‘Dismal’ State Department Given An ‘F’ On Transparency

Chuck Ross Investigative Reporter
Font Size:

A government watchdog rated the State Department the worst performing federal agency in terms of its fulfillment of public records requests — and it wasn’t even close.

The agency, which is currently at the center of a scandal involving former Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails, received a failing score of 37 percent in the analysis, conducted by the Center for Effective Government. The next worst-scoring agency was the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which received a 57 percent score.

The Center for Effective Government analysis covered the 15 agencies that received the most requests under the Freedom of Information Act in 2012 and 2013, the years for which data is most recent.

The analysis covers much of Clinton’s tenure at State, which stretched from January 2009 to February 2013.

Agencies were rated on three criteria: the establishment of clear rules guiding the release of information; the quality and “user-friendliness” of the agency’s FOIA website; and the timeliness and full completion of requests.

The State Department received by far the worst score — 23 percent — in terms of its completion of requests. That category was given the greatest weight in overall scoring. The next most deficient agency was the Department of Labor, which scored 49 percent.

State also pulled up the rear in terms of its disclosure rules, scoring a 33 on that metric. The Department of Health and Human Services was next worst with a score of 38.

In the category of FOIA website design, State fared much better. It scored an 80 percent on that metric. State’s FOIA portal is indeed approachable relative to some other agencies.

The Center for Effective Government was scathing in its comments about State’s handling of FOIA. Its score was described as “dismal” and “completely out of line with any other agency’s performance.”

The Center also described it as “a serious outlier” displaying a “serious pattern of failure.”

While 65 percent of State’s requests were considered “simple,” only seven percent of its requests were processed within the required 20 days. The next worst performing agency was the Department of Homeland Security, which filled 33 percent of requests within the 20-day window.

State completed only 17 percent of FOIA requests it received in 2013, according to the Center’s analysis. It fully denied 49 percent of requests as well. Only the Securities and Exchange Commission came close to that level of denials — rejecting 22 percent of its requests in full.

State’s dismal scores cannot be attributed to a heavy workload or strained resources, according to the Center’s statistics.

The agency received 18,753 requests in fiscal year 2013. That pales in comparison to DHS’s 231,534 requests. State’s case load — measured as the number of requests per staff — is 119. Again, State is average in that regard. DHS has a case load of 384. HHS’s is 224, and the Department of Justice’s is 140.

According to the Center for Effective Government, State’s FOIA woes stem from it having “some of the most outdated regulations on the scorecard.”

It was also dinged for being out of compliance with legal mandate by not requiring staff to notify requesters when processing is delayed.

The release of the scathing report is timely, given the focus on Clinton’s exclusive use of a private email account were hosted on a server registered to her Chappaqua, N.Y., home.

Federal employees’ emails, even those sent from private accounts, are considered federal records, which must be made available to FOIA requests.

But numerous requests for Clinton’s emails were left unfilled because the agency claimed that it could not find the records. Clinton turned over 55,000 pages of printed emails to the State Department only in December. And it appears that she did so only in response to a House committee’s investigation into the Sept. 11, 2012, attack in Benghazi. Clinton should have made those records available much sooner than she did. (RELATED: State Department Refusing To Answer How It Handled Open Records Requests For Hillary’s Emails)

The website Gawker reported last week that it received a response from the State Department claiming that no records of Clinton’s emails could be found. And as The Daily Caller reported last week, the group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) filed a very specific request for all information about Clinton’s alias email accounts. CREW, which is now controlled by rabid Clinton supporter David Brock, claimed it had received no response to the request. A staffer at the agency’s FOIA office told TheDC that the request had been closed in May 2013. The staffer did not indicate whether any records were turned over.

TheDC also reported last week that the State Department has refused to answer specific questions about how it handled FOIA requests for Clinton’s emails.

Clinton will reportedly address the scandal in a press conference on Tuesday.

Follow Chuck on Twitter