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Washington's FOIA Denials Up 33 Percent

10:01 AM, Jul 24, 2014 • By JERYL BIER
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Each year the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requires all federal agencies and departments to file reports detailing FOIA requests submitted by the public. Each report contains statistics on requests submitted, processed, granted (full or partial), and denied, in addition to current backlogged requests. The Justice Department then compiles a summary of the information provided by the other governmental units. The report for 2013 indicates a government-wide increase of 33 percent in full denials of FOIA requests from the previous year.

DOJ

The 2013 report shows that of the 678,391 requests processed, a total of 41,380 (6.1 percent) full denials of information were issued based on FOIA statutory exemptions. The 2012 report said that of 665,924 requests processed that fiscal year, only 30,727 (4.6 percent) resulted in a full denial.

(If only requests that qualified for exemption applicability are considered, the denial rates for 2013 and 2012 were 8.6 percent and 6.6 percent respectively. These measurements exclude requests for which no records are found or which are dismissed for other administrative reasons, such as withdrawal by the requester.)

The 4.6 percent denial rate in 2012 was the lowest of the Obama administration. Previous years and rates were 2011, 4.8 percent; 2010, 5 percent; and 2009, 6 percent; making 2013 the highest year yet. The final year of the Bush administration, 2008, the rate was 4 percent.

In addition to an increase in the number of denials, the number of backlogged requests rose 33 percent as well, from 71,790 at the end of fiscal 2012 to 95,564 as of the end of fiscal 2013, the highest level so far in the Obama administration. The increase in the backlog may be partially attributable to the record number of requests made in 2013 (704,394), up 53,140 over 2012 (651,254.)

The ten oldest backlogged requests date to 1993-1994, and all are pending with the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA.) When asked for comment about this distinction, NARA spokesperson Miriam Kleiman said, "NARA serves as the archives for the permanent records of all government agencies, but NARA does not have the authority to declassify information that is classified for national security purposes." Kleiman said that NARA must refer all such requests back to the original agency for declassification decisions. Also, many of the requests consist of only a few documents with the bulk the materials already released. Kleiman said NARA regularly follows up on such requests with the original agency. Despite this, more that 600 such requests at NARA have been outstanding for more than a decade. 

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