The Department of Justice has issued this guidance about calculating guidance during the recent government furlough. Requesters should be aware that not all agencies, such as the State Department were shutdown and should take that into consideration when calculating the response time.
According to Digital Journal, the National Press Club is offering classes on making FOIA requests. As many who work day to day in FOIA know, there is an art to making effective FOIA requests. A well written request will help both the requester and the agency in processing the request in a timely manner.
Courthouse News Service reports that United States District of Columbia District Court Judge Beryl Howell has ruled that a National Security Directive issued by President George W. Bush may be withheld as it is not an agency record. Howell's reasoning was that it was a White House record, the White House itself is not subject to the FOIA.
Now that the government shutdown is over, many are wondering how will I be trained, how will the new employees in my office be trained or boy that person I just dealt with needs to be trained, where can I send them for this training?
I am so glad you asked -- The American Society of Access Professionals --ASAP--(I am currently the President of the organization) has a Privacy training coming up on December 5 -- and if you are out of the DC area, there is also live streaming available -- click here for details.
And in the very near future, ASAP will be rolling out professional quality webinars. A few are already in the post production phase and will be available at asap in the near future.
The Department of Justice has promised to make its upcoming schedule available shortly and to reschedule things canceled from the furlough. You can keep abreast of its schedule here.
I've been trying to find out which FOIA Offices in the federal government are currently open -- I know that the State Department was open after October 1, but am not sure of any others. If you work at a FOIA Office or have been in contact with one since October 1, please let me know so I can update this blog. Either leave a comment below or contact me directly at twitter (@thefoiablog), the foiablog's facebook page or via email at email@example.com
Open (as of 10/10)
US Air Force Historical Research Agency FOIA Office
Senator Pat Leahy, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee made a statement on the floor of the Senate on Saturday concerning the ongoing goverment shutdown. The wide ranging statement concerned all of the issues that his committee has jurisdiction on. He specifically said the following concerning the FOIA:
"We also take for granted that our open and transparent government is a cornerstone of our democracy and a shining example of civic involvement. Even the public’s right to know is compromised because of this shutdown. Every Member of Congress, regardless of political party or ideology, should be alarmed.
Right now, Americans seeking help with Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests encounter “closed for business” signs at many of the Federal offices that facilitate them. The National Archives and Records Administration Office of Government Information Services – a critical office established by the Leahy-Cornyn OPEN Government Act to mediate FOIA disputes – is not operating due to the shutdown of the Federal government. And according to several press reports, the Department of Justice has also sought stays in several important FOIA cases – including FOIA litigation seeking information about the government's use of the PATRIOT ACT to collect data on Americans’ telephone calls – due to the lapse in Federal funding.
This shutdown has impacted other agencies, too. The Center for Effective Government reports that the processing of FOIA requests has been suspended at the Social Security Administration, the Federal Trade Commission and the National Labor Relations Board. The National Security Agency, an agency facing a public trust deficit in light of revelations detailing its sweeping surveillance of Americans’ emails and phone calls, has also ceased the processing of FOIA and Privacy Act requests. Many other Federal agencies have either taken their websites off-line or stopped updating their websites. We literally have a closed government."
The shutdown has already had a major impact on the FOIA community. FOIA Operations at most agencies have been shutdown (and those where the agencies, like the State Department, have found money to remain open will only do so for a short period of time).
FOIA litigation has been stayed in many, if not all cases. Politico reports on a couple of major cases that now have stays. I've had to authorize stays in cases where I represent requesters because attorneys at all of the offices that defend the government have told me they are not permitted to work on FOIA cases during the shutdown (if they are permitted to work at all). So the lengthy litigation process becomes lengthier.
Websites that the public, including reporters are either down or not being updated with information. According to the National Journal, the shutdown is terrible for transparency.
All of this because a group of individuals hate the Affordable Care Act, which has nothing to do with any of this. In fact and ironically, there are a number of FOIA requests out there in which seek information about the ACA. Those requests will also likely be delayed.
What isn't clear from any of this is how time is going to be counted for those in the administrative process. Are shutdown days business days under the FOIA? What about agencies that are open during the shutdown? If a requester has to write an appeal in a certain amount of time, is that time tolled if the agency is not open? These are the kinds of questions one ponders when they aren't receiving phone calls from FOIA agency personnel to discuss their requests.
I think I can speak for the entire FOIA community that the government shutdown is a disgrace and does absolutely nothing to further the interests of open government. Agency FOIA Offices have, for the most part, shut down meaning no requests will be received or worked on. Requesters will have to wait longer for their requests to be not only received but to be processed.
FOIA litigation that requires governmental action is now on hold. Yesterday a number of stays were asked for pending the reopening of the government.
Some Congress people claim they are for open goverment. if they truly are they will push for Congress to pass clean continuing resolutions and then work to appropriate funds to all agencies so the government can work as the people expect.