The Office of Government Information Services is five years old and to mark the occasion there will be an event at the Newseum on October 31, 2014 hosted by OGIS, the Newseum and Openthegovernment.org. I hope to see some of you there.
Many long time readers of this blog will know this, but I write the below material for those who are coming across the FOIA for the first time and have no real understanding of it.
The Freedom of Information Act covers material maintained by the federal government's Executive Branch, including independent agencies (i.e. FCC, SEC etc.). The Judicial and Congressional Branches are not covered by the FOIA.
States are not covered by the federal FOIA either. However, each state has its own access law. Some of them are called a FOIA, but many have a different name (open records law, public records law, right-to-know law etc...). They are similar to the federal law but have different variations in what they allow to be released and withheld. The state laws also have different time lines for when they must make releases.
Feel free to let me know what other basic FOIA facts would help users understand public access laws. Either comment below (until the comment period ends) or contact me via email.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) has released its audit report of the IRS FOIA operations.
The report fails to address the real issues that I have found with the IRS FOIA Office, namely a decentralized system with a managers ill versed in FOIA law as well as a FOIA appeals system that is among the worst in the FOIA system. I hope TIGTA looks at these procedural issues in its 2014 audit of the IRS FOIA operations.
A magistrate judge has handed the ACLU a victory in a case brought against the Department of Justice in the United States District Court in Northern California. Firedog lake reports that the court ruled against the government, and most importantly, took great issue with many of the standard arguments that the DOJ made to protect the information. The court issued two opinions, one of which ordered additional searches to be made, the other ordering the release of certain documents.
The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Adminstration's (TIGTA) glomar denial of a FOIA request because it could involve potential Exemption 3 (6103 taxpayer confidentiality material) has been denied by a U.S. District Court Judge.
The request made by the group Cause of Action sought 2012 correspondence between TIGTA and the White House. TIGTA, still led by a George W. Bush appointee denied the request and invoked the glomar (neither confirm nor deny) in doing so. The requester sued, and the Court has now ordered the agency to process the records. More can be found here from the Washington Examiner.
The Senate Judiciary Committee failed to get to the FOIA amendments pending before it before it went out on recess. The bill was "held up" in legislative language and is supposed to be addressed when the Senate comes back after the November elections. Once it gets past the committee, it will still need to get before the full house and then either committee with the House or be passed by the House of Representatives in the language adopted by the Senate. It will be a tough road to pass this legislation this session of Congress.
In this blog post, the Washington Post and the AP allege a politcal influence in FOIA requests. I have to say the reporting here is a bit sparse. If these organizations really cared about the FOIA process they would report on the fact that agency FOIA operations are not funded to the extent necessary, that badly needed FOIA training is an uphilll fight for agencies, and that it in some cases political appointees need to be involved in the FOIA process to make it work.
Is it possible that in some cases, a political appointee is ruling against a FOIA disclosure for a purpose that is not allowable? Maybe, but as FOIA requesters are aware, non-political appointees make withholding decisions that are incorrect - and they are consistently backed by the litigators at the Department of Justice.
The Columbia Journalism Review reports that the Reporter's Committee for the Freedom of the Press has hired a litigation director to help the organization and its members file lawsuits.
Reporter's due use the FOIA, however due to a number of issues they often misunderstand the process and do not file lawsuits where they have been wrongly denied records. This position should aid journalists and help strengthen the FOIA process with accountability in areas that reporters are interested in.
The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to take up the FOIA bill pending before it on Thursday, September 18th. The Committee schedule has a number of judicial nominations and other bills pending for action on Thursday as well.
My friend, Amy Bennett from OpentheGovernment.org, has this editorial that has appeared in a number of newspapers around the country on the amendments to the FOIA that is pending before the Senate.
As I've said before, there are only a limited amount of days before Congress recesses for the year, so the Senate really needs to get busy on this issue or the legislation will have to be reintroduced in 2015.