FOIA Follies – Questionable D.C. Denials

A common call for help to the Coalition is from those denied a record they asked for under the D.C. public records law, the Freedom of Information Act or FOIA.

D.C. government has no check on the accuracy of FOIA decisions, leaving it to the requestor to speak up if there seems to be a problem. A simple appeal process exists but after dense letters of denial, few navigate it.

For the handful that complain, the results offer a frightening glimpse of what may be hundreds of incorrect denials.

In recent years, about half of all appeal reviews find agency mistakes and send the request back for a do-over.  For example, in 2016 (the most recent data) the 48 percent error rate found in 66 decided appeals means as many as 824 of the total 1,716 denials (in 5,900 requests decided) could have been plain wrong in one way or another but never came to light. (The extrapolation assumes the 66 were representative, which may or may not be true.) Read more…