FOIA Advisor

FOIA News (2019)

FOIA News: DeVos under investigation for use of personal email

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

DeVos' use of personal email as secretary probed by House Democrats

By Kimberly Hefling, Politico, July 15, 2019

House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings said Monday that he is expanding an investigation into the use of personal email by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

Cummings told DeVos in a letter that his move came after "disturbing new revelations" released by the Education Department's inspector general in May about how DeVos had used personal email while on the job.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Chief FOIA Officers' Council to meet on Aug. 5

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

The Chief FOIA Officers’ Council will hold its annual meeting on August 5, 2019, from 10am to noon, per a notice issued by the Office of Government Information Services. Registration for the meeting will go live via Eventbrite on Friday, July 12, 2019. The meeting also will be live-streamed on the National Archives YouTube channel.

[An earlier version of this post identified the wrong date of the meeting]

FOIA News: Coalition opposes EPA's FOIA rule

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Environmental groups fight EPA's new FOIA rule

By Rebecca Beitsch, The Hill, July 8, 2019

A coalition of environmental groups pushed back Monday against a new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that could restrict access to public records. 

The new EPA rule, the details of which were first reported by The Hill, allows the administrator and other political appointees to review all materials requested under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process. 

Read more here.

A copy of EPA’s rule is here.

FOIA News: Senators unhappy with EPA and Interior regulations

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Lawmakers talk legislation in response to FOIA changes

By Miranda Green, The Hill, July 7, 2019

Senators from both parties are unhappy with new Trump administration rules giving political appointees at two government agencies more power to review public information requests, and they say they may craft legislation to fix it.

The new rules for considering Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests at the Interior Department and Environmental Protection Agency have provoked complaints from the media and outside groups, and the senators say they go in the opposite direction in terms of providing access to government records.

Read more here.

FOIA News: USCIS to demonstrate its new FOIA system

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Upcoming USCIS Webinar

Office of Gov’t Info. Serv., July 3, 2019

Thinking about FOIA beyond its 53rd birthday on July 4th? Interested in how to submit and track FOIA and Privacy Act requests and receive documents digitally from U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)? The agency will demonstrate the system and answer the public’s questions during  an hour-long webinar at 2 p.m. EDT Tuesday July 9th.

Read more here.

FOIA News: State Dep't official testifies that he warned Clinton aides about private emails

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Top State Department Record-Keeper Says He Warned Clinton Team on Emails

By Mark Tapscott, Epoch Times, July 2, 2019

Former Department of State Director of Information Programs and Services (IPS) John Hackett warned key Hillary Clinton aides about their failure to preserve official business emails on her private server, Judicial Watch announced Tuesday.

“Well, we heard that there were 50,000 or 60,000 emails, and that they had—‘they’ being the secretary’s team—had culled out 30,000 of these,” Hackett told Judicial Watch during a recent deposition.

The non-profit government watchdog made the Hackett deposition public Tuesday. Clinton was secretary of state from 2009 to 2013 and used a private email system throughout her tenure to conduct official diplomatic business.

Read more here.

FOIA News: IG dings NARA on preserving electronic records

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

National Archives Needs Better Handle on Agency Electronic Records, Says Watchdog

Challenges come from outdated technology, uncertain inventory of agencies.

By Charles S. Clark, Gov’t Exec., July 1, 2019

The government’s full-time archivists need to up their game in performing the 21st-century task of preserving the increasing portion of federal agency records that exist only in electronic form, a watchdog found.

Though the National Archives and Records Administration has made progress in strengthening and modernizing its handling of important agency documents, “permanent electronic records are still at a significant risk of loss and destruction,” according to a June report from the agency’s inspector general.

Read more here.

FOIA News: EPA Pushes Back Against Criticism of FOIA Regulation

FOIA News (2019)Kevin SchmidtComment

EPA's Response to Society of Environmental Journalists

This week several media outlets misrepresented EPA's new FOIA regulation, and were forced to correct their misreporting. This new regulation brings the Agency into compliance with the Congressional amendments to FOIA from 2007, 2009, and 2016. Congress provided all federal departments and agencies until the end of 2016 to update their FOIA regulations. The Obama administration failed to meet this deadline. 

Yesterday, the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ), whose mission states that they strive to "strengthen the quality" of environmental journalism, sent a letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler which included numerous inaccuracies that were regurgitated from false articles. Below is EPA's response to the SEJ, signed by EPA career officials.

BELOW IS THE LETTER IN FULL: 

Dear Director Parker: 

On behalf of the Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, we write in response to your letter dated, June 26, 2019. Together we manage the Agency’s National Freedom of Information Act Office, which advises the Agency on legal issues pertaining to FOIA requests, coordination, and project management. Additionally, we are the two career attorneys tasked with providing the recommendations to update the Agency’s FOIA regulations.  

This week EPA finalized an updated FOIA regulation that brings the Agency into compliance with a series of Congressional amendments. Unfortunately, a series of false and misleading claims have relayed inaccurate information to the public about this updated regulation. The Agency believes it is important to address these significant misrepresentations and emphasize that the update to the Agency’s FOIA regulation in no way expands or increases the authority of political officials in the FOIA process. The Agency’s updated regulation does not grant political officials’ additional authority to review or withhold FOIA documents, their authority will remain consistent with the authority granted to them under the past regulation.  

Read the full response here.


FOIA News: Business interests and FOIA

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

How business interests shaped US public records law: Q&A with Jeannine Relly

By Clark Merrefield, Journalist Resource June 28, 2019

* * *

Journalists use FOIA to tell stories about government dealings that otherwise might be shut away forever. But obtaining information through FOIA can get tricky in practice, especially when government business and private industry interests overlap, which they often do.

We talked recently with Jeannine Relly, an associate professor at the University of Arizona School of Journalism, about how business interests have shaped FOIA amendments since the act was passed in 1966. Relly has extensively studied international right-to-know trends in journalism. In 2016 Government Information Quarterly published her paper, “How Business Lobby Networks Shaped the U.S. Freedom of Information Act: An Examination of 60 Years of Congressional Testimony,” written with Carol Schwalbe, director of the UA School of Journalism.

Read the entire article here.