Department of State officials took 111 days on average to process Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests in 2014, far longer than any other federal agency, and only 10 percent of State’s FOIA officers took required training — the worst attendance record of any major federal agency.
A newly released 2016 Department of Justice (DOJ) report on agency FOIA compliance revealed these blistering findings. The report bolsters criticisms from U.S. District Court Judge Richard Leon and others over the agency’s failure to respond to FOIA requests involving former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her staff. Leon scolded State officials last summer when they didn’t hand over the 60 emails demanded in a request, saying, “even the least ambitious bureaucrat could do this.”
“Historically I usually looked at the State Department as one of the better agencies, and most of this mostly has to do with who’s in charge,” Mark Zaid, a D.C. attorney who has handled federal FOIA litigation for more than two decades, told TheDCNF. “I’m not sure what happened in the last (few) years.”
The agency’s poor FOIA training attendance record was only matched by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s 10 percent attendance rate. Most major agencies had FOIA training compliance above 80 percent. Zaid, who has represented TheDCNF in FOIA cases, said he has “no way to even respond as to why only 10 percent of their staff has gone to training.”
State’s 111-day average — the longest of any federal agency that received at least 1,000 requests in 2014 — is twice as long as the second-slowest major agency, the Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT took an average of 56.5 days to respond.
Federal law gives agencies 20 days to respond to FOIA requests, meaning the average State Department response took more than five times the statutory limit.
Zaid acknowledged the agency is inundated with Clinton-related requests, but said he has represented clients who have waited more than a year to get their own personnel files from the State Department.
“The success of FOIA very much depends on cultural attitude from the inside, perhaps more than anything else,” Zaid said. “The statute can say one thing, but if the attitude is not there internally, it’s not going to make a difference.”
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
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