To add to the lawsuits that result when the government misses its deadline to provide information subject to the Freedom of Information Act, we may soon see a lawsuit against USDI’s effort to not have to provide the information in the first place. Comments on their proposed new FOIA regulations were due Monday.
(The purpose is to) “streamline the FOIA submission process in order to help the Department inform requesters and/or focus on meeting its statutory obligations.”
The department proposes limiting the number of requests that individuals or groups could file each month, and to “not honor a request that requires an unreasonably burdensome search or requires the bureau to locate, review, redact, or arrange for inspection of a vast quantity of material.”
A department spokeswoman said making the process more efficient would “ensure more equitable and regular access to federal records for all requesters, not just litigious special interest groups.”
FOIA represents a strong statement from Congress about the importance of open government. Responses to FOIA requests often reveal illegal activity and become the basis for lawsuits. Still, every administration seems to stamp its own bias on its FOIA procedures, and this is Trump and Zinke.
As a practical matter, it can take a lot of agency resources to comply with FOIA requirements. But as a legal matter, the law is pretty clear about what has to be provided and how fast. Regulations can’t change that. There is nothing in the law that excuses agencies from honoring a request if they happen to take actions that generate “vast” quantities of material, or if some aspect of providing required material is “burdensome.”
(Could the USDA Forest Service be brewing something similar?)