FOIA Machine ‘Cranks and Wheezes,” But Won’t Cough Up Info


In a commentary, David Carr of the New York Times says the federal government’s mechanism for releasing information has “all but ground to a halt.” The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to respond to any request for documents within 20 days and provide them within a reasonable time afterward. Carr writes, “But it hasn't worked out that way. While the mandate for disclosure is still there, it is overwhelmed by a Rube Goldberg apparatus that clanks and wheezes, but rarely turns up the data.”

“Freedom of Information requests have been caught in the gears for decades, and journalists working on timely stories about lead in school lunch boxes, FEMA's response to Hurricane Katrina and delays in the delivery of veterans' benefits have all been stymied by agencies that flout the law through recalcitrance or ineptitude.” The State Department, C.I.A., Justice Department, Air Force and F.B.I. all have some requests more than 15 years old. “It can get pretty silly,” Carr notes. “In 2002, the National Zoo in Washington denied a request for the medical records of Ryma the giraffe because, it said, the release would violate the animal's privacy rights.”


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