Freedom of Information? Fifteen Months Waiting for Four Blank Pages
My first call was to the Air Force District of Washington Public Affairs Office, where a friendly female airman looked up our request and told me their initial search generated 150 total documents, not four, but once they'd transferred the case to Andrews Air Force Base and Candice Velasquez it was out of their hands.
She said there was an exemption used on some of the data -- FOIA exemption No. 6, which allows the redacting of personal information like Social Security numbers and such -- but that far more than four pages were sent.
I then managed to contact Brandon Gaylord at the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and he said that all they had was just those four pages. But, he said, the Air Force told him they were "getting close to a release."
Fair enough, I thought. Back to the Air Force, where I tried to contact Candice -- only to find out she no longer works there.
Her replacement, Denise Rodgers, was as helpful as she could be under the circumstances, but said the DoD hadn't "let us know if we can answer our part yet."
Rodgers was stunned by the 150-page figure I'd been given, and promised to find out what that was about. They had a lot more than four pages, she said -- indeed, 29 of them -- but they didn't know when they'd be able to release them.
She also said the holdup was because of the number of agencies involved in the request (a request, it must be noted, for information that any commercial airline could probably provide in about 15 minutes on their computer system).
I did get an email back from her saying she'd spoken to the same airman I spoke to, and that her total included email correspondence which was "not responsive" to our FOIA request.
Needless to say, we'll probably be filing another FOIA request to see those emails.
Having gotten no real response from anyone, and feeling like I was stuck in a Laurel and Hardy movie, I then called the Secret Service to try to find out when or if we would find what was stuck underneath those nice white boxes in the four pages we did get.
I spoke to a Max Millen, who informed me that obviously if the information was redacted that meant we weren't allowed to have it and "you would have to file a FOIA request with us."
Ahem: we need to file a FOIA request to get the information we filed a FOIA request to get. Transparency!
At this point, I'm just as curious who was on those flights as Richard is. There's no national security reason to prevent the release of that information. My guess? This was a nice little European vacation for friends and family members of the government officials who went, and the administration would like to avoid the embarrassment of the American public finding out we had a bunch of bureaucrats taking a multi-million dollar vacation on the taxpayer dime.
But without the names, there's no way to know for sure.
I also know that for an administration which two years ago promised to be the most open and transparent administration in history, this is standard operating procedure. Indeed the Associated Press found the Obama administration has the worst FOIA response record of any presidency.
There's no reason not to release the information Richard asked for unless you have something to hide, and certainly no reason to kick a routine request from a reporter all the way up to the secretary of Defense unless it's something you really don't want a reporter to know.