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Project on Government Oversight

FOIA Foibles: Agencies Fail to Follow FOIA Law Requiring Response Within 20 Days

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March 16, 2012

The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires government agencies to respond to a request within 20 business days—but a recent batch of FOIA requests submitted by the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) shows that agencies still struggle to meet even this basic requirement.

Between February 3 and 6—over 20 business days ago—POGO submitted 100 FOIA requests for work done by federally contracted consultants. POGO submitted the requests to 30 different agencies and departments. To date, agencies have failed to acknowledge receipt of or respond to 23 of these requests.

Each of the 100 requests was for a specific written report or briefing produced by contractors hired as consultants to federal agencies, as well as the respective statement of work—all from named contracts.

The following agencies have not provided a response to POGO’s requests: The Department of the Treasury; the Internal Revenue Service; the Interior Department’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement; the Defense Finance and Accounting Services; and the Department of Justice. Several other agencies acknowledged some, but not all, of the requests POGO sent.

“The 20-day minimum requirement for acknowledgement under FOIA is a low bar, but in this case, it was a bar that agencies couldn’t clear in nearly one out of four requests,” POGO wrote in an article about the requests. “[This] batch of requests offers another piece of evidence showing that there’s still plenty of room for improvement when it comes to FOIA administration.”

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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