stating to “Please provide a signed copy of the attached Certification of Identity and Consent form.” However, no form was enclosed with the letter. Thus, I obtained the Certification of Identity and Consent form myself. Enclosed is a signed copy of the Certification of Identity and Consent form.

Please process the Freedom of Information Act request listed below and please respond in an itemized manner to each listed item by either sending the specific requested documents and information, or then stating explicitly that the requested documents and information do not exist.

Further, please note that I am not requesting “all the available information.” I am requesting specific information and copies of specific documents.

I am thereby requesting following information and copies of the following documents:

  • (ITEM 1) Please send me all the information that the U.S. Department of Education has or is able to obtain from the guaranty agency and other relevant sources on my receiving work-study financial aid while I attended Rhode Island College as an undergraduate student from 1990 to 1996.
  • If the relevant information and the relevant documents do not exist please state explicitly that no information exists and no documents exist on my receiving work-study financial aid while I attended Rhode Island College as an undergraduate student from 1990 to 1996.
  • (ITEM 2) Please send me all the information that the U.S. Department of Education has on my receipt of scholarships and grants, such as Rhode Island College Honors Scholarship and Pell Grant while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • If the relevant information does not exist please state explicitly that no information exists on my receiving any scholarships or grants while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • (ITEM 3) Please send me the information on the total cost of in-state tuition and fees per school year that was applicable to my attending Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • According to publicly accessible sources the in-state cost of tuition to attend the state owned Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 ranged from $1,703 to $2,838 a year. However, I need to verify the amounts that the U.S. Department of Education has in its records or is able to obtain.
  • If the relevant information does not exist please state explicitly that no information exists on the total cost of in-state tuition and fees per school year that was applicable to my attending Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • (ITEM 4) In order for student loan debt to exist, the relevant lending and borrowing transactions must take place. Accordingly, please send me copies of the signed lending and borrowing transactions documents that demonstrate that one or more banks lent me money as student loans and I borrowed money as student loans from one or more banks while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • Please do not send me internal records instead of copies of the signed lending and borrowing transactions documents. Internal records and copies of the signed lending and borrowing transactions documents are different documents.
  • Further, while we do know that I graduated from college in 1996 and that the Department of Education created its records in 2008, we do not know when exactly any of the internal records were created.
  • If the relevant documents do not exist please state explicitly that no documents exist that demonstrate that one or more banks lent me money as student loans and I borrowed money as student loans from one or more banks while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • (ITEM 5) Please send me two-sided (duplex) copies of the original two-sided (duplex) Application and Promissory Note financial aid documents that I signed while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • Please do not send me separate copies of documents that are allegedly supposed to be the back ends of my original two-sided (duplex) Application and Promissory Note financial aid documents that I signed while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • Instead of furnishing copies of the original documents, the Department of Education keeps sending out partial copies of my financial aid applications together with unidentified documents that could belong to anybody. Apparently, these unidentified documents are supposed to be the back ends of my two-sided (duplex) financial aid applications. There are no unique identifiers, my name or anything else whatsoever on the separate copies of the back ends that relates them reliably with the front ends of the Application and Promissory Note documents. Thus, these separate copies could be the back ends of any person’s documents.
  • We already had an incident, where a collection agency sent me other people’s information that was included with information that was intended for me. Such mistakes can happen.
  • Thus, I do not accept the unidentifiable separate back ends as parts of the same documents. Any person who handled these documents could have made a copy of the front end of my financial aid applications, and the back end of another person’s financial aid applications, and put them next to each other either accidentally or intentionally, claiming that these two copies belong together as one document.
  • If the relevant documents do not exist please state explicitly that no original two-sided (duplex) Application and Promissory Note financial aid documents exist that I signed while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • (ITEM 6) Please send me copies of original Promissory Note documents that meet the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) requirements for legally binding promissory note debt instruments that I signed while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • Please do not send me copies of financial aid applications that I filled in as an undergraduate student in the place of original Promissory Note documents that meet the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) requirements for legally binding promissory note debt instruments. Financial aid applications and original Promissory Note documents that meet the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) requirements for legally binding promissory note debt instruments are different documents and are not substitutes for each other.
  • For the sake of clarify, I will add the notes below.
  • The partial, front-end copies of the Application and Promissory Note documents that I filled in and the U.S. Department of Education has furnished are financial aid applications. As such, these documents do not contain the following information that is necessary for a document to qualify as a legally binding promissory note:
  • The exact principal amount that has to be paid. The partial copies of the Application and Promissory Note documents that were furnished to me state that the principal can be the amount printed in the loan application, or less, which then also includes zero ($0.00).
  • Specific interest rate.
  • Due date, and when and at what frequencies any money has to be paid.
  • Further, a promissory note must be an unconditional promise to pay. A signed partial copy of the Application and Promissory Note financial aid document on its own is not an unconditional promise to pay, because the financial aid applicant may not receive any loan at all, or may receive the loan in the future at an unknown point in time, in which case the loan amount will be disclosed to the borrower in the Notice of Loan Guarantee and Disclosure Statement.
  • That is, the Application and Promissory Note financial aid document does not state with certainty that the financial aid applicant will receive or has received any loan amount at all. If the applicant does not receive any loan amount, then there is no debt or debt obligation.
  • Therefore, the Application and Promissory Note financial aid document on its own qualifies at the most as a conditional promise to pay, dependent on the content of the Notice of Loan Guarantee and Disclosure Statement and any other documents that the applicant will sign when receiving a loan.
  • Accordingly, if the U.S. Department of Education claims that lending and borrowing transactions occurred, the U.S. Department of Education must furnish relevant signed documents and documents that amount to legally binding promissory note debt instruments and to unconditional promises to pay.
  • If the relevant documents do not exist please state explicitly that no original Promissory Note documents exist that meet the Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) requirements for legally binding promissory note debt instruments that I signed while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • (ITEM 7) Please send me copies of the original Notice of Loan Guarantee and Disclosure Statements that apply to the bank loans that I allegedly received and were issued while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • Please do not send me documents that have been created after I graduated from college in 1996, as the Department of Education did in 2012, by entering my current address and other information into a computer system and creating “original” documents.
  • If the relevant documents do not exist please state explicitly that no original Notice of Loan Guarantee and Disclosure Statements exist that apply to the bank loans that I allegedly received and were issued while I attended Rhode Island College from 1990 to 1996 as an undergraduate student.
  • (ITEM 8) Please send me copies of the signed insurance claims that Fleet National Bank in or around 1997 allegedly submitted to Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority against my alleged unpaid student loans.
  • Please do not send me internal handwritten notes that anybody could create at any point in time and are not signed insurance claims that Fleet National Bank in or around 1997 allegedly submitted to Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority against my alleged unpaid student loans.
  • If the relevant documents do not exist please state explicitly that no signed insurance claims exist that Fleet National Bank in or around 1997 submitted to Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority against my alleged unpaid student loans.
  • (ITEM 9) Please send me copies of the signed documents that demonstrate that Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority actually made one or more payments to Fleet National Bank in or around 1997 as a result of Fleet National Bank allegedly submitting an insurance claim against my alleged unpaid student loans and not some other person’s loans.
  • Please do not send me internal handwritten notes that anybody could create at any point in time and are not signed documents that demonstrate that Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority actually made one or more payments to Fleet National Bank in or around 1997 as a result of Fleet National Bank allegedly submitting an insurance claim against my alleged unpaid student loans and not some other person’s loans.
  • If the relevant documents do not exist please state explicitly that no signed documents exist that demonstrate that Rhode Island Higher Education Assistance Authority actually made one or more payments to Fleet National Bank in or around 1997 as a result of Fleet National Bank allegedly submitting an insurance claim against my alleged unpaid student loans and not some other person’s loans.

Please note that this request for information is part of an ongoing case that started in December of 2011. In the process, I have requested relevant information and documents from the U.S. Department of Education FOIA Office before. However, the U.S. Department of Education FOIA Office has never sent me the information and the documents that I actually requested. Instead, the U.S. Department of Education FOIA Office has sent me partial copies of financial aid applications, internal documents which seem to have been generated after I had graduated from college, computer screen snapshots of records that seem to have been generated after I had graduated from college, copies of my previous correspondence with the U.S. Department of Education and other material that is completely irrelevant to the information and documents that I actually requested from the U.S. Department of Education FOIA Office.

Such actions do not in any way contribute to resolving this case and only prolong it. Thus, I hope that with your response you will address the actually requested information and documents.

Thomas Eklund

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