Study: Stalled FOIA Requests Date Back to Reagan Era

By: E&P Staff

Some requests for information filed under the federal Freedom Of Information Act (FOIA) during the Reagan administration are still pending, according to a study released Monday by the non-governmental organization National Security Archive.

Five federal agencies have still not answered FOIA requests that have been pending for more than 15 years, with the oldest going back to 1987, the study found.

“Forty years after the law went into effect, we’re seeing 20 years of delay,” Archive Director Tom Blanton said of the FOIA, which took effect on July 4, 1967. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant, but this kind of inexcusable delay by federal agencies just keeps us in the dark.”

The study not only found five agencies with FOIA requests gathering dust for better than 15 years — the State Department, the Air Force, the Central Intelligence Agency, and the Criminal Division and FBI at the Justice Department — it also charges that federal agencies have misled Congress about their FOIA backlogs.

“Ten agencies misreported their oldest pending FOIA requests to Congress in their FY 2006 Annual FOIA Reports, which are required by law,” the Archive study said. “These agencies include Agriculture’s Animal and Health Inspection Service (APHIS), Air Force, Commerce, CIA, Director of National Intelligence, FBI, National Science Foundation, State, Treasury, and Justice’s Office of Information and Privacy (OIP).”

OIP, the study noted, is the office that is supposed to provide FOIA guidance to the rest of the federal government.

The Archive study comes just days after the CIA fulfilled its long-standing request under FOI for the so-called “Family Jewels,” the in-house history of the intelligence agencies legal and ethical lapses. When the documents were released last week in response to a request the Archive first made in 1992, the CIA said it was “in fact, the oldest in (its) backlog”

But that’s not true, the Archive said. The Archive has another FOIA request wit the CIA that has been pending since 1989.

“It is remarkable to see data showing that agencies are not able to accurately answer Congress’ questions about their backlogs, and at the same time hear that the Department of Justice is objecting to a law that would require agencies to assign tracking numbers to FOIA requests,” said the Archive’s general counsel, Meredith Fuchs.

Fuchs was referring to Justice’s objections to the pending OPEN Government Act (S. 849) that would impose enforceable deadlines with consequences for agencies that dawdle in answering FOIA requests.

The bill was passed in the House, but has been stalled in the Senate, because Sen. Jon Kyl (R.-Ariz.) has put a personal “hold,” preventing an up-or-down vote.

Federal bureaucracies even stonewalled the Archive survey, which was launched last January with a request to 87 agencies to provide their ten-oldest pending FOIA requests.

“More than five months after the Archive asked federal agencies for copies of their 10 oldest pending FOIA requests, one-third have yet to respond,” the group said Monday. “Twelve federal agencies still have not responded to a similar Archive request from 2005, which has been pending 550 business days.”

The archive notes FOIA requires agencies to respond within 20 business days.

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