FOIA Advisor

FOIA News: A new requester's (long) read on the FOIA process

FOIA News (2017)Allan BlutsteinComment

My Journey to the Heart of the FOIA Request

Fifty years ago, the Freedom of Information Act gave the public access to government secrets — all you had to do was ask.  How a simple request became a bureaucratic nightmare.

By Spenser Mestel, Longread, Sept. 2017

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The executive branch currently employs over 4,000 full-time employees to receive, process, and fulfill FOIA requests. To better understand the costs involved in maintaining such a massive bureaucracy, I decided a few months ago to submit requests for information about spending on FOIA fulfillment to the 14 offices of the most requested department: the Department of Homeland Security, which in 2016 received 325,780 FOIA requests. Expecting a maze of arcane terms, legal citations, and byzantine postal requirements, I gave myself a few hours. When I visited, though, I found an FAQ section complete with videos, a primer on how to file a request, and a full directory of government agencies. On the directory page, when I clicked the logo for the DHS, a drop-down menu appeared giving the names of its component offices, and I chose the first one listed, the Headquarters and Privacy Office. Up popped the corresponding FOIA officer’s name, mailing address, phone and fax numbers, and email address, which I copied into Gmail. Then I was stuck.

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