FOI At Work: Federal Retirement Benefits



Retirement (Photo credit: 401(K) 2012)

USA Today took a look a the Civil Service Retirement System database, obtained under a Freedom of Information Act request. The Office of Personnel Management withheld some information, including names, ages and length of service.

More than 21,000 retired federal workers receive lifetime government pensions of $100,000 or more per year, a USA TODAY/Gannett analysis finds.

Of these, nearly 2,000 have federal pensions that pay $125,000 or more annually, and 151 take home $150,000 or more. Six federal retirees get more than $200,000 a year.

Some 1.2 percent of federal retirees collect six-figure pensions. By comparison, 0.1 percent of military retirees collect as much.

The New York State and Local Retirement System pays 0.2 percent of its retirees pensions of $100,000 or more. The New Jersey retirement system pays 0.4 percent of retirees that much. Comparable private figures aren’t available.

The six-figure pensions spread across a broad swath of the federal workforce: doctors, budget analysts, accountants, public relations specialists and human resource managers. Most do not get Social Security benefits.

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Four Types of FOIAs….

Sarah Larimer, a former student who works for the online sports site Grantland and who is an inveterate FOI warrior, offers some tips and a lot of good humor in this column on the four types of FOIAS…

Before we get going, I should probably explain what I’m doing here. In a previous life, I covered local politics and crime in D.C., a job I enjoyed for myriad reasons. The District of Columbia is a complex and wonderful city, full of interesting characters, compelling stories and great conflict. It’s also filled with secrets.

One of the very best parts of my job was reporting on Freedom of Information Act requests. It’s like getting a peek at your kid sister’s diary, if your kid sister just misappropriated government funding and/or covered up a professional scandal. I just ate it up.

So even though I’ve moved on to a different gig, I’d like to try to help you navigate this world. It’s not nearly as boring as it sounds.


Rick Perry’s presidential run: $3.7 in state overtime.

Overtime is ALWAYS an FOI home run…Texas Watchdog

Governor Rick Perry of Texas speaking at the R...

Governor Rick Perry of Texas speaking at the Republican Leadership Conference in New Orleans, Louisiana. Please attribute to Gage Skidmore if used elsewhere. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

took a look at Gov. Perry’s tab and found some big-gubmint-style spending!

Overtime fueled the $3.7 million cost of security for Gov. Rick Perry’s run for president.

Department of Public Safety sergeant in the governor’s security detail earned $65,143.36 in overtime, more than his actual annual salary of $64,401.96, a study of all overtime earned by state employees in 2011 by the Houston Chronicle shows.

The top two and five of the top 10 overtime earners in the state are members of the DPS Executive Protective Bureau, which generated a total of $499,000 in overtime last year, the Chronicle reported.

They were among 1,988 state employees who earned at least $10,000 in overtime in 2011. In all, 56,948 employees ran up $122 million in overtime, the Chronicle analysis shows.

The state auditor’s office reported in January the state carried 310,865.4 full time positions in the first quarter of 2012, compared to 318,814.2 employee positions in the first quarter of 2011

Food stamp and Medicaid application backlogs resulted in $27.8 million in overtime for employees of the Health and Human Services Commission, the highest amount of overtime for a state agency, the newspaper reported.

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California bill would require searchable format for public records…now that’s progress!

Great news from the good folks at CaliforniaWatch:

California could become the first state in the nation to require that public agencies provide their records in searchable formats, such as Excel or Word.

A bill making its way through the Legislature would establish an open data standard, requiring agencies to buy software that offers data in searchable formats when replacing existing technology. Agencies would also have to use these formats when posting data online or responding to requests for public records.

Currently, many agencies provide information in image files that are not searchable even though they also store that data in more easily searchable formats.

An open standard would provide greater transparency, according to the bill’s author state, Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco. Yee’s office began writing the legislation after First Amendment advocates complained that some public records were largely impenetrable because they could not be searched…

…New Hampshire is the only other state that has approved a similar, if less restrictive, open source law. New Hampshire’s legislation, approved in January, requires state agencies to consider open source software when acquiring software and encourages public agencies to make public records available in an open data format.

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Boy Scouts’ once-secret ‘perversion files’

The secrecy here serves to remind us all of the cost of violated trust, and the damage done by insular organizations that try to keep everything in house, even when it’s clearly not working. This Los Angeles Times story was made possible because the files became part of litigation…

Only a select few in Scouting have access to the files, which are kept in 15 locked cabinets at Scout headquarters in Irving, Texas. But over the years, hundreds of the files have been admitted as evidence, usually under seal, in lawsuits by former Scouts alleging a pattern of abuse in the organization.

Many of the files will soon be made public as a result of an Oregon Supreme Court decision. The court, in response to a petition by the Oregonian, the Associated Press, the New York Times and other media organizations, ordered the release of 1,247 files from 1965 to 1984 that had been admitted as evidence, under seal, in the 2010 lawsuit.

In anticipation of the release, attorneys for the Boy Scouts conducted an informal review of 829 of the files, saying they sought to put the contents in perspective. The Scouts said the review found 175 instances in which the files prevented men who’d been banned for alleged abuse from reentering the program.

The Times analyzed an overlapping, though broader and more recent, set of files, which were submitted in a California court case in 1992. Their contents vary but often include biographicalinformation on the accused, witness statements, police reports, parent complaints, news clippings, and correspondence between local Boy Scout officials and national headquarters.

What they found is truly disturbing:

A Los Angeles Times review of more than 1,200 files dating from 1970 to 1991 found more than 125 cases across the country in which men allegedly continued to molest Scouts after the organization was first presented with detailed allegations of abusive behavior.
Predators slipped back into the program by falsifying personal information or skirting the registration process. Others were able to jump from troop to troop around the country thanks to clerical errors, computer glitches or the Scouts’ failure to check the blacklist.

In some cases, officials failed to document reports of abuse in the first place, letting offenders stay in the organization until new allegations surfaced. In others, officials documented abuse but merely suspended the accused leader or allowed him to continue working with boys while on “probation.”

In at least 50 cases, the Boy Scouts expelled suspected abusers, only to discover later that they had reentered the program and were accused of molesting again…

Sen. Bentsen’s FOI files reveal the creepy side of public life…

McClatchy made an FOI request for Sen. Bensten’s files, and they unveiled a tumultuous series of threats against the Texas lawmaker:

Lloyd Bentsen was a patrician yet popular politician, tall and dignified, a U.S. senator from Texas for 22 years, a presidential candidate in the 1970s and the 1988 Democratic vice presidential nominee.

It turns out he was also the target of a series of death threats and extortion plots throughout his public career.

Bentsen’s FBI file documents more than a dozen threats from the 1970s to 1991, including one in 1988 simultaneously against Bentsen, when he held the second spot on the Democratic ticket, and Sen. Dan Quayle of Indiana, his Republican vice presidential rival.

Among the threats was also a plot to kidnap Bentsen’s father in 1978 and apparently hold him for ransom.

Others included threats from two different Fort Worth, Texas, letter writers, as well as an inmate in a Gatesville, Texas, prison.

Bentsen died in 2006 at age 85. McClatchy was able to obtain his FBI file through the Freedom of Information Act because he is deceased.

The twin threats against Bentsen and Quayle in September 1988 came via identical anonymous letters sent to their respective Senate offices in Washington, postmarked from Illinois.

They were decorated with an abstract drawing and in block letters said: “Prediction: ‘Assassination’ in the news soon!”


Sen. Byrd’s FOI files reveal some interesting history…

The Associated Press filed a request for the late senator’s files, and produced this interesting story on its results:

U.S. Sen. Robert Byrd obtained secret FBI documents about the civil-rights movement that were leaked by the CIA and triggered an angry confrontation between the two agencies in the 1960s, according to newly released FBI records.

Byrd, who died in June 2010 at age 92, had sought the FBI intelligence while suspecting that communists and subversives were guiding the civil-rights cause, the records show…

The FBI released more than 750 pages from its files — many of them with words, sentences or entire paragraphs redacted — in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Associated Press.

The records date to the mid-1950s, when Byrd served in the U.S. House. He was elected to the first of his record nine terms in the U.S. Senate in 1958…

The documents that reveal the September 1966 leak also describe how it sparked outrage among top FBI officials and prompted an internal CIA probe that singled out two agency employees as the culprits.

The episode damaged Byrd’s standing with the bureau, though only briefly, the records show. Numerous documents depict him as an outspoken supporter of the FBI and particularly of J. Edgar Hoover, its longtime director, even toward the end of Hoover’s tenure as criticism of him mounted.

“Byrd said that the Director’s record of public service was unparalleled anywhere and he knew that it would never be possible for any successor to adequately ‘fill his shoes,’ ” one June 1966 memo between top FBI brass said.

The files repeatedly refer to Byrd’s “cordial relations” with the bureau, and include numerous thank-you notes and other friendly exchanges between Byrd and Hoover from the early 1960s until Hoover’s death in 1972.



The latest from the FOI shop at Mizzou…Banned Books

Forgive me a small plug, but my kids recently published this AMAZING series…and it is completely FOI-driven, so I thought our readers would enjoy it!



The State Integrity Investigation takes a look at state FOI…and finds it lacking

This nationwide look at the state of state FOI is sure to generate a lot of discussion…be sure to check out your state’s grade, but warning — it’s likely not very good:

Most elected officials don’t want to tell citizens anything but the good news. But practiced speeches, triumphant press conferences, and highly polished press releases are little more than the announcement of policy decisions. By that time, the facts have been spun, sweetened and seasoned for public consumption. If you want the full story, you probably have to ask.

Though every state has some form of an “open record” law, exceptions and interpretations in many states are designed to protect the government, and leave the burden of discovery on the citizen. The State Integrity Investigation uncovered numerous legal and financial obstacles that prevent revelations of how and why a state government takes action. According to Caitlin Ginley of the Center for Public Integrity, “in state after state, the laws are riddled with exemptions and loopholes that often impede the public’s right to know rather than improve upon it.”…


A look at the Obama FOI record, depressing but not at all surprising…

I’m somewhat ambivalent about stories that try to blame presidents, regardless of their party, for FOIA performance. Federal FOIA is a sterling example of a statutory regime in its death throes, in bad need of substantive, topical reform, so all the blame game in the world does us no good if the statute itself is rotting from within…

In its first year, the Obama administration vowed an increase in transparency across government, including through the Freedom of Information Act; the proactive release of documents; and the establishment of a new agency to declassify more than 370 million pages of archived material.

Three years later, new evidence suggests that administration officials have struggled to overturn the long-standing culture of secrecy in Washington. Some of these high-profile transparency measures have stalled, and by some measures the government is keeping more secrets than before.

Media organizations and individuals requesting information under FOIA last year were less likely to receive the material than in 2010 at 10 of the 15 Cabinet-level departments, according to an analysis ofannual reports of government agencies by The Washington Post.

The federal government was more likely last year than in 2010 to use the act’s exemptions to refuse information. And the government overall had a bigger backlog of requests at the end of 2011 than at the start, due largely to 30,000 more pending requests to the Department of Homeland Security…