FOIA and the Federal Government|Matthew Zenner 

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The Freedom of Information Act is something that has been crucial to journalists as well as every day people.  Whether you are requesting information for a news article or for your own personal use, without the FOIA you will not get very far.  However, even as easy as different states may make it seem, a recent study by The Washington Times has shown that on the federal level, the government seems to be dragging their feet in man areas.  “The federal Freedom of Information Act was supposed to give the public relatively quick and easy access to the very government documents their taxes paid for — but the system is increasingly broken, with some agencies still working on requests filed some 20 years ago” (Mordock, 2018). 

The study reviewed multiple federal agencies and found that at least five of them have unfulfilled FOIA requests, with some dating back more than a decade.  “The National Archives and Records Administration’s report showed it had an unprocessed FOIA request from 1993. However, Gary Stern, NARA’s general counsel and chief FOIA officer, said that request has since been resolved. Now the agency’s longest pending inquiry dates back to 1998” (Mordock, 2018).  The FOIA is supposed to make garnering information a relatively quick and easy experience, however, it seems as if when dealing with the federal government this is not the case.   

 

A rational human being would expect a request to take longer than average.  But over a decade?  That’s a little ridiculous, even for the federal government.  There must be a more efficient way to get this information out to those who request it, I don’t know what it is but someone, somewhere must have a better way of doing things.  

“The Department of State, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Defense have outstanding requests from 2006. The Department of Energy, a smaller agency, has a backlog that stretches to 2007, and the Department of Commerce, which received only 454 requests in fiscal 2016, has yet to process one from 2011” (Mordock, 2018).  One of the worst parts about this would have to be that these aren’t small government agencies, we’re talking about the CIA and Department of Defense.  These are two agencies that are always in the publics eye, and it seems like the government are dragging their feet when it comes to them.   

 2012 DOJ FOIA Report 

Of course, not all federal agencies are backed up over a decade.  As the over graphic shows the average response time for the Department of Veterans Affairs is about a day and a half.   

The part many people probably don’t realize when it comes to FOIA requests, is the cost of processing these requests.  “Fulfilling FOIA demands is costly. All told, the 24 agencies spent nearly $482 million to process claims, including about $35 million to defend denials in court” (Mordock, 2018).  Now, to me, this shouldn’t be an excuse for the government not getting requests back in a timely matter but, it makes you see that there is another area to all of this.   

The government passed the Freedom of Information Act to help ease the public by allowing them to have information to a majority of their inner workings.  They have almost seemed to have forgotten about this and do not take many requests seriously.  There needs to be a new emphasis put on getting FOIA requests back to the requestors, and not have it take a decade.   

 References 

2012 DOJ FOIA Reports. (2012, September 20). How Are They Doing [Chart]. In The Project on Government Oversight. Retrieved September 24, 2018, from http://pogoblog.typepad.com/pogo/2012/09/federal-agencies-lagging-on-foia-processingwhats-the-hold-up.html 

Institute for Government analysis of Government FOI Statistics. (2015, June 19). Freedom of Information requests to monitored government bodies, Q3 2010 to Q1 2015 [Chart]. In Institute for Government. Retrieved September 24, 2018, from https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/blog/we-didn’t-start-foia-freedom-information-requests-final-quarter-coalition 

Mordock, J. (2018, January 02). Feds stiff-arm taxpayers’ requests for information. The Washington Times. Retrieved September 24, 2018, from https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2018/jan/2/foia-requests-drawn-out-decades/