More FOIA requests, more processing…and a longer backlog

The Justice Department’s FOIA report for 2011 paints a maddening picture: as the agency works to process more requests than ever before, the line just keeps on growing…

Federal agencies processed more than 631,000 requests for government records under the Freedom of Information Act in fiscal 2011, 5 percent more than the year before. But the number of backlogged requests government-wide nonetheless shot up from less than 70,000 to more than 83,000.

The growing backlog is due in part to a significant increase in the number of FOIA requests sent to agencies in 2011. Submissions went from 597,000 in 2010 to 644,000 in 2011, an 8 percent increase. While the government as a whole dedicated 9 percent more full-time staff to FOIA processing and spent almost $20 million more on FOIA-related activities than the year before, backlogged requests nonetheless grew by 20 percent.

The figures come from the Justice Department’s 2011 summary of annual FOIA reports, a compilation of data contained in each agency’s yearly performance report under the 1966 open government law.

Enhanced by Zemanta

The academic FOI request blowback makes its way to the UK…

File this one under “it was bound to happen…”

A cross-party group of MPs has recommended a change in the law to prevent unpublished research data being released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The exemption should be introduced to “protect ongoing research”, the Justice Committee said in a report, Post-Legislative Scrutiny of the Freedom of Information Act 2000, that was released yesterday.

Universities UK has been campaigning for such a change to the act on a number of grounds.

It has argued that researchers could use information gained from an FoI request to “scoop” data from rivals and beat them to publication, undermining the incentive for research.

It has also warned that businesses could use the act to access valuable research being conducted by commercial competitors and universities before patents can be taken out.

UUK has also raised the prospect that data could be released and then misinterpreted and misused by the public before it has been subjected to scholarly analysis and peer review.

Scotland has a specific exemption for pre-publication research.

Paul Gibbons, a Freedom of Information campaigner and author of the FOI Man blog, said that he thought there was “no real need” for a new exemption because “existing exemptions could be utilised” to protect research. Nevertheless, he added: “I can’t see it doing much harm.”

Florida Governor Vows to Make E-Mails Public In Record Time Using New System

Hmmmm….I am intrigued by this system, but also kind of tickled by some of the details in the story of its launch:

Gov. Rick Scott launched a new open records program Thursday dubbed “Project Sunburst,” designed to give the public — and the media — access to the emails to and from the governor and 11 top staff within seven days of writing them.

To access the system, click here. Domain and password are “sunburst”.

…It also helps Scott the governor who has struggled to repair his open government-averse reputation. Weeks into office, the governor’s transition staff inadvertently destroyed emails and the governor, wary of the state’s Sunshine Law, refused to use email until eight months into office.

…Even under the current system, MacNamara himself avoids building a public record. A Herald/Times review of five months of the chief of staff’s emails finds that MacNamara prefers phone calls and hand-written notes to email when he communicates.

The governor’s top advisor routinely responds to even mundane concerns by urging others to “come see me” or “call me” to avoid a paper trail. MacNamara said it’s because he’s a bad typist and prefers to have face-to-face conversations.

My ABSOLUTE favorite nugget:

When asked about Sunburst in an email last week, MacNamara replied “it’s a secret.”

The Intersection of Privacy and Access…

This fascinating and informative post from the wonderful Citizen Media Law Project brings the latest in the ongoing saga of requests for police dashcam videos in Seattle, raising timely issues of law, technology and policing…

A must read.

A fine example of journalism doing untold damage to sunshine…

This kind of stuff makes my head literally ache: a story that allows a proponent of secrecy to make age-old arguments against open searches completely, utterly unchallenged by, well, fact…

Florida’s open records laws will impact the quality of applicants seeking the Duval County Public Schools superintendent position, according to the president of a national education nonprofit that trains school boards.

“It’s the biggest problem you have,” said Cathy Mincberg, president of the Center for Reform of School Systems, “[is] how to deal with sunshine.”

Mincberg said the state’s open records laws will weigh heavily on candidates’ eagerness to apply for Duval’s position — particularly candidates with good relationship with their current school boards.

“They do not get up and apply for places where they are going to be humiliated,” Mincberg said. “Having your name out there is a humiliation because it says to your own board that, ‘I’m thinking about leaving you.’ ”

OK, so where to begin here? With the fact that all across the state of Florida, for decades, EVERY candidate in a similar position has faced the terror of a public search and somehow still mustered the courage to apply for a high-paying, taxpayer-funded, PUBLIC POSITION?!?!

Have any of the hundreds of other superintendents in Florida not walked the same path? Are we to believe that hundreds of the absolute best superintendent candidates in the state are instead teaching because they simply can not bear the scrutiny of a public search? That they are ignoring the higher pay, power and perks of the superintendent’s job for fear of the sunshine? Balderdash. Utter bunk. And not one source in the state of Florida offered the chance to knock this down?

I know a half dozen great sources they could have called. Heck, they do, too!

AP Report: Obama Administration Drowning in FOI Requests

The Obama administration couldn’t keep pace with the increasing number of people asking for copies ofgovernment documents, emails, photographs and more under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, according to a new analysis of the latest federal data by The Associated Press.

Federal agencies did better last year trying to fulfill requests, but still fell further behind with backlogs, due mostly to surges in immigration records requested from the Homeland Security Department. It released all or portions of the information that citizens, journalists, businesses and others sought — and outright rejected other requests — at about the same rate as the previous two years. The AP analyzed figures over the last three years from 37 of the largest federal departments and agencies.

There was progress: The government responded to more requests than ever in 2011 — more than 576,000 — a 5 percent increase from the year before. Offices less frequently cited legal provisions that allow them to keep records secret, especially emails and documents describing how federal officials make important decisions. Agencies took less time, on average, to turn over records: about one month for requests it considered “simple” and about three months for more complicated requests. And 23 of 37 agencies reduced their individual backlogs of requests or kept buildups from increasing.

FOIA is 45 Years Old….

This excellent look at the story behind the story of federal FOIA is a great read on Independence Day….

A Great Look at Fed FOIA Logjams…

Today’s New York Times does a marvelous job of looking into the progress — or lack thereof  — in implementing President Obama’s openness initiatives…this is the kind of reporting we need MUCH more of.

cd

Records: Burn ‘Em If You Got ‘Em, Ohio Pol Says…

A troubling legislative proposal in FOI-Land often involves an isolated example, coupled with narrow self-interest. Here is a beauty in Ohio, courtesy of IndieOnline.com:

A movement by some state lawmakers to significantly curb the penalty for destroying public records comes in direct response to two Massillon-area men who, critics say, are trying to profit from the system.

Ed Davila, of Jackson Township, is awaiting resolution to a records lawsuit in Bucyrus, where he initially was awarded $1.4 million in damages.

Massillon resident Timothy Rhodes’ case, in which he sought $4.9 million in damages from the city of New Philadelphia, is in front of the Ohio Supreme Court.

Those cases — paired with a slew of similar records requests by the men throughout the state — led to language in the proposed state budget that will protect local governments from large payouts.

State Sen. Bill Seitz, R-8, inserted language into Senate Bill 178 — the state budget — that will cap damages, known as civil forfeitures, at $10,000. State law calls for maximum damages of $1,000 for each destroyed record.

But public-records proponents say the proposal goes too far.

“We are opposed to this measure, though we understand the concern of local governments about those who would profit from wanting a record not to exist — which is the opposite intent of seeking a public record,” Dennis Hetzel, executive director of the Ohio Newspaper Association, said in an email. “However, we believe this measure would discourage cases involving legitimate records requests and could actually make it more attractive to a governmental body to destroy a record than fight disclosure of it.”

‘BIG BONANZA’

Seitz, of the Cincinnati area, said he was approached in December by a city solicitor in his district who was concerned about records-destruction cases in Bucyrus and New Philadelphia.

“There are plaintiff lawyers around the state that see this as a big bonanza for them,” Seitz said.

In crafting the language, Seitz sought “joint recommendations” from the state’s County Commissioners’ Association, Township Association, Municipal League, School Boards Association and Ohio Historical Society.

“These are taxpayer dollars,” he said. “To tell these small jurisdictions like a Massillon or a Bucyrus in these fiscally constrained times that they are potentially on the hook for six-figure or seven-figure damages for the routine destruction of records that are old makes very little sense. Why should the taxpayers be subject to that kind of a hit?”

The language also sets a four-year statute of limitations on seeking damages. It widens the class of documents that can be destroyed without approval from the Ohio Historical Society, the state archivist of public records. Attorney’s fees also would be limited to half of the forfeiture amount.

“It’s certainly not a license to destroy records,” Seitz said.

Legislative Calendars: Why A State Secret?

Nice piece on access to legislative calendars. Why the secrecy?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 433 other followers