FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: House investigating State Dep't FOIA program

FOIA News (2015-16)Allan BlutsteinComment

Eyeing Clinton’s tenure, Chaffetz probes State’s FOIA program

By Elise Vieback, Wash. Post, Jan. 20, 2016

Does the State Department obstruct valid requests for public records?

That’s what House Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) is trying to find out with a new probe of the department’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) program under Secretary John Kerry, former Secretary Hillary Clinton and three of their predecessors.

Citing an increase in FOIA-related litigation, Chaffetz asked the State Department to produce information about how the Office of the Secretary handles records requests. The office was criticized for a lack of compliance with FOIA rules in a Jan. 7 inspector general’s report.

“The Department’s repeated failure to comply with the FOIA statute … demonstrates either incompetence or purposeful obstruction of the requesters’ right to access agency records, or both,” Chaffetz wrote Tuesday in a letter to Kerry.

The investigation adds to the pressure facing Clinton from Republicans on Capitol Hill, where multiple investigations into her tenure at the State Department, including the 2012 attacks in Benghazi, Libya, are in progress.

In his Jan. 7 report, State Department Inspector General Steve Linick concluded that “procedural weaknesses coupled with a lack of oversight by leadership” led to “inaccurate and incomplete” FOIA responses at the Office of the Secretary.

Conflicts between the State Department and outside groups, including media outlets, over FOIA requests increased last year after revelations that Clinton conducted official business using a private email server during her tenure at State.

The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.