Thoughts on FOIA, Part 1

By the title of this post, I’m implying that my thoughts on FOIA will be a series. You know me. The next post in the series might not happen for a month or eleven. They are on my to-do list, though, so that’s a step towards it actually happening. In the meantime, the DC Council will be voting on bills (emergency and temporary) to continue the trolling–er, tolling–of timelines for responding to FOIA requests, and this is generating discussion on Twitter. Unsurprisingly. And I have THOUGHTS.

  1. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was understandable that there would be difficulties in responding to FOIA requests in the statutory timelines. We were all sent home to work remotely, many of us without adequate technology. Everything took longer. Heck, just checking email took longer. And of course any responsive records that were on paper weren’t accessible. Other barriers would have been file sizes, for example when OCTO transfers email packages to an agency FOIA officer; if files are too large and the FOIA officer doesn’t have adequate bandwidth to download the files, that could cause delays. And if the computer provided to the FOIA officer doesn’t have software that can manage redacting, that’s another source of delays due to inadequate technology.
  2. But as time went on, new technology was acquired–or could have been acquired. Here we are 18 months in, and agencies really should have ensured by now that FOIA officers have what they need to work from home. Plus, DC government employees are supposed to be working in the office three days a week, as far as I understand.
  3. SO! Timelines really ought to be back to normal.

Now, I have MORE THOUGHTS. Those thoughts include likely controversial opinions about email, about the purpose of FOIA, and how transparent government ought to be. Stay tuned for a hopefully more thoughtful and actually researched exposition on “government translucency.”

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