In Dec. 2005, President Bush issued an executive order mandating that federal agencies better administrate the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The order stipulated that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales would submit reports documenting agencies’ progress in meeting FOIA “milestones.”
In its June 2007 report, the DoJ proclaimed “diligent and measurable progress” in FOIA compliance across the federal government. FOIA activists, however, claim the DoJ has wildly overstated its success, as the new DoJ report distorts and misleads on key benchmarks:
Claim #1: Agencies are making “significant progress” with FOIA. The DOJ reported that more than half of the agencies successfully met their milestones, “and that 90 percent made meaningful progress.” But the report’s graphics show that only 11 of 25 agencies met all their milestones, and three agencies did not meet a single target.
Claim #2: Agencies have decreased the number of unprocessed FOIA requests. “The report cites no data to support the claim. … The number of unprocessed requests among the 25 agencies highlighted actually increased 13 percent.” In fact, several agencies, such as Housing and Urban Development, State Department, and Homeland Security, piled on FOIA backlogs at faster rate than they received requests. “Three agencies — NASA, the CIA and Treasury — reported fewer requests but their backlogs still rose.”
Bush’s DoJ has opposed FOIA reform and open-government efforts for years. In the 109th Congress, the Department “squelched efforts to pass the OPEN Government Act.” Last month, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) blocked a bipartisan attempt to update FOIA because of the Justice Department’s concern that “it could force them to reveal sensitive information.”
According to Meredith Fuchs of the National Security Archives, the report “is essentially smoke and mirrors designed to discourage Congress from enacting a law that would mandate improvement in FOIA processing.”