David McCraw, legal counsel to The New York Times newsroom, testified Tuesday that the Obama administration has a “culture of unresponsiveness” when it comes to fulfilling Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, and that the administration has made the Times wait years to get simple FOIA information.
“Last year, I filed eight FOIA lawsuits on behalf of The Times,” McCraw testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. “Much of that litigation was driven not by actual disagreement about legal issues but in response to unacceptable delay by agencies. In other words, we find ourselves compelled to initiate litigation simply to prompt agencies to act upon a request.”
McCraw called the process “wasteful and inefficient.”
“We called more than 10 times and left messages. Almost all of those calls went unreturned,” McCraw said about one request that the Times filed to the Department of Justice for budgetary information. “Finally we filed a lawsuit out of frustration.”
“Forcing requesters to litigate to get a response is a waste of government resources,” McCraw said. “But more than that, a citizen’s right to get information released in a timely fashion should not turn on whether the citizen is fortunate enough to have the resources and know-how to sue.”
“In our written submission, we include a letter from an agency that has sat on a request for nearly four years and now wants to know whether we are still interested,” McCraw added.
McCraw noted that “much of the delay appears to have little to do with the nature and complexity of the actual requests, but instead results from a culture of unresponsiveness,” and that “the leaders of many agencies are permitting those [congressional] deadlines to be ignored by staff.”
“In the documents we provided to the committee, we include an agency response letter saying it would take 15 years to finish the consultation and respond to our request. Not surprisingly, when we sued, a federal judge found that was simply not the case and ordered release of the information.”