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THE U.S. FREEDOM OF INFORMATION ACT AT 35: NEARLY 2 MILLION REQUESTS LAST YEAR AT A COST OF ONE DOLLAR PER CITIZEN

Shedding Light on a Major Cold War Flashpoint

National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 51

Published – July 4, 2001

Edited by Will Ferroggiaro, Sajit Gandhi, and Thomas Blanton

For more information contact:
Thomas Blanton 202/994-7000 or nsarchiv@gwu.edu

More Archive Resources on FOIA:

About the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)

How to Make a FOIA Request

Government Guidance, Directives and Statistics on FOIA

United States Department of Justice Summary of Annual FOIA Reports for Fiscal Year 2000

 


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Washington, D.C., July 4, 2001 – George Washington University's National Security Archive, the leading non-profit user of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, today released its first annual "State of Freedom of Information" report, 35 years to the day after President Johnson grudgingly signed the U.S. FOIA into law on July 4, 1966.  The Archive study reported that:

  • Federal agencies still resist obeying the letter of the law, especially the requirement of a response within 20 working days (on one Archive request filed in 1990, the CIA took 9 years to deny in full 22 documents, and another 7 months to deny the appeal);
  • Public use of the Freedom of Information Act continues to rise, with 1,965,919 FOIA requests filed with federal agencies in fiscal year 1999, the most recent data available from the Justice Department;
  • Direct cost to the taxpayers for administering the FOIA amounted to $286,546,488 in fiscal year 1999, or almost exactly one dollar per citizen, according to the Justice Department data and the Census Bureau;
  • Documents released under federal, state and local freedom of information acts sparked more than 3,000 news stories in 2000 and 2001 (according to the Archive's searches of on-line databases), exposing data of major public interest such as excessive mercury levels in canned tuna, enormous geographic variations in the prescription rates for Ritalin, a projected $4 billion cost overrun on NASA's space station, and the internal policy debate over intelligence sharing with Peru prior to the shootdown of an American missionary plane.

As part of the 35th anniversary report, the Archive posted today on its award-winning Web site, the key documents on the history of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, including:

  • President Johnson's half-hearted signing statement and excerpts from the Congressional Record debates of 1966,
  • President Ford's veto statement on the FOIA amendments of 1974 and the ensuing Congressional debates,
  • Congressional Record floor statements on the 1986 FOIA amendments on law enforcement and fee waiver issues,
  • President Clinton's signing statement on the 1996 "E-FOIA" amendments, and
  • the most recent General Accounting Office assessment of the FOIA and E-FOIA.

Also included on the site are a User's Guide to FOIA, sample FOIA request and appeal letters, the addresses of every major federal agency FOIA contact, and guidance from the Archive's experts on how to use the FOIA.  The report features a detailed analysis of eight key federal agencies handling national security information over the past three years, and an itemized list of 15 significant news stories from this year that cited documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act.

 

 

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