An Oldie But a Goodie: Oldest Pending FOI Requests

Charles Davis
March 13, 2008 — 969 views  
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Several federal agencies are running more than 15 years late on public record requests sent under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) when the first President Bush was still in office.

The Energy Department has the tardiest public record request, according to a review by The Hill of annual FOIA reports published by Cabinet-level agencies for the last fiscal year. It still has not answered one request from Dec. 6, 1991, although other departments are not far behind.

The Defense Department has a request pending from May 5, 1992, while the Treasury Department has not answered a request from March 8, 1993.

"Typically, when I file a request for information, I want it this week or this month, not 15 years from now," said Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists. He said the decade-old requests are inconsistent with a law that is intended to get information to the public as quickly as possible.

Most FOIA requests are handled much more quickly by agencies, which in some cases are dealing with a significant workload. But the review shows some FOIA requests go unanswered for years, often because they are seen as touching on sensitive national security matters. A lack of resources and scant pressure from Congress in recent years are also seen as factors that have led to years-long FOIA waits.

Charles Davis

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Charles N. Davis is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and the executive director for the National Freedom of Information Coalition, headquartered at the School. Davis' scholarly research focuses on access to governmental information and new media law, including jurisdictional issues, intellectual property and online libel. He has earned a Sunshine Award from the Society of Professional Journalists for his work in furthering freedom of information and the University of Missouri-Columbia Provost's Award for Outstanding Junior Faculty Teaching, as well as the Faculty-Alumni Award.