Defense Department Can't Afford To Buy A Fax Machine To Receive FOIA Requests

from the priorities dept

Apparently the Sequester is hitting the Defense Department so hard that it can't even afford a new fax machine to handle Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Now, you might wonder why a fax machine is needed, but since the US government has generally made it as difficult as possible to file FOIA requests, faxing is often the best way. MuckRock, a service that helps others (including us!) file FOIA requests, has noted that the Defense Department (which it also notes has a $31.8 billion -- with a b -- budget for "maintenance and operations") has a broken fax machine, and can't promise a new one will be set up "until the start of the new fiscal year."
That's not particularly comforting. Basically, the DOD is telling MuckRock to stop sending it faxes for a few months (at least). Remember that, by (often ignored) law, the DOD is required to respond to FOIA requests within 20 business days. Yet, here, the DOD is saying sit tight and wait for a few months because it can't buy a new fax machine. MuckRock even points out that, these days, you can just get an online faxing service which would probably be a lot more efficient in the first place. But, of course, that's not how the government works.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    icon
    Ninja (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 11:36am

    Solution: Crowdsource

    Seriously, let's crowdsource a fax machine for these morons. And if possible some ethics and respect towards the Constitution.

    In fact, if someone lives near these morons just give them the damn thing. Unfortunately we can't replace people with more honest and ethic ones that easily.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 11:48am

      Re: Solution: Crowdsource

      Unfortunately we can't replace people with more honest and ethic ones that easily.

      If only there was an outsourcing service for that...

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Oblate (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 1:11pm

      Re: Solution: Crowdsource

      Requests to donate equipment to federal offices must be received by fax at least 30 days before the date of donation, per regulations added to the CFR yesterday.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 11:47am

    from muckrock: FOIA requests can be sent by a) fax, b) mail or c) a clunky online request portal that doesn't play nice with other systems...

    and they did another interesting/funny thing.. they sent a FOIA request requesting the office inventory and the budget... of the of the office processing FOIA requests.

    https://www.muckrock.com/foi/united-states-of-america-10/osd-equipment-inventory-and-budget-6733 /

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
     
    identicon
    Josh Trenser, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 11:47am

    Well, these are some reallly interesting news folks indeed!!!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 11:58am

    I am so glad that government is now minding the budget. Since DoD can't afford more than one fax machine, can we look forward to other insightful motions like not enough money to fund the NSA?

    Maybe a witholding of money to a congress that can't seem to get anything done, with very few days actually working per month?

    While we're at departments that aren't functioning how about defunding the Fusion Centers, DHS, and the TSA? Now that's forward thinking and budget minding. Think of all the trillions saved with that move.

    I am sure there is a closet somewhere in the DoD that has an unused fax machine. This cover up just keeps on smelling till we're at the point that I think Washington was built over a sewage processing plant by the odors.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2013 @ 4:21am

      Re:

      I think the best way to make a FOIA request may be registered certified mail with return receipts. Post the request on a website with a countdown clock for both the initial mailing and the return of the receipt postcard. If they don't come back sick the postal inspectors on it.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Josh in CharlotteNC (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 12:00pm

    If only there was a government agency that could capture data that travels over telephone cables and convert it to human readable form.

    Oh, wait. We spend billions on one of those.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Christopher Best (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 12:01pm

    I can feel for their IT department

    After just finishing up a little over five years working "with" (note I didn't say "for") the Federal Government, I can kinda understand. If there's no line item in the budget for a replacement fax machine, they are being honest that they can't do anything about it until October. Someone could, quite literally, make a federal case about it.

    I remember throwing $600 graphics cards in the trash because we didn't have a budget for shipping them back for repair/replacement, but we DID have a budget for buying new ones.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Michael, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 12:04pm

    MuckRock even points out that, these days, you can just get an online faxing service which would probably be a lot more efficient in the first place


    Dear MuckRock,

    In response to the suggestion that we use an online fax service, we are, unfortunately unable to take this particular action. It is apparrent, due to recent discoveries, that Israeli intelligence agencies have somehow managed to compromise a number of online communications. Because of this unfortunate situation, we are unable to process FOIA requests via online fax services.

    Thank you
    - The United States Government

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 12:13pm

    This comes right after CIA has closed down its FOIA office, because of "budget cuts".

    So much BS, and trying to get away with not declassifying the documents.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Loki, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 2:08pm

    Maybe if they stopped giving away armored personnel carriers to police departments to conduct pot and copyright infringement busts with, they might be able to afford a fax machine.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Angela Fisher (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 2:19pm

    then this

    http://motherboard.vice.com/blog/the-cia-is-closing-the-office-that-declassifies-historical-document s

    "The CIA Is Closing the Office That Declassifies Historical Documents

    As a result of the sequester-induced budget cuts, the CIA is closing the Historical Collections Division office, which declassifies historical documents, and transferring the division's responsibilities to the office that handles FOIA requests. "

    getting my tin foil hat now...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    OldMugwump (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 2:59pm

    I'll buy them one

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 3:27pm

    Logical

    If they can't even afford a fax machine, then they can't afford to keep the illusion of freedom (or what's left of it) propped up much longer either.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Travis, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 4:34pm

    Not as ridiculous as it seems

    I think this story is a bit overblown.

    1st: Notice that the email says IF they don't have a spare, they will have to order a replacement. Speaking, as an IT contractor for the Army, they likely have a spare. We have at least "it'll do, for now" if not ready replacement spares for most equipment on site. Even if we just are subbing a lesser used machine in until we can get a replacement.

    2nd: October 1st is the beginning of the new fiscal year. I can tell you from personal experience, trying to order something in September that's not already specified on the budget gets assigned the lowest priority. There is a lot of work involved with closing out a fiscal year that has to be done before 1 Oct. This is why we always have spares and/or warranty service (depending on criticality) for everything.

    3rd: if the "Fax machine" is not just a fax machine, but a high volume Multifunction Printer (like what we use) it is likely that a replacement will have to be purchased through a bidding process. Our own office has a $3000 limit for such purchases, and I believe this is limit is mandated by law, but I can't be sure. Below the limit, it can be purchased on a Gov credit card. Orders of $3000 or more must be put out for bids. The bidding/award process generally takes 4-6 weeks. This would explain the possibility of November stated in the email.

    This is not the result of malice or incompetence. Its a result of the government's efforts to minimize waste, fraud, and abuse.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Sep 16th, 2013 @ 9:12pm

      Re: Not as ridiculous as it seems

      Apparently it is easier to mock the DOD about a fax machine than to note for the sake of accuracy that requests can be filed over the net, via US mail, and at times even via email. It is not at all difficult to get a request in the hands of an agency, and suggestions to the contrary are simply inaccurate.

      Not sure what they are hoping to accomplish with their snarky article other than to openly mock people within federal agencies who actually work hard and diligently in handling FOIA requests. Seems as if this would be a dumb move if they hope to receive expedited treatment in the future should the need arise.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      •  
        identicon
        Frank, Sep 17th, 2013 @ 7:50pm

        Re: Re: Not as ridiculous as it seems

        I file FOIA request by fax because the fax machine provides a receipt.

        The receipt contains the following from number, to number, date, time; number of pages sent the number of page successfully received, and fax quality.

        An email provides nothing.

        A certified receipt demonstrates the recipient received an envelope.

        Frank Vera
        GeorgeAFB.Info

         

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    btrussell (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 6:52pm

    "Yet, here, the DOD is saying sit tight and wait for a few months because it can't buy a new fax machine."

    You can't just buy a million dollar fax machine anywhere. Budgeted dollars must be spent if you want it again next year.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    icon
    Mega1987 (profile), Sep 16th, 2013 @ 8:22pm

    -_-"

    How much a SINGLE fax machine for a SINGLE department cost?

    Where the hell the money gone to?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Sep 17th, 2013 @ 7:19am

    wow just wow

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This