Department of Homeland Security releases annual FOIA report – Backlog down as requests increase

The Department of Homeland Security released its annual FOIA report for 2016. Acting Chief FOIA Officer Jonathan R. Cantor said in the report that DHS receives more FOIA requests than any other department, accounting for 40% of all FOIA requests made across the federal government. The bulk of these requests are made to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Cantor also said that DHS's sizeable FOIA backlog has reduced despite an increase in requests.

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‘Always appeal,’ and more pro tips from a dozen FOIA experts

In January, CJR contributors published a selection of FOIA best practices, based on an analysis of more than 33,000 such requests. Among a number of conclusions, the analysis showed that individual practices (and the responses to them) can vary widely. I’d emphasize that using the Freedom of Information Act effectively is about more than preparing a request. Rather, it’s about the process: researching the agencies, following up with FOIA officers, appealing denials, and so on.

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FOIA Mapper: Who Uses FOIA? – An Analysis of 229,000 Requests to 85 Government Agencies

When the Freedom of Information Act was enacted in 1966, it was envisioned as a tool for journalists to facilitate government oversight and accountability. Although the FOIA is still generally thought of in this way, inextricably linked to the news media’s role as government watchdog, this view bears little resemblance to the reality of how FOIA is used today.

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Obama’s final year: US spent $36 million in records lawsuits

The Obama administration in its final year in office spent a record $36.2 million on legal costs defending its refusal to turn over federal records under the Freedom of Information Act, according to an Associated Press analysis of new U.S. data that also showed poor performance in other categories measuring transparency in government.

For a second consecutive year, the Obama administration set a record for times federal employees told citizens, journalists and others that despite searching they couldn't find a single page of files that were requested.

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HHS Only Department to Meet Obama’s FOIA Backlog Reduction Order

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is the only cabinet level agency that was able to meet President Obama’s 2009 instruction to reduce FOIA backlogs by 10 percent per year. Out of the 15 federal departments surveyed, HHS reduced its backlog by 12.7 percent* per year. The average for all federal departments was an 8.21 percent increase. The departments of Homeland Security, State, and Housing and Urban Development are some of the worst offenders, with an average increase of nearly 30 percent per year.

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MuckRock: The FBI’s FOIA portal restricts rights of requesters

Yesterday, when Mike Best broke the news that the FBI would be shutting down its FOIA email address and directing all online submissions through its online portal, a few people sensibly asked just how bad that portal could be. We’re here to tell you how bad.

Full disclosure: Some of MuckRock’s best friends have worked on building FOIA portals (hey, 18F!). We think that there’s room for well-designed government software to make life easier for requesters AND agencies. But the FBI’s eFOIA system appears to be designed explicitly not to be used.

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Surge in information requests, hiring freeze puts pressure on overburdened FOIA offices

The Environment Protection Agency collected about 200 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests during the first week of the Trump administration, and more than 20 percent of them are about the new president, climate change and social media.

Larry Gottesman, director of the national FOIA program at EPA, said his agency receives about 12,000 requests per year. According to FOIAOnline, since the beginning of October, the start of fiscal 2017, the EPA has received roughly 3,200 requests.

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Air Force Academy to pay $25,000 in legal fees in open records battle

The Air Force will pay $25,000 to cover attorney fees for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation in a Freedom of Information Act battle.

A federal district court judge in New Mexico ordered the payment last week and told the Air Force Academy to re-examine its archives for documents relating to the foundation, which goes by the acronym MRFF, and its founder Mikey Weinstein that would fall under the group's 2011 Freedom of Information Act request.

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NARA’s FOIA committee considers accountability for agency information offices

Members of Congress, federal employee advocates and the general public have spoken out against recent White House directives on agency communications, and now Freedom of Information Act officers are weighing in on the open government debate.

National Archives and Records Administration Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee Chairwoman Alina Semo told Federal News Radio that her personal feeling was agencies’ FOIA employees need to “continue to be good government servants.”

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