JULY 03, 2007
The federal act that grants Americans the power to request government information turns 40 this week but its systematic failures have worsened with most federal agencies rarely meeting the law’s response deadline and some taking decades to reply.
The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) will celebrate the big 4-0 on the 4th of July amid serious flaws that include out of control backlogs and repeated violations from federal agencies that rarely abide by the law’s 20-day deadline to reply to public requests.
A new study appropriately called 40 Years of FOIA, 20 Years of Delay found rampant violations among most federal agencies, including one requester that has been waiting two decades for the State Department to produce documents about the Church of Scientology and at least five federal agencies that have failed to answer requests made 15 years ago.
Besides the State Department, those severely backlogged agencies that over the years have blown off requesters include the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Air Force and the Central Intelligence Agency.
A dozen other government agencies have requests pending a decade or longer and 10 of them – including the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Department of the Treasury and the CIA–lied in annual reports to Congress about the lengthy delays.
Despite the widespread inexcusable delays among the majority of government agencies, there have been no consequences or punishment for the ongoing violations. This certainly defeats the purpose of the act, which Congress passed four decades ago because Americans have the right to know the facts regarding the activities of their government.
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