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/.
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July 23, 2015 9:49 AM

The CIA has been fighting to keep POW/MIA records out of Roger Hall's hands for over a decade. With that FOIA battle finally over, the CIA is now fighting to keep its money out of Roger Hall's hands. Judge Royce Lambert's order sounds a little exasperated with this vexatious defendant. 

First, the CIA admits Hall (and Studies Solutions Results) have mostly won. But it then goes on to claim it shouldn't be required to follow this provision of the Freedom of Information Act -- that "substantially prevailing" plaintiffs are entitled to legal fees.  Continue>>>

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May 21, 2015 9:09 AM

Suffolk, Va. – A review of thousands of police replies to citizens seeking public records shows most Hampton Roads departments follow the law, even if they only release the minimum required. However, NewsChannel 3 found dozens of instances where citizens were improperly denied records, where police cited the wrong codes and exemptions, or where authorities failed to cite the specific reasons they were withholding documents.

Suffolk police, for example, wrote dozens of denials saying requests involved “current investigative information or material pending a court hearing.” That phrase is not found anywhere in the act’s exemptions. Suffolk usually followed that phrase by citing a code section — 2.2-3706 (A) — which is the entire police-records section of FOIA. The law says police must cite a specific exemption.

NewsChannel 3 provided the responses to Megan Rhyne, the executive director of the Virginia Coalition for Open Government. She said Suffolk’s responses were overly broad, and used cut-and-paste, form-letter language that didn’t serve citizens.  Continue>>>

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May 6, 2015 1:03 PM

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that FOIA requests cost the federal government more than $461 billion last year, and $392 billion in 2009. The correct figures are $461 million and $392 million, respectively.

The backlog of Freedom of Information Act requests grew for the second straight year. But the 70 percent spike in unprocessed FOIA requests easily dwarfs any year-to-year increase over the last half decade.

Between FY 2012 and 2013, the backlog grew by about 23,000 requests, or 32 percent. At the time, it was the largest backlog increase in the past five years. Continue>>>
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May 4, 2015 11:47 AM

Early in April we received word that the Sheriff had conducted interviews for the open secretarial position due to the retirement of the previous secretary.

In the interview process, the Sheriff invited Nanette Crippes, Edgar County Emergency Telephone System Director, “ETSB”, and Nancy Zeman, part-owner of the Prairie Press weekly paper, to assist in interviewing the candidates.

Nanette Crippes and the ETSB have no connection with, and is not employed with, the Edgar County Sheriff’s Department – which makes me wonder why she was part of the interview process. Continue>>>
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May 1, 2015 11:50 AM

A new report from an open government advocacy group shows that agency responses to the same, basic Freedom of Information Act requests varied widely.

About 65 business days after FOIA requests were sent to 21 agencies asking them to detail their FOIA processing practices, only seven have furnished complete and usable records in response, says an April 24 blog post from The FOIA Project. Four of the agencies are still working on the request in good faith, the group says.

The requests were sent by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University, which administers the FOIA Project, on the afternoon of Jan. 22. Two of the requests – sent to the CIA and IRS – went out on the morning of Jan. 23. Continue>>>
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April 28, 2015 12:20 PM

This afternoon, Charity Murphy, the Executive Director of the Clark County Park District decided to use Facebook as a means to intimidate Freedom of Information Act requesters into submission through “peer pressure”.

This is a direct assault on citizens of this State with the full force and resources of a government body.

The Park District recently received FOIA requests for information related to seasonal and annual campground spots, and for the financial transaction report for those campsites among other things. She decided to take her frustrations out on Facebook, during normal operating hours of the Park, claiming that the park attorney told her to do so. Continue>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>
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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>>>

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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>>>
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