FOI Advocate Blog

The NFOIC open government blog is a compendium of original concepts and analysis as well as ideas, edited excerpts and materials from a variety of sources. When the information comes from another source, we will attribute it and provide a link. The blog relies on the accuracy and integrity of the original sources cited; we will correct errors and inaccuracies when we become aware of them.

For Advocate posts prior to July, 2011, visit http://foiadvocate.blogspot.com/.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

April 1, 2015 12:58 PM

The Freedom of Information Act is one of the crown jewels of the modern American republic. The law, which requires public access to most government documents and communications, has made it significantly easier for Americans and the journalists who inform them to hold government officials accountable.

In a day and age when government gets ever-bigger, FOIA protects Americans from being ruled in secret. Or at least, it does so when officials actually follow the law — which, unfortunately, they often do not.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's use of private email to conduct State Department business represents just one common method of frustrating the fulfillment of lawful FOIA requests. Another is for the government to charge outrageously high fees for disclosing documents that belong to the public. Continue>>>
======

March 27, 2015 8:08 AM
Of the 15 federal agencies that receive the most Freedom of Information Act requests –nine-tenths of the total government-wide – eight improved their compliance in the most recent annual report card by a watchdog group, but only two, Agriculture and SSA, scored as high as a B.
 
The report from the Center for Effective Government gave the top score to USDA at 85 percent, and SSA a B-minus at 82 percent, while only three others scored as a C or C-minus—Justice, EEOC and the National Archives and Records Administration. State fell at the bottom with a 37 percent grade and HHS also got an F at 57 percent. In the D-plus to D-minus range were DHS, DoT, Treasury, EPA, VA, Labor, DoD and SEC.
 
Grading was based on the establishment of clear agency rules guiding the release of information and communication with those requesting information; the quality and “user-friendliness” of an agency’s FOIA website; and the timely, complete processing of requests for information. Continue>>>
======
March 23, 2015 12:04 PM

On his first day in office in 2009, President Obama promised that transparency would be one of the "touchstones of this presidency."

Advocates for open government were ecstatic at the promise of less secrecy and the president's directive to all government agencies that "in the face of doubt, openness prevails."

THE WHITE HOUSE: We're committed to openness. Continue>>>
======

January 28, 2015 1:14 AM

Heli-skiing: it’s the holy grail for thrill-seeking skiers and snowboarders. Ride to the roof of the world aboard a helicopter. Descend thousands of vertical feet through fresh, untracked powder. No lift lines, no ski patrol.

This is what heli-skiers pay upwards of $1,000 per day to see. What they don’t see is the heli-ski tour company owner, back at the office fretting over his trade secrets.

These fly-by-day firms have many of the same trade secrets concerns as the technology companies, restaurateurs, fragrance makers, executive recruiting firms and countless other businesses we regularly write about. Continue>>>
======

December 18, 2014 12:49 PM

Early this year, the Air Force cracked down on FOIA requests for unfiltered radar records tracking air traffic across the United States. In its decision to withhold data that had been accessible for god knows how long, Air Combat Command implied that the release of certain computerized documents — in this case, known as En Route Intelligence Tool, or ERIT data — would expose vulnerabilities in coverage.

The timing of this seemed a little arbitrary, considering how those inferred vulnerabilities had been available to homicidal fanatics and other species of devilish riff-raff for more than a decade after the 9/11 catastrophe.

But a closer look at more recent history suggests the clampdown went into effect because UFO researchers, who in 2008 had been enormously successful in reconstructing one of the most detailed incidents on record, were getting useful material lawfully through military sources at the 84th Radar Evaluation Squadron (84th RADES) in Utah. De Void wanted a bit more information and sent this email to the USAF’s designated point person, Anh Trinh, on June 3: Continue>>>

======

December 17, 2014 5:14 PM

In response to recent emails and phone calls I have received regarding my “yes” vote on HB 3796, I would like to explain why this legislation will, in fact, increase access to public records and improve the way voluminous or large Freedom of Information Act requests are processed.

HB 3796, which was vetoed by the governor but overridden by the Senate (49-1-0) and House of Representatives (77-36-1) this fall, will increase government transparency by allowing public bodies to more efficiently respond to FOIA requests for information that is available on the Internet while giving public bodies more time and flexibility to deal with voluminous FOIA requests.

By allowing public bodies to refer FOIA requesters to public websites for valuable government information, it will save time and money for requesters and public bodies. It is anticipated many public bodies will choose to make public records available online rather than expend valuable and scarce resources to deal with routine FOIA requests, which will increase transparency and availability of public records. By allowing more time and flexibility to deal with voluminous requests, public bodies will remain responsible for making public records accessible, but will be able to manage large FOIA requests in a way that effectively uses the resources of the public body. Continue>>>
======
 

December 9, 2014 3:11 PM

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn stopped a $20 million state construction grant to the College of DuPage last June when a troubling email surfaced from President Robert Breuder to the Board of Trustees. The email outlined a political strategy helpful to the incumbent governor in an effort to procure the millions of dollars. Furthermore, Breuder suggested “bank it until we figure out how to use it, and then building something.” It was the first in a long line of irregularities uncovered during our seven-month investigation of the $300 million-per-year community college.

Now, COD admits no meeting minutes exist that record board votes changing Breuder’s $469,000 per year contract. In Illinois, without public votes, such addendums are invalid. Without the contract changes, COD trustees may have paid Breuder without legal authority to do so — since 2012.

Last Friday, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and Lake County States Attorney Michael Nerheim received my Quo Warranto application seeking a review of Breuder’s employment contract and addendums. Continue>>>
======
 

October 23, 2014 9:36 AM

Those seeking documents from the Department of Homeland Security will likely have to wait for their requests to be filled. According to a new report released this month from the DHS Privacy Office, the agency now has a backlog of more than 50,000 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, The Hill reported, with most of those related to immigration records.

The office, which must report annually to Congress, said for fiscal year 2013, requests went up a record-setting 18 percent, hitting a total of 231,534. It will rely on contractors as well as staff directed at the largest backlogs, according to the report.

The department noted that about 95 percent of the requests were from agencies like the Immigration and Custom Enforcement, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration Services, The Hill noted. Continue>>>

======

October 6, 2014 10:55 AM

A review of the Internal Revenue Service's compliance with the Freedom of Information Act found the agency intentionally withheld or failed to "adequately search" for requested information in hundreds of cases.

In others, the IRS released more than it was authorized, dispensing "sensitive taxpayer information," including individuals' bank records. The number of FOIA requests that had piled up in the agency's backlog jumped 84 percent at the end of fiscal year 2013, the Treasury Department Inspector General for Tax Administration found in a report made public Wednesday. As of June 2014, the agency's backlog of FOIA requests had grown by an additional 16 percent.

TIGTA attributed the spike in backlogged information requests to the "influx of exempt organization requests starting in June 2013." It was learned in May 2013 that the IRS had targeted and harassed hundreds of Tea Party and conservative nonprofit applicants during the 2010 and 2012 campaigns, sparking a national scandal that culminated in congressional and criminal investigations. Continue>>>
======
 

FOIA requests, IRS, taxes
October 3, 2014 11:16 AM

Complying with the 1966 Freedom of Information Act these days is a hugely complex technological feat that goes far beyond filing cabinets, good judgment and black markers.

One trick to organizing and handling mind-boggling numbers of documents is keeping in mind the requesters' needs, according to experts looking to make this government service more effective.

Last year, federal agencies received a total of 704,394 FOIA requests, with more than 230,000 going to the Department of Homeland Security alone. Continue>>>
======
 

August 18, 2014 12:33 PM

What's your dragon attack plan?

Freedom of Information Acts are a powerful transparency tool between governments and constituents. But they can also yield to some pretty freaky inquiries–as we found out Saturday when an organization of local governments representing more than 350 councils in England and Wales released a list of the most unusual requests they had received so far this year

Of that list, we present here–David Letterman style–the Top 10 Weirdest Petitions English Councils Have Had to Field in 2014, along with some snarky answer suggestions for the council-members:


1. “What plans are in place to protect the town from a dragon attack?” (Wigan Council)
Our answer: We haven’t gotten that far in A Song of Fire and Ice yet, sorry.


2. “Please list all the types of animals you have frozen since March 2012, including the type and quantity of each animal.” (Cambridge City Council)
Our answer: We can only account for the types of animals we have subjected to repeated screenings of Disney’s “Frozen.” The results may be disturbing. Continue>>>
======

FOIA requests, humor, UK
June 27, 2014 7:04 AM

The campaign of state Rep. TOM CROSS for state treasurer thinks it is not fair that freedom of information requests to the House and Senate have been handled very differently.

The office of the House clerk released hundreds of pages of documents about the 21 years spent by Cross, a Republican from Oswego, in the Illinois House. Among those asking for the documents was ZACH KOUTSKY, campaign manager for state Sen. MIKE FRERICHS, D-Champaign, who is the Democratic candidate for treasurer.

But the Senate president's office, asked by a consultant to the Cross campaign for information about Frerichs' seven years in the Senate, so far has asked that the request be narrowed, but has not released the information. Much, but not all, of the information sought is similar. Continue>>>
======

Syndicate content