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President Lyndon Johnson signed the Freedom of Information Act into law on July 4, 1966.

Eight Federal Agencies Have FOIA Requests a Decade Old,
According to Knight Open Government Survey

Oldest Pending Request Now 20 Years Old,
Still on Referral Among Multiple Agencies

National Security Archive Marks 45th Birthday of U.S. Freedom of Information Act,
Exposes Backlog Problems, Posts 45 Examples of FOIA Impact

Contact: Tom Blanton/Nate Jones
202.994.7045
foiadesk@gwu.edu

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Previous National Security Archive Audits and Knight Open Government Surveys:

Freedom of Information Regulations: Still Outdated, Still Undermining Openness
(March 13, 2013
)

Outdated Agency Regs Undermine Freedom of Information
(December 4, 2012)

Glass Half Full: 2011 Knight Open Government Survey Finds Freedom of Information Change,
But Many Federal Agencies Lag in Fulfilling President Obama's Day One Openness Pledge

(March 14, 2011)

Sunshine and Shadows:
The Clear Obama Message for Freedom of Information
Meets Mixed Results

(March 15, 2010)

Mixed Signals, Mixed Results:  How President Bush's Executive Order on FOIA Failed to Deliver
(March 16, 2008)

40 Years of FOIA, 20 Years of Delay
(July 2, 2007)

File Not Found: 10 Years After E-FOIA, Most Federal Agencies are Delinquent
(March 12, 2007)

Pseudo-Secrets: A Freedom of Information Audit of the U.S. Government's Policies on Sensitive Unclassified Information
(March 14, 2006)

A FOIA Request Celebrates Its 17th Birthday: A Report on Federal Agency FOIA Backlog
(March 12, 2006)

Justice Delayed is Justice Denied
(November 17, 2003)

The Freedom of Information Act on Its 37th Birthday
(July 4, 2003)

The Ashcroft Memo: "Drastic" Change or "More Thunder Than Lightning"?
(March 14, 2003)

Analysis of Selected Agencies’ Annual Reports for FOIA for Fiscal Years 1998-2000
(July 4, 2001 - Microsoft PowerPoint, 1.8 MB)

Washington, D.C., July 4, 2011 - Forty-five years after President Johnson signed the U.S. Freedom of Information Act into law in 1966, federal agency backlogs of FOIA requests are growing, with the oldest requests at eight agencies dating back over a decade and the single oldest request now 20 years old, according to the Knight Open Government Survey by the National Security Archive at George Washington University (www.nsarchive.org).

The Knight Survey of the oldest requests utilized the FOIA to examine the actual copies of the oldest requests from the 35 federal agencies and components that process more than 90 percent of all FOIAs.  It shows that the oldest requests in the U.S. government were submitted before the fall of the Soviet Union.  These unfulfilled requests – some are for documents that are themselves more than 50 years old – are victims of an endless referral process in which any agency that claims “equity” can censor their release.

The Freedom of Information Act requires agencies to process and respond to a request within 20 business days, with the possibility of a ten-day extension under “unusual circumstances.”  In his March 19, 2009 government-wide memo on FOIA, Attorney General Eric Holder declared that “long delays should not be viewed as an inevitable and insurmountable consequence of high demand.”  Despite this, the Knight Survey shows that some FOIAs remain marooned for decades.

The two previous Knight Open government surveys conducted during the Obama administration have also shown that, despite a clear message from the President, government agencies have been slow to improve their Freedom of Information processes.  The 2010 Knight Survey, “Sunshine and Shadows,” showed that only 13 of 90 agencies implemented concrete changes in response to President Obama and Attorney General Holder’s early memoranda calling for FOIA reforms.  The March 2011 Knight Survey, “Glass Half Full,” showed improvement but still revealed that just 49 of 90 agencies had followed specific tasks mandated by the White House to improve their FOIA performance.  As Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president at the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, put it, “At this rate, the president’s first term in office will be over by the time federal agencies do what he asked them to do on his first day in office.”

In 2003, concerned with the tremendous age of its outstanding FOIAs, the National Security Archive created the “Ten Oldest FOIA Request” metric to illustrate the quantity of unfulfilled requests held by government agencies.  In 2006, the Department of Justice directed all agencies to include the date of their oldest pending request in their annual FOIA report.  The OPEN Government Act of 2007 codified the requirement that all agencies report their oldest open requests.  Now, under the Obama administration, the public can easily search the “Ten Oldest” statistic for all agencies at FOIA.gov

But seeing just the dates of the oldest requests –not their subjects or who requested them– does not tell the whole story. To get a fuller illustration of the dire backlog, the National Security Archive requested copies of the actual ten oldest requests from the top 35 agencies or components.

Selected topics of the marooned FOIA requests include:

  • A 1993 request to the National Archives for 1943 documents about the Sicilian Mafia and Sicilian Separatist movements.
  • A 1995 request to the Air Force for documents relating to Pakistani surface to air missiles.
  • A 1995 request to the Reagan Presidential Library for documents about “whether American POWs and MIAs were left in Southeast Asia.”
  • A 1998 request to the George H.W. Bush Library for documents pertaining to the 21 December 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103.
  • A 2000 request to the Kennedy Presidential Library for documents relating to “politics and the Internal Revenue Service.”
  • A 2004 request to the Nixon Presidential Library for documents about the nuclear consultation between the United States and United Kingdom before the use of submarine-launched nuclear missiles.
  • A 2004 request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for documents about Enron’s energy sales to California.
  • A 2005 “urgent request” to the Department of Transportation for whistleblower complaints to be used in an upcoming Occupational Safety and Health Administration hearing.
  • A 2005 request to the Federal Aviation Administration for information about the tracking information of an airplane which crashed off the Massachusetts coast in December 2005.
  • A 2006 request to the Consumer Protection Bureau for documents about the recalled “Polly Pocket Dolls.”
  • A 2006 request to the Clinton Presidential Library for documents relating to the US role in the 1994 transfer of power in Haiti.
  • A 2009 request to the Johnson Presidential Library for documents related to the 1965 Coup staged by Joseph Mobuto in the Congo.

None of the above requests should have taken years to fulfill; most were for easily identifiable materials that should have been relatively simple to locate.  Several relate to areas of U.S. foreign policy that might include sensitive materials, but the FOIA provides well-established ways to protect truly delicate information, so the extraordinary delays are unjustified.  Finally, several of these requests are for subjects like whistleblowers, consumer protection, and business – issues of obvious social interest, where the government’s duty to be answerable to its citizens would seem to be most apparent.

In addition to identifying the specific subjects of FOIA requests that the government has not responded to, the Knight Survey also serves as a FOIA competency test.  The requests we sent should have been easy to fulfill.  They went to the very FOIA offices that were responsible for inspecting the oldest requests and including them in their federally mandated Annual FOIA reports.  Troublingly, six months after the National Security Archive filed its requests, nine agencies – almost one-quarter of those polled – still have not responded.

Agencies which have not provided documents in response to our request:

  • Army
  • Central Intelligence Agency
  • Department of Energy
  • Department of Justice
  • Department of State
  • Department of Health and Human Services
  • Drug Enforcement Administration
  • Office of Personnel Management
  • Transportation Security Administration

Because of this inexplicable failure to respond, the National Security Archive has taken the unusual step of filing “constructive denial” appeals – which interpret the agencies’ non-response as an effective denial and opens the door to future legal action.

Some agencies are not reporting accurate data to the Justice Department

Perhaps even more disquieting, the Knight Survey also shows frequent discrepancies between the oldest requests agencies have reported to the Department of Justice in the Annual FOIA report and the actual copies of requests provided to us.  Some agencies appear to have outstanding requests years older than what they reported to the Department of Justice.  In the most egregious case, the Defense Intelligence Agency responded to our FOIA request with a document four years older than what it reported to the Department of Justice.

At the heart of the problem – the “referral” process

Each agency examined by the Knight Survey has a backlog older than two years.  Most are substantially older.  Fourteen agencies –more than half– are losing ground on their backlog; their current oldest request is older than it was a year ago. 

The key reason for these growing backlogs is the referral process.  Each of the oldest requests held by NARA –including the oldest request in the United States– has been referred to at least one other agency for release.  NARA stores the documents, but cannot declassify them.  It must refer them to any agency which claims partial ownership of, or “equity” in, the information in the records.  This daisy chain of referrals can often result in decades-long delay.  Re-review of the same document by multiple agencies is redundant, costly, and inefficient.  Every FOIA professional is well trained at protecting sensitive material regardless of which agency employs them.  Thus, these bureaucratic “declassification turf wars” do not further protect secrets; they merely impede the public’s access to information.

There is hope that the National Declassification Center, recently on its feet at NARA, will ameliorate this problem for documents housed at the Archives, but it will do nothing to fix the problem of equity and referrals for documents “possessed” by other federal agencies.   

Forty five years ago, the birth of the Freedom of Information Act established the profoundly American commitment to open government and access to information.   Yet these decades-old FOIA requests show that US government agencies must do much more –including tackling the problem of equity and referrals– to make that commitment a reality.

45 FOIA News Stories in 2011

“New Prize in Cold War: Cuban Doctors,” The Wall Street Journal, January 15, 2011, Saturday, at A1.

Documents obtained through FOIA by The Wall Street Journal showed that the Cuban Medical Professional Parole immigration program allowed some Cuban doctors and health workers to enter the U.S. as refugees.

“Medicaid pays more, kids get less, audits show,” The Daily News Leader (Staunton, Virginia) January 23, 2011 Sunday, by David Ress/staff.

 Documents obtained through a FOIA request identified $14.9 million of questionable payments in 70 insurance providers' 2008 operations. The state attorney general's office prosecuted three cases involving more than $4.6 million of fraud. Children were not properly assessed and treated by the qualified staff.

“A murder probe gone awry; Report rips handling of investigation into Riley Fox slaying Chicago Tribune January 25, 2011 Tuesday, at C 7, By Kristen Schorsch, Steve Schmadeke contributed reporting.

A report by a security firm, Andrews International, obtained through a FOIA request of Chicago Tribune showed that Will County Sheriff's Police made mistakes in Riley Fox murder investigation including mismanagement and “highly questionable evidence. Detectives wrongly pinned Riley’s murder on her father, Kevin Fox. Riley’s parents, Kevin and Melissa Fox, eventually won $8 million in a lawsuit against the sheriff’s office.

“DPS ID system raises concerns” The Detroit News (Michigan) January 27, 2011 Thursday, at A8, by Jennifer Chambers.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the Detroit Public Schools regarding screening system in certain Detroit Public School. The new security system instantly scans driver’s licenses and state ID cards, then cross-checks the information with sex-offender registries in the United States and Canada. The DPS started using this program without parental or school board input.

“Nine judges in region get both salary, pension,” The Journal News (Westchester County, New York) January 30, 2011 Sunday at AWPR1, by Joseph Spector, Sean Lahmanand Jonathan Bandler.

Documents obtained by a FOIA request from the state Comptroller's Office showed that nine New York judges received double compensation. They collected public pensions and salaries simultaneously. In response, state lawmakers suggested ways for eliminating these legislative loopholes.

“Report finds fraud in AmeriCorps,” Deseret Morning News (Salt Lake City) February 7, 2011 Monday, by Gregory Korte USA Today.

Documents obtained through a FOIA request showed that inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service had found several cases of fraud in AmeriCorps, the national service program. In some cases, the alleged fraud involved the misuse of more than $900,000.

“Baxter County sheriff's deputy fired” The Baxter Bulletin (Mountain Home, Arkansas) February 8, 2011 Tuesday, by Josh Dooley.

According to documents obtained through FOIA, Baxter County sheriff's deputy, Aaron Brown was fired after a series of incidents which resulted in disciplinary actions against him. Brown was placed on administrative leave a total of three times and was forced to take three weeks of remedial training.

“AP finds few states follow mental health gun law,” The Times of Trenton (New Jersey) February 18, 2011 Friday, at A07, by Greg Bluestein.

According to records obtained by the Associated Press through FOIA, fever that half of US states comply with a post-Virginia Tech shooting law that required them to share the names of mentally ill people with the national background-check system to prevent them from buying guns.

“Conclusions on Yucca lacking” Las Vegas Review-Journal (Nevada), February 18, 2011 Friday, at 8B, by Steve Tetreault.

Documents obtained through a FOIA request showed that The Nuclear Regulatory Commission scientists were evaluating whether tunnels carved in Yucca Mountain could safely hold radioactive particles from decaying nuclear fuel for up to a million years.

“Traffic-pix tix blitz –Stoplight cams nail more than 1M Drivers,” The New York Post February 27, 2011 Sunday, at 2, by Reuven Blau.

FOIA documents obtained by the New York Post showed that for the first time ever, New York City ticketed more than 1 million vehicles for running red lights and getting caught on camera. The city's 150 secret cameras - 50 were installed in 2009 - nabbed an average of 2,741 drivers a day in 2010.

“FAA Moves to Limit Blockout System Hiding Private Jet Flights,” ProPublica, March 7, 2011, 12:12 p.m.

FOIA documents obtained by ProPublica, showed that The Federal Aviation administration was blocking private flights from real-time tracking data made available to the public. According to the ProPublica investigation, a number of individuals and companies requested the FAA not track their flights after receiving bad publicity. Among them was a televangelist facing a congressional inquiry, governors questioned about personal trips on state planes and Fortune 500 companies that had received government bailouts.

“24 at SEC dealt with over porn Documents show workers at seven regional offices, including Denver's, were ``counseled or disciplined,'' The Denver Post, March 9, 2011, Wednesday, at A-01, by Andy Vuong.

According to documents obtained through a FOIA request, twenty-four U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission employees at seven offices, including Denver's, were counseled or disciplined for accessing pornography sites on government computers.

“Overtime pay climbs. Top earners took in close to 8M in 2010,” Daily News (New York) March 12, 2011 Saturday, at 17, by Adam Lisberg.

Documents obtained by the Daily News through a FOIA request showed that the top 100 overtime earners in city government collectively raked in $7,961,400 in 2010, 6.8% more than in 2009. They were routinely working an extra two to four hours a day, every day - plus working full shifts on Saturdays or Sundays.

“Group warns EPA ready to increase radioactive release guidelines,” The Tennessean (Nashville, Tennessee) March 16, 2011 Wednesday, by, Anne Paine.

The EPA was preparing to increase the standards of permissible radioactive releases in drinking water, food and soil in March, 2011. Documents obtained through FOIA showed that those relaxed standards were opposed by public health professionals inside EPA.

“Wood Dale mayor ran up tab with city; for 2 years, leader repeatedly failed to pay for his health insurance coverage,” Chicago Tribune, March 20, 2011 Sunday, at C7, By Bill Ruthhart.

Records obtained through FOIA showed that from June 2008 until September 2010, Wood Dale Mayor Ken Johnson failed to pay for his health insurance, without informing the City Council. His debt grew as high as $9,283.

“Probe into ethics panel looks at director's time sheets Newsday (New York) March 31, 2011 Thursday, at A06, by Sandra Peddie.

According to documents obtained through a FOIA request executive director of the Suffolk county Ethics Commission had not worked full time since 2005 and had an arbitration business.

“The Antisocial Network,” Popular Mechanics April 1, 2011, at 58 Vol. 188, by Caren Chesler.

According to documents obtained through FOIA by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, The Internal Revenue Service monitored social media. The Internal revenue Service’s 38-page training manual outlines "Internet tools and searches that will be useful in locating taxpayers and determining their online business activity."

“TB in elephants called ‘a gray area’; animal-rights group says circus elephant is a danger,” The Baltimore Sun, April 7, 2011 Thursday, at 2A, by Laura Vozzella.

FOIA documents obtained by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals showed that  an elephant performing in Baltimore with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus  posed a health risk to the public because she has tested positive for tuberculosis.

“New trucking firm, same violations, Logbook problems uncovered during audit of JTL,” Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (Wisconsin) April 17, 2011 Sunday, at D1, by Rick Romell.

According to records obtained through a FOIA request, the trucking firm, Franklin's JDC Logistics Inc. was fined for logbook violations totaled about $155,000 from 2004 into 2006.

“Hospitals’ overtime overboard; County's nurses stretched thin, raising risk to patients,” Crain's Chicago Business, April 18, 2011, at 1 Vol. 34.

FOIA documents obtained by Crain's Chicago Business and the Better Government Association showed that nearly $40 million a year is routinely spent on overtime pay by Cook County hospitals and health clinics. 182 county health staffers worked more than 624 overtime hours in 2010.

“Special Report: Calhoun County teachers' pay trails state average,” Battle Creek Enquirer (Michigan) April 18, 2011 Monday, by, Justin A. Hinkley.

According to documents obtained by The Battle Creek Enquirer, the average Calhoun County teacher and the average Calhoun County superintendent were paid below the state average in 2009-10 school year. The average Calhoun County teacher salary was $52,218 in the 2009-10, about 9 percent less than the $57,327 the National Education Association said was the state's average salary.

“Opponents criticize Tomblin spending; Records show acting governor's outlays for signage, travel, other items total $64,000,” Charleston Daily Mail (West Virginia) April 19, 2011, Tuesday, at P7A, by Rivarr, Daily Mail Capitol reporter.

According to documents provided by the governor's office in response to a FOIA request, West Virginia has spent at least $64,000 paying stationery and signage costs as well as travel expenses for acting governor Earl Ray Tomblin, first lady Joanne Tomblin and their security detail.

“Pentagon clears general over profile in magazine,” The New York Times April 19, 2011 Tuesday, at A16, By Thom Shanker; Elisabeth Bumiller contributed reporting.

According to a document obtained by the New York Times through a FOIA request, an inquiry by the Defense Department inspector general into a Rolling Stone Magazine profile of General McChrystal has found no proof of wrongdoing by McChrystal, his military aides or his civilian advisers.

“City defends staff salaries; Citizen suggests cuts are in order,” Mukilteo Beacon (Washington) May 4, 2011, by Sara Bruestle.

Records obtained through a FOIA request showed that Mukilteo, city of about 20,000 had been spending $11 million on salaries and benefits. A majority of the city's salaried employees and all of the management positions were at or above the maximum of their pay ranges. Six in management were getting paid above their defined ranges.

“Eight lawmakers signed a letter for Renco,” Sunlight Foundation, By Keenan Steiner, May 04 2011

According to documents obtained by the Sunlight Foundation through FOIA, eight members of Congress signed on to a letter asking the heads of the Treasury and State Departments to take measures to intervene on behalf of Renco Group in the middle of a controversial dispute with Peru. Renco Group is owned by billionaire mining magnate Ira Rennert, who has spent more than $300,000 lobbying Washington politicians.

“Lawyer's career unravels in wake of broken pledges” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette (Little Rock) May 8, 2011 Sunday, at front section, by C.S Murphy.

FOIA documents obtained by Arkansas Democrat-Gazette showed that Former Little Rock attorney Elgin Clemons promised the Arts Center a $500,000 gift from a client, architectural company, Al Abbar. The Arts center faced a financial crisis in the spring of 2010 when the Alabbar donation didn't materialize.

“Let’s quit fed program that ousts immigrants,” Daily News (New York) May 8, 2011 Sunday, at 34, by Albor Ruiz.

Records obtained through a FOIA request showed that nearly 79% of individuals deported nationally through the Secure Communities program from October 2008 through June 2010 had no criminal record or were arrested for minor offenses.

“Release the Iranian 'hostages'; Obama's sanctions against PJAK are unjustified gift to Tehran regime,” The Washington Times May 9, 2011 Monday, at B4, by Kenneth R. Timmerman.

A memorandum obtained by the lawyer of “Free Life Party of Iranian Kurdistan” (PJAK) in response to a FOIA request showed that the Treasury placed PJAK on its list of international terrorists only because the group was allegedly "controlled by the KGK" - another name for the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

“Larcomb says evaluation was late, not signed,” The Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) May 10, 2011 Tuesday, by, Kurt Moore.

Documents obtained through a FOIA request showed that Pleasant Local Schools' board evaluated its superintendent and put on indefinite paid leave. The documents indicated that the school board perceived the superintendent as “weak.”

“State's raises for 17 follow frugality talk; Transit unit says duties changed” The Boston Globe May 13, 2011 Friday, at 1, By Noah Bierman.

FOIA documents obtained by the Boston Globe showed that two months after state Transportation Secretary Jeffrey B. Mullan said the economy was too weak to increase salaries for public sector executives he began handing out raises to 17 managers in his department.

“New Study Casts Light On SEC 'Revolving Door' Claims,” Dow Jones Business News, May 13, 2011 Friday, By Jessica Holzer.

According to FOIA documents obtained by Project on Government Oversight over the past five years, 219 former the Securities and Exchange Commission employees sought to represent clients on issues before the commission after leaving the agency. The former employees filed 789 notices with the agency on their intent to represent various clients.

“US State Department sued for pipeline lobbyist documents,” Reuters News, May 18, 2011 Wednesday, By Ayesha Rascoe.

A lawsuit was filed by green groups after the State Department denied a FOIA request. Green groups were requesting communications regarding a planned $7 billion TransCanada oil sands pipeline between Paul Elliott, who was national deputy director for Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign, and the State Department. Groups were seeking the communications which could expose whether Elliott's ties to Clinton had resulted in bias in the permitting process.

“Des Plaines police officer gets $125,000 in settlement,” Chicago Daily Herald May 18, 2011, Wednesday, C3 Edition, at 3, by Madhu Krishnamurthy

Documents obtained through FOIA showed that Des Plaines paid veteran police Sgt. Matthew Hicks $125,000 to leave the police force and drop all claims of wrongful discharge against the city.

“Oil spill in Greer creek more extensive than thought, DHEC reports,” The Greenville News (South Carolina) May 19, 2011 Thursday, by, Anna Lee Staff Writer.

Records obtained through a FOIA request showed that the spill into a tributary of Frohawk Creek was more extensive than cleanup officials had originally estimated. According to the state Department of Health and Environmental Control, 10,000 gallons spilled. The city engineer and an EPA coordinator first estimated that between 1,000 to 1,500 gallons had leaked.

“Police escorts not limited to dignitaries, records show,” Washington Post May 19, 2011 Thursday, at Metro, B06, by Eric Tucker.
 
Records obtained by the Associated Press through a FOIA request showed that Washington, D.C. police escorts mostly intended for top government officials and foreign dignitaries have been provided to celebrities, including Charlie Sheen.

“Nursing home abuse, neglect up 33 percent; Government report shows violence, sleeping on the job” Chicago Sun-Times May 21, 2011 Saturday, at 13, by Carla K. Johnson.

FOIA documents obtained by Associated Press showed that across Illinois in 2010, more than 130 cases of abuse and neglect were investigated and confirmed in group homes for adults, a 33 percent increase from 2006.

“What price, jobs? Illinois tax incentive packages growing larger,” Associated Press, May 21, 2011 Saturday, at 1 by David Mercer

Documents obtained through a FOIA request showed that Illinois’ government agreed in 2010 to give $272.7 million in tax breaks and other incentives to 67 companies that had received invitations from other states to move jobs elsewhere.

“Report: Securities and Exchange Commission broke procurement law,” Washington Post.com, May 27, 2011 Saturday, at A16

SEC Inspector General’s report released in response to a FOIA request by Reuters showed that the agency violated procurement law in 2008 when, without proper testing, it spent about $1 million buying computer equipment from Apple. The SEC violated federal regulations by awarding the contract without competitive bidding and by telling Apple its budget in order to tailor its offer precisely to the budgeted amount.

‘Statehouse beat; Resigned experts of panel have a lot to say,” Charleston Gazette (West Virginia) May 30, 2011, Monday, at P5A, by Phil Kabler.

FOIA documents obtained from the governor's office showed that expert members of the West Virginia Sesquicentennial Commission found themselves exasperated that their efforts and vision for the anniversary were being undermined by the state officials on the panel.

“Sarah Palin’s e-mails show her going to bat for state-owned creamery,” Washington Post, June 11, 2011, by T.W. Farnam.

Emails of former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin obtained by FOIA show that she fought to use government funds to keep an Alaskan creamery open after it racked up $1.5 million in losses and was forced to close.  More than 13,000 emails were released. 

“Student visa program: New rules, same problems,” Associated Press, June 20, 2011, by Holdbrook Mohr.

A FOIA request by the Associated Press shows that the Department of State did not begin tracking complaints about the exploitation of students in the United States on the J-1 visa program until 2010.  An AP investigation found abuse of hundreds of students with J-1 visas in more than a dozen states. 

“A style guide for spooks,” Washington Post, June 23, 2011, by Lisa Rein.

Governmentattic.com used the FOIA to win the release of the National Security Agency’s style guide.  The266-page manual which listed the meaning of acronyms such as “lnu” (last name unknown), “nfi” (no further information), and “FROG” (Free Rocket Over Ground). 

“FBI records show late Gov. Ned McWherter never entangled in corruption cases,” Associated Press, June 26, 2011, by Erik Schelzig.

The 217-page FBI file on the late Tennessee Governor Ned McWherter shows that “at no time was a subject, witness, or a target in the Rocky top investigation."  Rocky top was an investigation into widespread abuse of gambling licenses in Tennessee which led to the arrest of several state politicians.  The report was released under FOIA. 

“Report: Feds downplayed ICE case dismissals; Documents show agency had approval to dismiss some deportation cases,” Houston Chronicle June 27, 2011, by Susan Carroll.

A Freedom of Information Act request by the Houston chronicle shows that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s chief counsel in Houston prioritized deportations of illegal immigrants who were a danger to public safety or national security. 

“FOIA docs expose DHS agency irradiating Americans cover-up,” Washington Examiner, 29 June 2011, by Deborah Dupre.

Documents obtained through FOIA by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) show that Transportation Security Administration employees working enclose Proximity to radiation-firing devices may have higher risk of developing cancer strokes, and heart disease.

Ten Agencies with the Oldest Outstanding FOIA Requests in response to our December 2010 requests:
National Archives
May 8, 1991*
Defense Intelligence Agency
August 31, 1993*
Air Force           
April 19, 1995*
National Security Agency
May 2, 1996*
Central Intelligence Agency
October 7, 1998**
Army
January 30, 2001**
Department of State
February 8, 2001**
Department of Energy
February 14, 2001**
Dpt Health Human Services
October 9, 2001**
Department of the Interior
October 9, 2002*
*=Oldest request provided to National Security Archive was different than reported in annual FOIA report.
**=Did not provide final response to National Security Archive request for oldest documents. 

 

One of the oldest FOIA requests still pending with the federal government was submitted by Dr. Monte Finkelstein. He shared his story with Archive FOIA Coordinator Nate Jones.

Mr. Jones,

I want to let you know that I feel honored to have one of the oldest outstanding FOIA requests on record. Another line for my Who’s Who entry!! I did receive an inquiry about this request in April and I think that it is being worked on. As I told the person who notified me about the request I still want the materials. Although I am no longer working on separatism, for personal reasons I want to see what was so important that it had to wait 18 years for release.

When I made the original request in 1993, I was a Professor of History at Tallahassee Community College and was writing my book, Separatism, the Allies and the Mafia; the Struggle for Sicilian Independence, 1943-1948. It was published in 1998. While researching and writing, I made several FOIA requests directed at the FBI, CIA and the National Archives. Many of my requests were filled in a timely fashion, or at least in time for inclusion into the manuscript. I finally gave up waiting for any other materials that I may have requested suspecting that for reasons beyond my control the material was not going to be declassified for my use.

Many of my requests dealt with the Mafia, both the American and Sicilian, Lucky Luciano and any interaction between the Mafia and American authorities. A request to the FBI regarding information on Lucky Luciano had to be made twice since the documents that I received the first time were redacted beyond use.

The materials from the CIA came to my office at Tallahassee Community College very unexpectedly as I had assumed that I would never get those documents. I think that the request for those materials took two years to complete. The package arrived without any warning or pre notification and I remember being stunned and elated at the same time.

The only problem, and this was true of almost all the material that I received under the FOIA, is that I was forced to rewrite portions of my manuscript, delaying its’ completion. Policies may have changed somewhat but I will tell you that for me making the request was easy enough but the wait for materials was almost painful. 

I would be interested to know if anything will be done to speed up the process of answering FOIA requests. I know that it would be very helpful to historians if they did not have to wait 18 years to get materials. We all want to write the “definitive work” on a subject and getting the information in a timely manner would help.

Thanks for contacting me. If there’s anything else that you need, just let me know.

Monte Finkelstein

Dean
History and Social Sciences
Tallahassee Community College

 

 

 

 

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