D.C. council votes to restore FOIA processing deadlines

The expected D.C. Freedom of Information Act changes passed uneventfully in a marathon session December 1, the next-to-last legislative meeting of the current Council.

An emergency law good for 90 days passed with the one required reading. A similar temporary counterpart lasting 225 days passed as well and will get its second vote at the last session December 15.

The Council in these acts repealed the suspension of deadlines for FOIA requests in effect since March 2020 when the Covid-29 emergency was first declared. The District was unusual in closing down legal requirements for prompt public access to government records this way, according to Coalition contacts elsewhere. A New York Times editorial in May also reported only a few states and cities that by law abandoned deadlines (though it noted rampant delays).

In the District also, without legally enforceable deadlines for processing or appeals, many requests have gone unanswered. That backlog has grown by late September to 2,000, double the level of this time last year, according to data provided by the mayor’s office to the Council. Appeals backlogs grew after that deadline was also suspended, reaching over 83 or one-third of the total submitted all year, again according to the executive response to the Council.

Read more at D.C. Open Government Coalition.