New Oversight Staff Report Concludes FOIA is Broken

Published: Jan 11, 2016

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE REPORT

WASHINGTON – Today, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee released a staff report on its investigation into the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), concluding that the FOIA process is broken and in need of serious reforms. The report illustrates the complexity of the FOIA process that members of the media and other public stakeholders face, including a lack of communication from federal agencies, unreasonable redactions, and abusive fees.

Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) released the following statement about the report:

“When President Obama took office he promised an ‘unprecedented level of openness in government.’ This report demonstrates that is not the case. Backlogs of FOIA claims have more than doubled since 2009 and agencies are sitting on piles of unfulfilled document requests. Instead of the open and transparent government promised, this administration is playing a game of hide the document from the American people.”

KEY REPORT FINDINGS (found on pg. iii and iv):

  • The Executive Branch culture encourages an unlawful presumption in favor of secrecy when responding to FOIA requests.
  • The administration is unaware that FOIA is systemically broken.
  • Agencies create and follow FOIA policies that appear to be designed to deter requesters from pursuing requests and create barriers to accessing records.
  • FOIA requesters have good reason to mistrust even fair and earnest attempts by agencies to fulfill requests. In the words of one requester, “something is desperately wrong with the process.”
  • The Department of State had numerous open requests that are nearly a decade old, making them arguably the worst agency with respect to FOIA compliance. (pg. 4)

Background:

During the investigative process, the Committee sought input from numerous stakeholders, including members of the media. Their insights brought to light many frustrating experiences, and allowed interested parties to offer suggested reforms.  In June 2015, the Oversight Committee conducted a two-day hearing where the public heard firsthand accounts of the ineffective and inefficient FOIA process.

Later today, the House will vote on bipartisan legislation to bring much needed changes to FOIA. H.R. 653, the FOIA Act, is sponsored by former Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and current Ranking Member Elijah Cummings (D-MD).