Talking Points Memo reports that the State Department has quietly ended its efforts to reduce its long term large FOIA backlog which started during former Secretary Rex Tillerson's helm at the agency. The "surge" was controversial because it took many high officials and moved them to FOIA duties in which they believed were beneath their stature as high ranking State Department Officials. Many of these individuals who were GS-14 or 15 (or higher) were doing tasks they believed were more fit for a GS-3 or 4.
Now that this "surge" is over, here are my thoughts (which I can summarize to say "a pox on both their houses):
- Tillerson was right to try to fix the State FOIA issues - they have existed for many years during many administrations (of both parties);
- The State Department's approach to FOIA has always been out of the mainstream - rather than hire FOIA professionals to run the program, the agency relies on former State diplomatic officials to process records, relies on each program office to conduct searches, and promotes ineffective managers rather than figure out ways to remove them;
- Moving non-FOIA employees to do FOIA duties, in which they always felt were below them even when they were running program offices that resulted in some of the FOIA problems themselves was a terrible management decision (it makes you wonder how Exxon does so well and if it could have been making much more money during the Tillerson years);
- There probably was some punishment to move these people to FOIA jobs;
- Treating FOIA as a negative thing is never a good thing - the State Department needs to rethink its entire attitude towards transparency.
- Every new State Department (actually every new Executive Department employee) should have mandatory FOIA/Privacy Act/Records Management Training and then a refresher course every 3-5 years;
- If the State Department wants to fix its FOIA issues, there are ways to do it but they need to reach out to FOIA professionals outside of the agency and come up with a detailed plan.