FOIA Failings: Justice, Homeland Security and Defense Get 'D' Grades
A scorecard released today by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found that many federal agencies are struggling to meet the transparency standards promised by President Obama when he took office three years ago.
The Committee found that the three agencies that receive the most requests – the departments of Homeland Security, Defense, and Justice – were all missing critical information from their Freedom of Information Act tracking logs. The Department of Justice only provided information for 3 of its 40 offices that respond to FOIA requests.
The Board of Broadcasting Governors also fell down on the job, reporting to the committee that out of 182 FOIA requests, 135 listed that it was “unknown” whether records were produced with just 32 confirmations of records released.
Sixty-two of 100 agencies surveyed, receiving varying amounts of requests, had all necessary information in their FOIA logs, leading to an overall federal government score of a C- grade.
Out of Cabinet-level agencies, the DOJ received a D, as did Agriculture, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs. The departments of Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, and the Interior, as well of the Office of Management and Budget, received failing grades.
Receiving an A or A- were the departments of Education, Energy, Labor, Transportation, and Treasury, and the Environmental Protection Agency.
“While many evaluations of FOIA look at the end result of responses, the committee conducted an evaluation of the process and tracking that agencies conduct in managing requests,” said Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). “A number of agencies demonstrated that they are able to track basic information about requests, while others either would not or could not provide such information as requested. The finding that many FOIA offices struggle to demonstrate transparency about very basic information is troubling and necessitates greater scrutiny.”
The committee will hold a hearing next Wednesday to scrutinize agencies' lack of progress in better tracking FOIA requests.
“When agencies cannot even produce FOIA logs with basic information to Congress, it raises serious concerns about their ability to meet their legal obligations to FOIA requesters,” the report said.