Federal agencies are turning increasingly to private contractors to help shrink their mounting backlogs of Freedom of Information Act requests. Departments that have tapped contractors include Defense, State, Energy and Transportation, as well as agencies such as the Transportation Security Administration. Officials say outside help is necessary at a time when tight budgets make it all but impossible to permanently hire new FOIA officers.
Despite some concerns that the government is becoming overly reliant on private contractors for basic work, the arrangements have drawn favorable reviews from some outside experts. And those seeking information are eager to see federal agencies fill FOIA requests faster — as long as no materials are withheld unnecessarily.
Many contract workers are former officials who retired from civil service and often still have an active security clearance, said one FOIA expert.