Fifty years ago, the Freedom of Information Act gave the public access to government secrets — all you had to do was ask. How a simple request became a bureaucratic nightmare.
By Spenser Mestel, Longread, Sept. 2017
* * * *
The executive branch currently employs over 4,000 full-time employees to receive, process, and fulfill FOIA requests. To better understand the costs involved in maintaining such a massive bureaucracy, I decided a few months ago to submit requests for information about spending on FOIA fulfillment to the 14 offices of the most requested department: the Department of Homeland Security, which in 2016 received 325,780 FOIA requests. Expecting a maze of arcane terms, legal citations, and byzantine postal requirements, I gave myself a few hours. When I visited FOIA.gov, though, I found an FAQ section complete with videos, a primer on how to file a request, and a full directory of government agencies. On the directory page, when I clicked the logo for the DHS, a drop-down menu appeared giving the names of its component offices, and I chose the first one listed, the Headquarters and Privacy Office. Up popped the corresponding FOIA officer’s name, mailing address, phone and fax numbers, and email address, which I copied into Gmail. Then I was stuck.
Read more here.