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…

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.

A Great American Tradition: Suing Them Yourself…

A riveting account of suing the government over FOIA, from a pro se litigant’s perspective:

Inside well-funded newsrooms, investigative reporters can usually turn to company lawyers for help with stalled public records requests. But independent freelancers don’t have that luxury, and many can’t afford to hire legal counsel on their own. So when the time comes to stop asking the government for public records and start demanding them, what can a low-to-no budget freelancer without legal counsel do?

To start, it’s possible to act as your own attorney and sue for access to information without the benefit of legal counsel—a tactic called pro se representation. Over the past few years, as the U.S. economy has taken a nosedive, more and more people have elected to save on legal fees by representing themselves in court. “It’s generally a bad idea for people to represent themselves in court, period,” said Geoff King, Northern California’s SPJ FOI committee co-chair and a former staff attorney for the First Amendment Project. King, ever the comedian, quoted an adage to me via e-mail: “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client.” Still, when it comes to FOIA-related lawsuits, there are plenty of resources out there to prevent pro se litigants from looking silly.

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.


DeMint Files FOIA Request Over NLRB’s Boeing Suit…

From a story in The Hill:

Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) on Monday sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) in an effort to “bring transparency” to what DeMint says was a partisan decision by the board to sue Boeing.

“The public facts surrounding the complaint raise serious questions about the interpretation of the National Labor Relations Act upon which it is based, to say nothing of the troubling appearance of partisan, special interest politics at its heart,” DeMint wrote in his June 6 letter.

The NLRB argues the suit is warranted because Boeing’s 2009 decision to move a production plant to South Carolina amounts to illegal retaliation against striking workers in Washington State. But Republicans charge that the suit is an open attack against right-to-work states like South Carolina on behalf of unions.

DeMint is looking for evidence that the suit was a result of coordination between the NLRB and the International Association of Machinists (IAM), and believes he has found it.

A copy of the request can be found here.

A Great Look at FOIA Responsiveness, Or Lack Thereof…

A great idea by The Hill:

Government responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests vary widely, with some federal agencies refusing to release data that others provide in a timely fashion, according to an analysis by The Hill.

More than six months ago, The Hill filed FOIA requests for over 70 federal agencies’ FOIA logs.

The Hill sought the names of people who requested information, their affiliations and the subject of each FOIA request. While many departments and agencies provided all of the requested data, there was no consistent standard of transparency across the executive branch.

Some executive agencies sent FOIA logs with the requesters’ names, but without their affiliations. Other logs were handwritten. A few agencies complied with The Hill’s request in days, but most took months.

The agencies and departments that were the most responsive and thorough included the Department of Transportation, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Defense Contract Management Agency.

Among the worst were the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and the Farm Credit Administration (FCA).

A Gem For Your Conspiracy Theorist…

Arguing that the CIA has no right to withhold records that are more than 30 years old, a watchdog group filed a motion this week seeking a federal court to compel the spy agency to reveal what it knows about the conservative Catholic group that is the stuff of legend.

Public Citizen is working on behalf of Harry Cason, a Ph.D. student at the City University of New York who filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to the CIA in 2009 for research he was doing on the U.S. role in Spain’s Franco regime, where Opus Dei allegedly played some part.

But Cason decided to take the CIA to court in January after the agency partially denied his request by releasing more than 200 pages of records but refusing to confirm or deny the existence of other records.

The agency argued that acknowledging the existence of these records would tip the CIA’s hand on whether it has information about a covert operation or a confidential source — information that is not covered under FOIA.

But Public Citizen contended in the motion filed Monday that revealing whether the CIA possesses records which are between 31 and 64 years old would not compromise national security.
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2011/06/01/consumer-group-helps-student-suing-cia-opus-dei-records/#ixzz1O5FLQ0fa

A New Book On The Father Of Federal FOIA…

Thanks to The Miami Herald for letting me know about this great new book!

The late Sacramento congressman John Moss led a right-to-know revolution whose contours he never could have imagined.

Now, this one-time appliance salesman and unlikely author of the Freedom of Information Act is the subject of a new biography. Penned by a former staffer, published by a university press, the book mirrors the life of an admirable if sometimes stodgy lawmaker.

“I think Moss accomplished so much in his life,” author Michael R. Lemov said, “and yet he’s almost forgotten now.”

Titled “People’s Warrior,” Lemov’s book sketches Moss’s early travails that included a mother who died when he was 12, an alcoholic father who abandoned the family and a prematurely ended Sacramento Junior College education.

The book conveys, as well, the formality of a public figure who, even now, the 76-year-old Lemov still periodically refers to as Mr. Moss.

“I never called him John,” Lemov said. “Maybe ‘Mr. Chairman,’ once in a while.”

But mostly, policy and legislative politics dominate the 237-page book set for a July 1 release. Two signal accomplishments stand out.

In 1966, after more than a decade of laying the groundwork, Moss muscled the Freedom of Information Act across the finish line. It’s made a difference. Last year, Moss’s legislation was used in 597,415 separate FOIA requests filed with federal agencies.


Read more: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/05/27/2238645/new-book-profiles-longtime-california.html#ixzz1NcCPYCxU

Mug Shots, Public in Almost All States, Closed By Federal Court

Releasing mug shot photographs under the federal Freedom of Information Act would violate the personal privacy rights of those depicted, the U.S. Court of Appeals in Atlanta (11th Cir.) held on Friday in Karantsalis v. Department of Justice.

As the second federal appellate level court to address the issue, the Eleventh Circuit’s decision to deny access to mug shots held by federal authorities creates a split in the circuits; the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati (6th Cir.) held in 1996 that there was no recognizable personal privacy interest in such photographs.

Theodore Karantsalis requested access to the mug shots of Luis Giro, a wealthy former president of his own investment firm who pleaded guilty in 2009 to securities fraud. After having his request denied by the U.S. Marshal’s Service, Karantsalis represented himself before the federal district court before obtaining counsel to face the court of appeals.

More here….