June 22, 2018

National Security Archive Audit Shows U.S Government Agencies Struggling to Respond to FOIA Requests for Email

From the National Security Archive:

Two out of five federal agencies claimed that they were either unable or not required to respond to a targeted Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for agency emails submitted by the National Security Archive. The responses to the Archive’s FOIA request – detailed in the FOIA Audit released today to mark Sunshine Week – show that a year after agencies were required to manage email electronically, FOIA requesters are often not seeing the benefit of any improved email management.

The Archive’s Audit team filed the same FOIA request with all 100 federal agency FOIA offices that are required to submit an annual FOIA report to the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy. The request sought all emails received from January 20, 2017, through April 28, 2017, from any Republican National Committee domain, including but not limited to rnchq.org. The Archive wanted to see which agencies were receiving emails from rnchq.org email accounts in light of reporting that prominent members of President Trump’s administration were inappropriately using their RNC email accounts rather than their White House addresses.

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Source: National Security Archive

The responses to our FOIA requests were scattershot. Some agencies promptly responded to our request, others sought clarification before doing so, and many have yet to respond. But too large a percentage of agencies inappropriately denied our request by saying that they could not search emails agency-wide and/or required specific email addresses in order to conduct a search, which is often an impossible data point for FOIA requesters to isolate when seeking information.

All of the search issues agencies cited to avoid responding to our FOIA request have tangible solutions, most obviously for FOIA offices to communicate with their IT departments to see if a search is possible before denying a FOIA request.

Read the Complete Report

Direct to 2018 Audit Chart

See Also: NEW: Dept. of Homeland Security (DHS) Publishes 2018 Chief FOIA Officer Report
55 pages; PDF.

See Also: United States Dept. of Justice Launches New Redesign of FOIA.gov and First Iteration of National FOIA Portal

Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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