Following up with FOIA at DHS

Emails that had been only partially released last summer by the Department of Homeland Security have been released without redactions just in time for a congressional committee to ask agency appointees about allegations the department let political concerns influence its compliance with the Freedom of Information Act under the Obama Administration.

A July 21, 2010 Associated Press article (“AP IMPACT: A political filter for info requests”) revealed that DHS had been shunting certain FOIA requests into a pipeline for review by political appointees. While the Department maintained that less than 0.5 percent of requests had been held for such review and that political appointees ordered no documents improperly withheld, House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa summoned two DHS officials to testify at a hearing on Thursday. (Also scheduled to testify are DHS Acting IG Charles Edwards and EPIC’s John Verdi.)

This also follows up on concerns Issa had expressed the year before, with Senator Charles Grassley, when the two wrote to inspectors general at 29 agencies to find out whether such practices were an exception or a rule.

There are a few subtle points we’d like to highlight here. First, the subsequent release of unredacted emails raises questions about the propriety of the initial redactions – and suggests the department was being unduly cautious in withholding information. Second, the Associated Press reported that DHS “never responded to its formal appeal” – not a good sign. Finally, we take some pride in noting that the July 2010 AP story concluded by noting that the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS) had helped resolve the initial “seven-month disagreement.”

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