Report: FOIA compliance down since 9/11

Government compliance with the Freedom of Information Act appears to be deteriorating in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, according to a Society of Environmental Journalists report released today, A Flawed Tool – Environmental Reporters’ Experiences with the Freedom of Information Act.

The SEJ interviewed 55 reporters, finding that excessive delays in releasing information are common – with some FOIA requests taking more than a year to fulfill. Even when documents are turned over, agencies frequently black out huge amounts of information, the report found.

Among the report’s findings:

  • Three-quarters of the reporters interviewed who use FOIA on an occasional or frequent basis encountered significant delays in getting information from federal agencies. In some cases, those delays exceeded a year.
  • The federal agencies most cited for failing to respond promptly and fully were the Department of Energy, Department of Defense, Food and Drug Administration and the Mine Safety and Health Administration.
  • Some agencies decline to answer routine inquiries for documents such as Superfund reports and underground mine inspection reports, forcing reporters to file time-consuming FOIA requests for the information.

“This report clearly shows that Congress needs to take action to make sure agencies are complying with the Freedom of Information Act, and should set up a system to punish those that aren’t,” said SEJ President Perry Beeman, who covers environment for The Des Moines Register.