The Department of Justice has published its guidance on the fee restrictions imposed on agencies by the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. Basically, if agencies fail to respond to requesters within the statutory period they have to give up on collecting certain fees, including search fees.
Attorney fees have been awarded in a case brought by STS Energy Partners against the FERC. What is interesting in the case, is that the court found the documents had a public interest but that they also commercially benefited the plaintiffs. However, the court, in its discretion found that the agencies actions in withholding the documents prior to litigation and the public interest in the documents were enough to merit an award of attorney's fees. It will be interesting to see if the government accepts the decision or files an appeal of it.
Courthouse News reports that the proposed class action on FOIA delays with the Customs and Border Protection has settled - there were no details of the settlement released. It will now be interesting to see if the requests move faster through the CPB FOIA system. If they do, might other agencies be subject to these type of proposed lawsuits by requesters?
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has announced the launching of a FOIA Wiki with links to all types of information and data on the federal FOIA. It's a good resource and hopefully it will continue to provide more useful FOIA information.
Politico has this on the various lawsuits by a journalist who has a number of FOIA lawsuits against the government for emails of Hillary Clinton - it appears because the plaintiff has a number of lawsuits at the State Department, he is willing to change the timing on some of them so that the emails found by the FBI can be given priority.
Here's some positive transparency news from Federal News Radio - The DOD Office of Inspector General has began making proactive disclosures of reports the same day they are issued to those inside the agency. Hopefully this will become a best practice across the spectrum resulting in both greater openness and less FOIA requests and costs.
The FOIAblog has been silent because I've been away teaching at the ASAP Workshop in Chicago. It was a great crowd and FOIA personnel in attendance got to gather knowledge from speakers and each other.
The FOIA world has marched on - and believe it or not, there is more than one FOIA request to one agency situated in Foggy Bottom that is of interest to the FOIA world. Last week, the GAO issued a report for the Senate Judiciary Committee concerning FOIA litigation costs. The GAO concluded that due to the record keeping practices of the government, FOIA litigation costs can't be determined. It's an interesting read and hopefully, agencies will be able to come up with some changes to figure out these costs moving forward.
The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press has released a survey of journalists on the longstanding FOIA rule that a release to one is a release to all. Most journalists generally support the rule, but many seek a delay in the release to the original requester to the release of the information to the rest of the world.
This debate has become a bit of a heated topic as the federal government moves to online portals for the administration of FOIA requests. These portals generally allow anyone to see what was requested and released in almost real time. Many journalists feel that they lose a competitive edge when the results of their releases are published to the public at the same time they get the information. However, the flip side of this argument is that journalists, as members of the news media, generally do not have to pay fees for the information where a member of the general public would have to pay for this information.
The Department of Justice is supposed to be reviewing this issue and is allegedly having a meeting with "journalists" in September. Of course, with the advent of the internet and changes made to the FOIA law in 2007, it's difficult to even classify who is a "journalist" in the FOIA world.
It's a big confusing issue and will continue to be debated for, at least, the near future.