Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits continued to break record highs in FY 2018. According to case-by-case court records, 860 FOIA lawsuits were filed in FY 2018 against government agencies. In addition, the backlog of FOIA suits waiting to be decided rose to 1,204 cases, an all-time high.
Compared to an average of 402 FOIA suits per year during the Obama Administration, the rate of filing since President Trump assumed office has more than doubled. While suits rose during the latter years of the Obama Administration, the 860 suits filed in FY 2018, represent a 67 percent increase over filings during the last full fiscal year of the Obama Administration.
Lawsuits filed during FY 2018 showed a repeating pattern: heightened scrutiny of high-profile government officials. Public interest groups, primarily nonprofits and news organizations, led the way in filing a slew of FOIA lawsuits seeking records pertaining to spending by government officials in several federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, among others. Public interest groups represented the full political spectrum, and filed lawsuits to seek documents that probed into practices by government officials from both the left and right.
Accompanying this report, FOIAproject.org has just updated the period covered by the project’s FOIA Lawsuits App. This free user tool allows the public to drill into these numbers to track FOIA litigation trends over time.
In FY 2018, the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security remained in the top spots, although the number of suits against each, especially Homeland Security, have increased significantly. Across the board, FY 2018 was a record-setting year for number of suits filed against top agencies. Both the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security were sued more frequently under FOIA than any previous year. In FY 2016, the Department of Homeland Security was sued 67 times. That number has jumped to 150 suits in FY 2018. Similarly, the Department of Justice was sued 165 times in FY 2016, and 228 times in FY 2018.
Since FY 2016, Veterans Affairs has fallen out of the top ten, and been replaced by the Department of Education. The two newcomers to the top ten list in FY 2018 are the Department of Education and Environmental Protection Agency, which have replaced Veterans Affairs and the Central Intelligence Agency, which fell to 12th and 15th places respectively. The Department of Commerce tied with the Department of Education for 10th place, with 28 suits filed against it.
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