DOJ Proudly Trumpets Its Completely BS 91% FOIA Response Rate

from the transparency-through-statistical-manipulation dept

Lies, damned lies, and the DOJ's FOIA fulfillment rate.

Tom Susman, a member of the FOIA Advisory Committee, emailed the heads of the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP) and Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) on the discrepancy between the misleading 91 percent FOIA release rate commonly cited by OIP – and repeated by the rest of the government – and the more accurate release rate calculated by the Archive and others of between 50 and 60 percent.

The only entity that believes the DOJ has fulfilled 9 out of 10 FOIA requests is the DOJ. Anyone on the receiving end of its "responses" finds this number laughable.

First off, the DOJ's apparently including the thousands of requests it fulfills years after they've been requested. It's also including partial responses. And its hit rate is greatly padded by "releases" in which nothing was actually released.

[M]y experience has been that including released in part in the overall “disclosure rate” is likely to be very deceptive. In one recent example from the Department of Education, the agency “released” 200 pages of documents to a FOIA requester, only two of which were not totally redacted, and those two were correspondence from the requester. This, of course, would be counted as “released” under the 91 percent tally, but not in my universe.

Also likely included in the DOJ's inflated sense of self-worth:

- Fulfillments where "no responsive documents can be found," even when it's clear there are documents to be found

- Responses where the DOJ has claimed it can't find documents it has already released publicly

- Responses where the DOJ has been forced to turn over documents by court decisions

The number released by the DOJ is just plain dishonest. It gives the "most transparent administration" a win it clearly hasn't earned and misrepresents the FOIA experience to the general public. It gives the DOJ something to further ward off FOIA reform attempts and implies that those who do complain about its general unresponsiveness are probably blowing things out of proportion.

As Lauren Harper of Unredacted points out, the touting of this bogus success rate only makes it less likely the federal government will seriously address its constant FOIA shortcomings.

When the White House, DOJ, or others cite a 91 percent “success statistic” their aim is to present a view to the public that FOIA is working 91 percent of the time. Anyone that has looked at the stats – including the blanket denials, redactions, decades long waits – or has filed a FOIA request, knows that this “statistic” is far from the truth. A better track for the administration would be to candidly acknowledge the problems facing FOIA and work openly to fix them.

Let's face it: the DOJ isn't going to change until forced to -- "presumption of disclosure" or not. This administration has done almost nothing to push for greater transparency and neither of the incoming presidential candidates -- Hillary "Homebrew" Clinton or Donald "I Can Make My Own Laws, Right?" Trump -- are likely to have a positive effect on government accountability going forward.

Certainly, there are still legislators who are pushing for better transparency, but they're stymied by powerful agencies like the DOJ -- and, often, the administration itself. The DOJ presides over agencies which have done everything but order a hit on prolific FOIA requesters like Jason Leopold. And, while the move towards a "release to one, release to all" policy on FOIA responses is better for the public in general, it's also likely intended to discourage journalists from chasing down obscure government secrets by removing the possibility of "scooping" competitors.

The worst part is the DOJ likely doesn't care whether the general public believes its inflated response numbers. Like far too many federal agencies, it has long since shrugged off any pretense of acting in the public's interest. Its "91%" whitewash of its FOIA responsiveness covers up a 50-60% response rate -- one that's likely good enough for government work. Especially the sort of work few in the government show any interest in performing.

Filed Under: doj, foia, transparency


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  • identicon
    Christenson, 9 Sep 2016 @ 4:47pm

    Grow up, Mr Comey!

    Dear Mr Comey:
    Remember THIS? https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20160906/17042035450/fbi-wants-to-hire-young-tech-savants-has-no-i dea-how-to-attract-them.shtml

    All those young tech savants are turned off by these "misrepresentations" about how you respond to FOIA requests!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2016 @ 4:56pm

    It certainly seems like the agency had an imposed goal of 90% completion, and they were likely hard pressed to find ways to make those numbers work, but in the end they did.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Sep 2016 @ 6:51pm

    from the technicalities dept. :

    Strictly speaking, any communication to the requester in any form could be considered "responding to the FOIA request". The other category would be "flatly ignoring the requester's existance".

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

    • identicon
      Michael, 12 Sep 2016 @ 5:24am

      Re: from the technicalities dept. :

      The other category would be "flatly ignoring the requester's existance".

      No. That is the "we have not yet had a chance to respond" category. Some requests may be in here for decades, but rest-assured, when we do respond we will include them in these numbers - but not before.

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

  • icon
    Padpaw (profile), 9 Sep 2016 @ 9:00pm

    They constantly break the law when it gets in their way what is a little lying to them.

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

  • identicon
    Bob, 10 Sep 2016 @ 11:08am

    The real question.

    What's the problem with 100% transparency?

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

  • identicon
    concerned citizen, 12 Sep 2016 @ 2:29am

    really?

    Five comments? This is serious stuff. One more gram on the heap that is a big nose thumb to the American people, and the people of the world. It is to laugh as Daffy Duck said.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 12 Sep 2016 @ 2:56am

    With ol half sworn-in susie gum popper prosecuting bovine excremento 24/7, you shall simply have to exercise your juror nullification rights not waste peoples resources and time on bad law.

    Compare a car thief to a bankster.

    $100,000 car thief ought get a day in jail and 10 cent fine, when you compare to the bankster's deals. Yet with Wells Fargo what do we have again 3 felonies for 5200 employees, all who mauled us with SAR's (Suspicious Activity Report) for moving our money around. Yeah so the FRAUD called SAR, is nullified right? Right? How about the NON terrorists who got their lives screwed over that FRAUD LAW!?

    No WF can't raise their fees to pay for it all. SEIZE it from the damn CEO. Render that damn company.

    What with the SOROS money fraud, any SAR's catch that slush money? NO?

    So if hillary hypothetically dies (satan inside TM) turning into a bleeding hamburger from the inside out does the prosecutors just stop looking at her TREASON?!!!

    OH my god...

    I served freaking 30 + years ago, I think the CURRENT head of security need a SECURITY CLEARANCE AUDIT themselves. with the partying Secret Service and all this FBI crap, the embracing of a death cult. Yeah time to AUDIT you fuckers.

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

  • icon
    Dave Howe (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 6:03am

    Plus....

    the "release to one, release to all" policy then plays to their "mosaic" theory - that once you have a certain amount of redacted data, you can't have related data because it *might* allow you to deduce the redacted bits...

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

  • icon
    Whatever (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 6:23am

    Part of the problem here is the person who wrote the article (and the Techdirt writer who copied from it) pretty much moved the goal posts on what is a partial release. Sometimes people ask for stuff that cannot be released without serious redaction (including blanking out all of the 200 pages in question). It's just one of those things.

    Now, if the goal post is "the request totally matched everything the person asked for without any redaction", then the 7% figure is quite reasonable. Almost every document will have redactions (such as who wrote it, inspectors or officers involved, etc). Thus the partial count is very high.

    If you think 90% is high, perhaps you should just figure out what the goal posts are, rather than complaining that they don't match up to your desire for complete data dumping on request.

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 12 Sep 2016 @ 7:06am

    Hillary "Homebrew" Clinton or Donald "I Can Make My Own Laws, Right?" Trump

    I'll leave that here.

    America has to choose between the bad and the worse.

    It was funny though.

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


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