• Open Government? Not in this Lifetime

    January 20, 2012

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Embassy/State

    Once upon a time, our government did one of the coolest things ever, creating the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In simple terms, the Act said that absent one of nine specific reasons not to, most parts of the US Government had to release records and documents requested by the public. This opened the door for journalists, scholars and everyone else to see what the government was up to, and to expose government lies, corruption and other naughty stuff.

    Over time, the government has gotten clever about applying those limited exceptions (which can be appealed). The government has also figured out that simply d-e-l-a-y-i-n-g processing of requests is an even better way to make them go away.

    As readers of this blog know, the State Department has used a number of bureaucratic tools to retaliate against me for speaking out on their crap-fest in Iraq.

    So, to try and defend myself, I filed a FOIA request in June 2011. The request was very specific, asking for records kept in the Director General’s office (head of HR for State), and for any emails between that office and my then-supervisor. Nothing too involved: everything was either electronic or in a domestic office. The time period was short, and the records all pertained to just me, my book and this blog. No third party agencies involved. Nothing should have been classified. And it is not like they did not know my name in that office.

    After not hearing back from anyone since I filed the request seven months ago, I inquired. Here is the emailed response:


    I am responding to your e-mail dated January 18, 2011 inquiring about the status of your Freedom of Information Act request. We have assigned case number 201105098. Please make reference to this case number in the future. We are awaiting response from the pending searches. The estimated completion date for your case is January 2013.



    January 2013

    I wrote back to the nice emailer person, double-checking the date was 2013, a year from now. She quickly responded, even adding it would be January 31, 2013.

    So that means it will take State some 18 months, 540 days, to respond, and that the delay is caused by the Director General’s office not responding to the FOIA folks.

    OK, bureaucracies are slow, so maybe somehow 540 days isn’t that uncommon, right? No.

    The State Department’s own FOIA accounting (they are required to produce an annual report; 2010 is the latest one online) shows that for “simple” FOIA requests, the average number of days for a response is 144. For complex ones, the average number of days is 284 (there are a couple of cases in there pending now into their eleventh year, wonder what those are asking for, the nuclear launch codes?).

    For simple requests like mine, out of 10,308 requests processed, only 50 took more than 401 days.

    Something is Wrong

    Without a doubt there exists a file with my name on it in the Director General’s office. It will not require a spelunking expedition to locate it– it is probably on his desk as we speak. Of course mine is not the only request received, and judging by my case number might even have been the 5098th taken in last year, although those were spread among the entire Department.

    Still, why will it take 18 months to conduct that search? Hard to defend yourself under these circumstances, or… is that the plan? And these are the people America pays to export democracy?

    Look, I’ll help, it is in the bottom drawer marked “V.” I’ll even drop by anytime with Krispy Kremes for the office and make my own copies, ‘K?



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