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FOIA backlog is decades old

WASHINGTON, July 2 (UPI) -- Some Freedom of Information Act requests filed 20 years ago with U.S. agencies still have not been answered, according to a new survey.

The National Security Archive at George Washington University in Washington released the Knight Open Government Survey Monday.

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What it found is that the 40-year old law has been only partly effective in compelling the government to either produce certain data and information or justify why it refuses to release it.

The National Security Archive filed FOIA requests with 87 federal agencies requesting copies of their 10 oldest pending requests.

The State Department reported 10 requests pending for more than 15 years. The Air Force and the Justice Department also had old requests. The oldest are from the 1980s -- one from 1987, two from 1988, and three from 1989, according to the report.

The oldest request was filed by the Church of Scientology in May 1987 for all documents produced by State Department offices in Italy and the Vatican related to the church or "cults."

Other requests pending after "several" years include documents related to the steel industry in Luxembourg; the 1986 Nobistor incident in which a ship containing U.S. mercenaries on a mission to Ghana was intercepted; the 1961 Berlin Crisis; the South African steel industry; the Iran-Contra Affair, and the Armenian genocide during World War I, according to the report.

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The Justice Department, which opposes FOIA reforms now being considered by Congress, still has requests pending from 2001 despite telling Congress its oldest open case was from 2003.

The bill under consideration in the Senate would impose penalties for agencies that delay responding to FOIA requests; would mandate accurate and timely tracking and reporting of FOIA requests; and would give FOIA requesters new tools to hold agencies accountable, including reimbursing attorneys' fees when agencies "play litigation games against requesters," according to the National Security Archive.

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