Ten year backlog of FOIA requests being processed
WASHINGTON, November 7, 2017 – In late October, President Donald Trump began to lift the veil on the Washington State Department, saying he wants to accelerate the release of any remaining Hillary Clinton FOIA act emails.
What is FOIA
Title 5 of the United States Code outlines the role of government organization and employees in the United States Code. Title 5 also created the Freedom of Information Act, known as FOIA. The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 5 U.S.C. § 552 is a United States federal law that grants the public access to information possessed by government agencies.
“We haven’t understood why there’s been a slow-walking of releasing records, and we’ve been quite public in counseling the administration to take an approach of extreme transparency,” said Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative activist group that has sued the Trump administration for more Clinton documents.
“It looks like someone’s listening,” Fitton added.
FOIA, or § 522(a)(3), requires every agency, “upon any request for records which … reasonably describes such records” to make such records “promptly available to any person.” If an agency improperly withholds any documents, the district court has jurisdiction to order their production.
FOIA expressly places the burden “on the agency to sustain its action,” and directs the district courts to “determine the matter de novo,” or from the beginning.
A ten-year backlog of more than 13,000 FOIA requests
The President learned of the vast backlog of more than 13,000 outstanding FOIA cases that including requests for documents pertaining to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Some FOIA requests are nearly a decade old. Those requests are from members of Congress and other governmental offices, journalists and individuals.
In a memo to State Department employees, Tillerson says that the department will commit more resources to address the backlog of requests. The president says that “the law requires cooperation with Congress and the courts.”
State Department Staffers dismiss FOIA requests as “assault” on Clinton
Department staff is concerned that the re-assignment of several hundred State Department officials to clear the backlog effort has less to do with transparency and more about continuing the assault on Hillary Clinton and her State Department.
Tillerson’s email says the department’s FOIA backlog will take at least two years to clear. To cut that time, the department will commit more existing people to open-records duty and streamline the process so as to move toward a “goal of a more responsive, more accountable, and more transparent State Department,” Tillerson wrote.
A number of State officials will be in little more than a clerical role during the release of FOIA documents. Sources familiar with the situation say hundreds of State staffers will be affected as every bureau has been told to commit people to review and release records.
End of year deadline for FOIA requests
Sources also say Tillerson is calling for the clearing of the backlog by the end of the year, a goal that may prove impossible.
“It’s a remarkable misuse of resources to advance what is at its core a partisan political aim,” one State employee says. “We all know what’s going on. And, of course, we’re all unhappy that we’re being made a part of it.”
Unfortunately for unhappy employees, the backlog is a direct result of an Obama administration that sought to keep a veil over the State Department. Had Clinton won the White House, the ability to cleanse these records would have been easy to accomplish.
According to Judicial Watch, the State Department has failed to process some 40,000 pages from more than 72,000 records which contain Clinton’s emails.
Tillerson State Department has not been responsive to FOIA requests
Of concern to conservative journalists is that the Tillerson State Department has not made earlier efforts to release the records. Some say the Trump administration hasn’t done enough to act on them.
“There has been no substantial change whatsoever in the Rex Tillerson State Department or the Jeff Sessions Justice Department about Mrs. Clinton’s emails,” legal analyst Andrew Napolitano told the Fox Business network in August.
The President has also called upon the Justice Department to lift a gag order on a key FBI informant in an investigation into Russian efforts to gain influence in the US uranium industry.