FOIA Advisor

Q&A: Stormy weather

Q&A (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q. I filed a FOIA with NOAA in March of last year and the FOIA request has yet to be fulfilled. I reached out to inquire about the delay, taking great pains to be very patient with the process. If possible, I'd like to know how to proceed in filing an official complaint. 

A. If by "official complaint" you mean filing a lawsuit, the FOIA provides four options as to where that suit may be filed: (1) in the federal district in which you live; (2) in the federal district where you have your principal place of business; (3) in the federal district in which the agency records are located; or (4) in the District of Columbia.  You may file a complaint with or without the assistance of an attorney.  If you wish to file a lawsuit by yourself, for example in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, see the following court guidance on how to proceed:   https://www.dcd.uscourts.gov/pro-se-help.  

Short of a lawsuit, you can request assistance from the Office of Government Information Services, aka the "FOIA Ombudsman," which is a component of the National Archives and Records Administration.  Here are instructions from OGIS about how to file a request for assistance:  https://www.archives.gov/ogis/mediation-program/request-assistance.

Court opinions issued Mar. 21, 2019

Court Opinions (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Sikes v. U.S. Dep't of the Navy (S.D. Ga.) -- denying award of attorney’s fees to plaintiff who substantially prevailed before Eleventh Circuit, because public benefit of obtaining duplicate documents was “very limited” and agency’s actions were not unreasonable.

Judge Rotenberng Educ. Ctrv. v. FDA (D.D.C.) -- ruling that: (1) agency improperly withheld information as “non-responsive” by reclassifying documents as distinct records midway through litigation; (2) plaintiff conceded agency’s attorney-client privilege claims by failing to reply to agency’s counter-arguments; (3) agency’s Vaughn Index inadequately described certain deliberative process privilege withholdings, e.g., by failing to identify decision-making authority of authors and recipients of agency communications, but agency properly withheld draft documents; (4) agency failed to properly identify privacy and public interests of third parties whose identities were withheld pursuant to Exemption 6.

Summaries of all published opinions issued since April 2015 are available here.

FOIA News: FCC agrees to pay $43k for FOIA loss

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

FCC to Cough Up $43,000 Settlement for Refusing to Turn Over Fake Comment Records

While not admitting to doing anything wrong, the Federal Communications Commission on Wednesday settled a lawsuit for tens of thousands of dollars after unlawfully withholding records from a reporter under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

The FCC will pay over $43,000 in attorneys’ fees and costs to New York journalist Jason Prechtel over records he initially requested almost two years ago concerning its 2017 net neutrality proceeding. 

Read more here.

FOIA News: Cause of Action Sues Commerce Dept. for Failing to Release Auto-Tariff Report

FOIA News (2019)Kevin SchmidtComment

Cause of Action Sues Commerce Dept. for Failing to Release Auto-Tariff Report

Cause of Action Institute, March 21, 2019

Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) filed a lawsuit against the Department of Commerce (Commerce) for failing to respond to two Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking a copy of the Commerce Secretary’s final report to the President regarding the Section 232 investigation into the national security impacts of the Administration’s proposed foreign automobile tariffs. The Commerce Department has previously stated that it will not make the report public. In an effort to increase transparency and protect Americans’ economic freedom, CoA Institute filed a FOIA request so the public can see the report, but Commerce did not produce it within the statutory timeline.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Syracuse study examines FOIA staffing and costs

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

FOIA study indicates ‘imbalance’ between agency staff and number of cases

By Jory Heckman, Fed. News Network, Mar. 20, 2019

The government received yet another record-breaking volume of Freedom of Information Act requests last year, but a handful of agencies, year after year, continue to receive the majority of those requests.

A study featured Wednesday at a meeting of the FOIA Advisory Committee at the National Archives and Records Administration shows that for every FOIA officer, there are about 188 FOIA requests.

That ratio between workforce and workload, said Tina Nabatchi, an associate professor for public administration and international affairs at Syracuse University, appears difficult to manage.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Army seeks $290k for water contamination records

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Army bill for public records on contaminant: About $300,000

By Ellen Knickmeyer, AP, Mar. 20, 2019

The U.S. Army has put a price tag on releasing the results of water tests for a dangerous contaminant at military installations: nearly $300,000.

In a March 12 letter, the Army told the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy group, that the military would charge the group $290,400 to provide records of water tests at 154 installations for a family of compounds known as PFAS, which federal authorities say appear linked to certain cancers and other health and developmental problems.

Read more here.

FOIA News: News media requesters zeroed in on EPA after Trump win

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Media FOIA Requests to EPA Spiked After Trump Election, Data Reveal

Analysis: Outlets such as NYT, WaPo grew FOIA-happy immediately after Trump took office

By Brent Scher, Wash. Free Beacon, Mar. 20, 2019  

The number of Freedom of Information Act requests the Environmental Protection Agency received from mainstream outlets such as the New York Times and Washington Post spiked immediately after Republican President Donald Trump took office, according to a Free Beacon analysis of FOIA requests by the media from 2013 to the present.

Read more here.

FOIA News: OGIS profiles FOIA Advisory Committee member

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Getting to Know the FOIA Advisory Committee: Patricia Weth

OGIS Blog, March 20, 2019

Today we present an interview with Patricia Weth, Deputy Assistant General Counsel in the FOIA Branch of the National Labor Relations Board and a member of the FOIA Advisory Committee.  This is part of a series of posts on the Committee, whose members are FOIA experts from inside and outside of government who are appointed by the Archivist.

Read more here.