Dept. Of Interior Wants To Rewrite FOIA Law To Make It Easier To Reject Requests

from the fully-committed-to-screwing-the-general-populace dept

The US Department of the Interior wants to do all it can to comply with recent changes to FOIA law. It wants transparency and accountability just as much as US citizens want it. In the comments preceding its proposed changes [PDF] to FOIA response procedures, it has this to say:

The Department is fully committed to an equitable FOIA program that ensures compliance with the statutory requirements of transparency, accountability, and prompt production.

Here's how it's planning to "ensure compliance" and produce all the good stuff compliance would bring. (h/t Steve Reilly)

The bureau will not honor a request that requires an unreasonably burdensome search or requires the bureau to locate, review, redact, or arrange for inspection of a vast quantity of material.

Hmm. This doesn't sound like compliance at all. This sounds like an agency rewriting FOIA law to limit the number of FOIA requests it will respond to. This determination will be made solely by the agency, which is giving itself a brand new exception to FOIA requirements. Sure, requesters can challenge this determination, but it's probably going to take a lawsuit to dislodge documents held by an agency so very committed to "transparency, accountability, and prompt production."

The DOI says this new limitation is necessary because it's seen a surge in requests and litigation. These are inextricably linked, thanks to the agency's inability/unwillingness to respond to requests in a timely fashion.

The problem goes deeper than the backlog. Government agencies don't throw much money or manpower at responding to FOIA requests, preferring instead to spend taxpayer dollars fighting taxpayers in court over requested documents.

The DOI's recent leadership has contributed to this problem by making a relatively uninteresting department highly FOIA-able. Ryan Zinke's departure from the Department at the end of last year won't do much to slow the bleeding. Zinke's 21-month stint was marked by controversy after controversy, including shady real estate deals, abuse of travel privileges, $139,000-worth of office doors, and a long list of attacks on animal conservation efforts. The paper trail he leaves behind is of considerable public interest, and the surge in FOIA requests his agency is facing is evidence of that.

The good news is the public can comment on this proposed change. The bad news is, of course, the change could be implemented over the objections of the American people. The suggestion box is open but it's not like anyone's counting votes for and against.

If this does get codified, other federal agencies will certainly push for their own exception -- one that grants them the power to unilaterally reject FOIA requests. This will result in a self-fulfilling justification for increased restrictions on FOIA responses as agencies will always experience an uptick in FOIA litigation with rules like these in place.

Filed Under: department of interior, foia, transparency


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  • icon
    Gary (profile), 9 Jan 2019 @ 3:36pm

    Easier?

    Because they don't automatically reject them all now?

    Seriously - other than the petty bureaucrats that make these innate decisions - who supports this? Is this somehow a partisan issue, "Government has the right to operate without interference?"

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 9 Jan 2019 @ 4:46pm

      Re: Easier?

      Without going down the nutty conspiracy rabbit hole (or maybe I am) there is enough evidence floating around to say that our government wants to operate as they want to operate, without any oversight from the electorate.

      The evolution of the political parties (reversing sides and controlling who gets on the ballot and gerrymandering voting districts in their favor, when they have the majority in any given state, then gerrymandering them back when things reverse, etc.) and indoctrinating their constituents to continue unfettered support, even with the policy reversals says a lot.

      The various three letter agencies performing searches in violation of the clear meaning of the 4th Amendment. Agencies (as in this case) refusing to follow the letter of the law with regard to FOIA requests, and (as in this case) at least trying to create additional roadblocks to FOIA requests. Agencies failing to follow through on directives from their own Inspector Generals for failures of many stripes. Then there are other things like creating sting operations that have no foundation in any truth. Arresting US citizens and trying to deport them to some other country. Trying to use US law to take down a company that wasn't based in the US. Etc..

      And this isn't just federal. Look at how the police are acting. Using military equipment when it isn't necessary, asset forfeitures when no crime is involved, shooting first then considering circumstances, etc.. In that light, look at the current federal response to police misconduct where the DoJ announced they would no longer look into such episodes.

      I think it is a bipartisan issue as these behaviors have developed, unchecked, even with changes in administrations and different configurations in congress. It is all about power. What the endgame is might cover a significant area of the spectrum, but through power is how they intend to implement it. It is difficult to tell just what the game is, as the players (politicians and bureaucrats) change over time, and this has been in development now for decades.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 9 Jan 2019 @ 6:37pm

        Re: Re: Easier?

        Thomas Jefferson said that every government should come with an expiration date. Barring that, we needed to keep enough guns in the hands of the people to keep the government honest. Since the government seems to have no problem spending money it doesn't have and ignoring the restrictions we placed on it, its time to replace it.

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

        • icon
          Ben (profile), 9 Jan 2019 @ 10:08pm

          Re: Re: Re: Easier?

          Thomas Jefferson said that every government should come with an expiration date. Barring that, we needed to keep enough guns in the hands of the people to keep the government honest.

          [citation needed]

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

        • icon
          Thad (profile), 10 Jan 2019 @ 7:30am

          Re: Re: Re: Easier?

          Thomas Jefferson said that every government should come with an expiration date.

          Jefferson was famous for referencing food safety guidelines introduced in the 1970s.

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

      • identicon
        GEMont, 11 Jan 2019 @ 11:59pm

        Re: Re: Easier?

        The Game is a simple Get Richer Quicker Scam.

        Its where the very wealthy alter the laws so that they can rob the nation blind, legally.

        It doesn't matter if the scam does not last long because the wealthy are busily pulling in millions of US dollars every day and like all the rich-guy scams of the past, nobody involved in this Reverse Robin Hood scenario will suffer any consequences when and if the scam and its membership is busted.

        They changed the laws of the land first and are thus not guilty of breaking any laws.

        The peasants have had a good run and have accumulated a ton of nice things. Its now time for the lords of the land to legally reverse that trend and take all those nice things for themselves.

        Call it Trickle Up Economics.

        Fascism is not a form of government.

        Its a business plan.

        ---

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 9 Jan 2019 @ 4:42pm

    The suggestion box is sitting on top of the waste can... or is that the shredder under there?

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

  • icon
    stderric (profile), 9 Jan 2019 @ 4:53pm

    It gets mentioned almost every day now on TD, but I'll mention it again: humor is getting to be either impossible or redundant when it comes to the government. I mean, how the hell is someone supposed to satirize We need to reject more FOIA requests because it costs too much to reject FOIA requests?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2019 @ 1:31am

    typical of what the USA government depts have tried to turn themselves into, ie, basically, above the law, just like our present president!! does this remind people of countries and leaders from the world's past?

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

    • icon
      Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 10 Jan 2019 @ 7:13am

      Re:

      It's what happens when democratic norms are eroded. It's up to We The People to keep their feet to the fire.

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

      • identicon
        GEMont, 11 Jan 2019 @ 11:45pm

        Re: Re:

        Feet to the fire.... methinks one's time might be better spent attempting to get We The Peoples' heads out of their asses.

        One must realize that once a voting system becomes fully corrupt, the public threat of NOT VOTING for someone no longer has teeth.

        Once the politicians know who will win and who will not, before the vote is cast, they can and will, do as they damn well please.

        Exactly what we are seeing today.

        ---

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2019 @ 6:55am

    FOIA is a flawed concept

    A government "of, for and by" the people should have everything accessible by the people. ALL operating reports and budgets should be online, like open source. Lets Open source our government.

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 10 Jan 2019 @ 7:04am

    Title

    While they're at it, are they going to retitle the act? Maybe to something like: F*** Off Idiots Act

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

  • identicon
    theycanpoundsalt, 10 Jan 2019 @ 6:41pm

    Fix the problem

    considering the gov created massive red tape that generates the "ton" of documents that they have to review.. it's their responsibilty to deal with it..

    you don't want a burdensome process to review/redact/etc.. i suggest you make your processes less burdensome, record/form generating.. and guess what, you will have less to review!!!

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

    • identicon
      GEMont, 11 Jan 2019 @ 11:34pm

      Re: Fix the problem

      You make it sound like the creation of their "claimed" moronic lack-of-filing non-system was a mistake they need to correct.

      How could they realistically claim to need a legal loophole because of the horrid state of their record-keeping, if they don't convince the public that their record keeping ability is a complete disaster?

      The simple truth however, is that they can and often do - for special corporate clients - search and retrieve thousands of documents in mere minutes, using their state of the art (tax-payer purchased) documents storage, retrieval and record-filing systems.

      It is only the public-face of the agency that cannot find its ass with both hands, and that is 100% agency policy and has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with their record storage and retrieval capacity.

      If the claim was true, you would be seeing that agency begging for federal funds to update its technology, every two years, minimum.

      As with almost every other branch of the American Fascist Government, bull-shitting the public, while shrugging off legal irritants that might benefit the public in some fashion, is now policy.

      And why not? After all, like you, Americans mostly believe the bullshit their government and its agents spew, and besides, Americans no longer have the means to verify or dispute the claims anyway.

      F.O.I.A. now stands for "Fuck Off Inquisitive Americans"

      --

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

  • identicon
    GEMont, 11 Jan 2019 @ 11:12am

    Requiem; Cause of death; Fascism - national putrefaction

    Ah, the inevitable growth of fascist control, as it continues to shield itself from the clutches of those it exploits, while insuring only that the millionaires making up its membership, thrive and profit at the expense of all others, by changing the laws of the land.

    Keep up the great work America. Your continued ignorance of the situation you face and your determined failure to act in self defense, will insure the fascists succeed in bringing America to its knees financially from within, and thus create a perfect warning to the people of all other nations on earth.

    We've never before actually witnessed and thus recorded, the process of national disintegration from within, at the hands of a nation's own wealthiest individuals, since it is they, the winners, who always write history.

    Fascism. National Entropy.

    Know that your sacrifice will aid those other nations who are watching your demise, in protecting themselves from the greed of those who are least in need, when the fascist millionaires use these same methods in their own respective nations.

    Thank you Americans.
    You do the nations of the world a great service.
    You will not be forgotten.
    Soon.

    ---

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


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