New Congress called on to fix public records delays, political manipulation

WASHINGTON— More than a dozen conservation and transparency groups called on the new Congress today to fix systemic issues and close loopholes that allow federal agencies to delay releases of public records under the Freedom of Information Act.

“It’s time for Congress to step in and fix what our executive branch agencies have broken,” said Meg Townsend, a staff attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Political appointees have been strategically delaying releases of public records that let the American people know what federal agencies are doing. These are records that allow us to hold our government accountable for actions that affect human health and the environment. By the time agencies finally release anything meaningful, often months and even years after they are requested, the information is stale.”

A letter sent by the groups to Congress today details examples of strategic, politically motivated delays in responding to FOIA requests by the Department of the Interior, Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies responsible for actions that affect human health and the environment. These include:

  • The Interior Department withholding records of Secretary David Bernhardt in response to a FOIA request about the agency’s decision to gut national monuments;
  • The EPA sitting on communication records of former administrator Scott Pruitt until after he left office amid numerous political scandals;
  • The Interior Department stringing out a release of records regarding the agency’s actions in response to an executive order by President Trump that specifically directed the heads of agencies to exploit the National Environmental Policy Act, Endangered Species Act and Clean Water act to “stimulate” the economy in response to COVID-19.

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