FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: Government employees may see FOIA work as "punishment"

FOIA News (2018)Ryan MulveyComment

Why a FOIA workforce shortage? Employees may see work as ‘punishment’

Jory Heckman, Fed. News Network, Oct. 30, 2018

Agencies receive more Freedom of Information Act requests now than ever before. But their workforces haven’t kept up with the growing demand.

“This is particularly challenging the federal government , especially lately where there has been a perception that the FOIA is where employees are assigned as a form of punishment,” Alina Semo, the director of the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) said last week at a forum on records management at the National Archives and Records Administration.

Last year, the government received more than 800,000 FOIA requests, but agencies only have about 4,500 FOIA officers to handle that growing caseload.

Anecdotally, agency employees have viewed details to FOIA offices as a disciplinary measure. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reportedly reassigned employees to the agency’s FOIA office during his tenure. The agency has one of the higher FOIA backlogs in government.

Officials told news outlets that getting sent to work in the FOIA office was like getting sent “to Siberia.” Secretary Mike Pompeo stopped the so-called “FOIA surge” once he took over.

Read more here.

Q&A: Figuring out Social Security

Q&A (2018)Allan BlutsteinComment

Q. I am trying to find out a way I might be able to complete a FOIA request with the Social Security Administration for a deceased person’s records, besides the two standard options made available on SSA’s website for requesting a deceased individual's social security record. Also, Is there some way that I could request certified copies?

A. You can send a FOIA request to the Social Security Administration via the government website FOIAonline. Alternatively, you may mail a request to: Social Security Administration, Office of Privacy and Disclosure, 617 Altmeyer Building, 6401 Security Boulevard, Baltimore, Maryland 21235. No special form is required. In either case, I would suggest submitting proof of the subject’s death (e.g., obituary, death certificate), or evidence that the deceased was born more than 100 years ago.

Neither the Freedom of Information Act nor SSA's FOIA regulations require the agency from certifying copies of responsive records.  But SSA may agree to provide that service. See  20 C.F.R.  § 402.165(e) (“Certifying that records are true copies. This service is not required by the FOIA. If we agree to provide it, we will charge $10 per certification.)

Court opinion issued October 26, 2018

Court Opinions (2018)Allan BlutsteinComment

Bloomgarden v. NARA (D.D.C.) -- determining that agency properly invoked Exemption 6 to withhold two letters pertaining to firing of lead prosecutor in plaintiff’s murder case two decades ago, because prosecutor maintained privacy interests in avoiding disclosure of embarrassing information despite passage of time and that public interest “in negligent job performance and unremarkable misconduct of a staff-level attorney is relatively low.”

Arledge v. IRS (N.D. Tex.) -- concluding that plaintiff failed to exhaust his administrative remedies, because: (1) plaintiff incorrectly submitted request to Assistant United States Attorney at field office instead of to main office in Washington D.C.; and (2) plaintiff requested protected “return” information from IRS without submitting agency forms establishing his right of access.

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

FOIA News: OGIS releases calendar of activities for 2019

FOIA News (2018)Ryan MulveyComment

Mark Your Calendars

Nat’l Archives & Records Admin., FOIA Ombudsman, Oct. 26, 2018

Are you thinking ahead to Sunshine Week 2019 and wondering what OGIS has planned? Wonder no more—OGIS’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 calendar of activities is now available. The calendar provides a snapshot of the year ahead for OGIS, including public meetings, the release of issue assessments, and training opportunities.

Read more here.

FOIA News: Treasury proposes changes to FOIA regs

FOIA News (2018)Ryan Mulvey1 Comment

The Department of the Treasury published a proposed rule for changes to the agency’s FOIA regulations in today’s issue of the Federal Register. The amendments seek to update Treasury FOIA processes in light of the OPEN Government Act of 2007 and the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, as well as given other case law developments. Treasury also is “streamlining” procedures and revising cost figures for use in calculating and charging fees. Public comments will be accepted until December 26, 2018.

Court opinions issued Oct. 24, 2018

Court Opinions (2018)Allan BlutsteinComment

Canning v. U.S. Dep’t of State (D.D.C.) -- in consolidated case, ruling that: (1) agency performed adequate search for records requested by plaintiff SAE Productions concerning Muslim Brotherhood; (2) agency properly justified its use of Exemption 1 for all but four withheld records; (3) agency failed to adequately explain how three draft letters sought by plaintiff Canning fall within deliberative process privilege, but that agency properly withheld other draft material disputed by plaintiff SAE.

Godaire v. Rosentstein (D.D.C.) -- finding that Office of Information Policy properly informed plaintiff that DOJ’s leadership offices, including Deputy Attorney General, typically do not maintain copies of search warrants pertaining to individuals, and that plaintiff was required to contact FBI and DHS directly for records maintained by those agencies.

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

FOIA News: CUNY Law to host FOIA workshop

FOIA News (2018)Allan BlutsteinComment

CUNY Law Hosts Environmental Freedom of Information Workshop

By David Brand, Queens Daily Eagle, Oct. 24, 2018

Amid of torrent of environmental disinformation and climate change denial, the CUNY School of Law will host a daylong event designed to help attorneys, journalists and other concerned citizens gain the truth about environmental degradation.

The event, entitled “Environmental FOIA in the Age of Trump” will take place at CUNY Law on Nov. 3 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Read more here.

Agenda is here.

FOIA News: Line-item prices protected in recent decisions

FOIA News (2018)Allan BlutsteinComment

New Cases Confirm that FOIA Exemption 4 Protects Line-Item Pricing Information

Nat’l Law Review, Oct. 22, 2018

* * *

On September 28, 2018, the D.C. District Court issued two noteworthy decisions holding that line-item pricing data and commission rates were exempt from release under FOIA Exemption 4. Northrop Grumman Systems Corp. v. NASA, No. 17-1902, 2018 WL 4681012 (D.D.C. Sept. 28, 2018); Hodes v. Treasury, No. 17-0219 (D.D.C. issued Sept. 28, 2018). 

Read more here.

FOIA News: DC AG Brings FOIA Suit Against ICE

FOIA News (2018)Kevin SchmidtComment

DC Attorney General sues ICE for information on immigration crackdown

By Lydia Wheeler, The Hill, Oct. 23, 2018

Washington D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine filed a lawsuit Monday to force the Trump administration to answer questions about a crackdown on immigration over the summer.

Racine argues Immigration and Customs Enforcement is violating the Freedom of Information Act by refusing to provide information about immigration enforcement actions between July 9 and July 12 that resulted in 12 people being detained.

Racine said in the eight page lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that activists and community groups have expressed concern that this operation involved ICE officials detaining individuals indiscriminately or based on ethnic profiling.

Read more here.