Putting TRAC to Work
  Policy and Public Interest Groups
American Oversight
March 17, 2020

The Increase in FOIA Lawsuits Isn’t the Problem — It’s Agencies Underfunding Their Transparency Obligations

Long delays are a death knell for transparency. In practical terms, access delayed is often access denied. Access to records long after the underlying issue has lost public salience, or after the relevant political officials are no longer in office, can be, as courts have long recognized, “of little value.” One effect of these significant delays is a return to the secret law that FOIA was intended to abolish — agencies are implementing policies and practices that have significant impacts on private individuals while the public remains in the dark. Delayed disclosure undermines the interests of an informed citizenry and meaningful democratic participation. With this in mind, Murray’s complaint is troubling. To begin with, the claim that requesters are suing faster is just wrong. Empirical analysis by the FOIA Project shows that, in cases when an agency hasn’t responded, requesters in 2019 waited on average more than 30 days longer than they did in 2015 before suing. The FOIA Project concluded that the number of FOIA suits has been rising because agencies haven’t been responding.

Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, Syracuse University
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