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July 13, 2015

This Week in FOIA: DOJ Guidance and Fee Status Decision

The Department of Justice has issued guidance on when it is appropriate and how still interested letters should be used by requesters. Some agencies have been accused of using still interested letters as a way to close requests rather than processing the material. Judge Christopher Cooper of the District of Columbia Federal Court has overturned a Department of Homeland Security decision that the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), which is associated with Syracuse University was a commercial user for FOIA purposes. The decision found that TRAC was both a member of the news media and an education user for FOIA fees. This case shows that there is a dire need for leadership in FOIA - there was no reason it got to litigation in the first place. I'm not sure it was even a close case that plaintiff would not prevail, and even if it was a close case, the fee classification should have gone to the requester as FOIA should be read in the most liberal and broad manner to promote transparency. This is important in fee cases, especially in light of the fact that if DHS had gotten fees they would have gone to the general treasury, not the DHS FOIA program. Instead over a year of court clogging litigation has taken place and the requester is still waiting for the request to be processed.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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