FOIA Advisor

FOIA News (2019)

FOIA News: DOJ releases name of former U.S. Attorney who committed misconduct

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

The Justice Department Spent Nearly Two Years Fighting To Hide The Identity Of A US Attorney Accused Of Misconduct

A federal judge ordered DOJ to release the now-former US attorney’s name after BuzzFeed News sued.

By Zoe Tillman, BuzzFeed News, May 20, 2019

The Justice Department’s inspector general announced in May 2017 that an unnamed US attorney, who had since retired, committed misconduct in office. He’d had an affair with a subordinate, according to the one-page release, created a hostile work environment, and potentially violated department sexual harassment rules.

Two years later — after BuzzFeed News went to court — a judge found that the public’s interest in bad behavior by top government officials outweighed their right to privacy and forced the Justice Department to release his name late last week: Stephen Wigginton, who served as a US attorney in Illinois from 2010 to 2015.

Read more here.

FOIA News: DOJ's Civil Division complains about FOIA requests

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Watchdogs Use FOIA as a ‘Weapon,’ Justice Department Complains

The memo acknowledges a salient fact: There are more people than ever taking it upon themselves to inform the general public about the activities of the U.S. government.

By Lachlan Markay, Daily Beast, May 16, 2019

The Department of Justice complained in early 2018 that nonprofit good-government groups were weaponizing federal open-records laws, according to a memo obtained, appropriately enough, through a Freedom of Information Act request.

“A host of government watchdog groups now essentially seek to use FOIA requests and related litigation as a weapon in the political and advocacy process,” reads the memo, authored by the DOJ’s civil division, which is charged with defending the government in FOIA lawsuits.

Read more here (subscription required)

FOIA News: Spanberger-related docs released

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

Closing the Book on Spanberger’s SF-86

By Evan Kielar & Scott R. Anderson, Lawfare, May 13, 2019

Last year, one of us filed a “meta-FOIA” request with Benjamin Wittes seeking information on how former CIA officer and then-congressional candidate (now congresswoman) Abigail Spanberger’s unredacted SF-86 form was released in response to a right-wing advocacy group’s FOIA request. We petitioned both the National Archives and Records Administrations (NARA) and the U.S. Postal Service (USPS), each of which had played a role in the release.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Identity of U.S. Attorney's lover to remain secret

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

BuzzFeed Won't Seek ID Of Subordinate In Affair With US Atty

Law360, May 8, 2019

BuzzFeed has agreed not to push for the federal government to reveal the identity of a subordinate  who had an affair with a U.S. attorney, signing off on a proposed settlement in New York federal court in which only the top official's name would be released.

Read more here (accessible with free trial subscription),

FOIA News: NY AG sues Treasury for non-profit guidance

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

New York attorney general sues Trump Treasury, IRS

By Naomi Jagoda , The Hill, May 6, 2019

New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) on Monday filed a lawsuit against the Treasury Department and IRS, arguing that the agencies have failed to respond to information requests about their guidance reducing donor disclosure requirements for certain tax-exempt groups.

"My office depends on these critical donor disclosure forms to be able to adequately oversee non-profit organizations in New York," said James, who filed the suit alongside New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal (D).

Read more here.

FOIA News: DOJ experimenting with artificial intelligence for FOIA requests

FOIA News (2019)Allan BlutsteinComment

DOJ exploring artificial intelligence to help process FOIA requests

By David Thornton, Fed. News Network, May 3, 2019  

Though the data has yet to be released, Melanie Pustay, director of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP), expects 2018 was another record-breaking year for Freedom of Information Act requests. That means additional burdens on FOIA staff governmentwide, greater difficulty in reducing existing backlogs, and an interest in new ways of handling the increasing demand.

“I’m certainly expecting there to be even more FOIA requests for fiscal year [2018] than the year before,” Pustay said on Agency in Focus – Justice Department. “Certainly our trend line has been ever increasing numbers of requests; the public just seems like they can’t get enough of government information. And obviously it’s a great thing. On the one hand, we love to see people engage, but the challenge for agencies is keeping up with the demand.”

Read more here.