I make a lot of FOIA requests, often to less-popular agencies and installations. Sadly, of late very few of these requests have turned up much interesting for this blog, but there are other less tangible benefits. One of the oddest benefits to making requests of unusual “targets” is that you often get (much!) better service from the part-time FOIA staff there than you do from the half-trained goons who have long since stopped caring. (I’m looking at you, State Department…)
Case in point: Earlier this week I received a phone call from a part-time FOIA case officer at some military facility somewhere. (Part-time as in he’s got a real 40-hour job, but also gets to handle the dozen or two FOIA requests the command receives every year.) He’d located the records I’d requested, he said, and could release them to me in full in a couple of minutes – if I’d waive any interest in the cover page.
Now, long-time readers will know that this isn’t the first time that a government agency has contacted me asking me to withdraw all or part of an FOIA request I’ve made, and that in the past I’ve been very cynically bitter about this practice, particularly when it applies to the entirety of a document or record.
In this case, the gentleman said, the report was releasable in full – but the cover memo included some kind of note of thanks to the people who’d contributed to it, and whose names were exempt from release under b(6)c – personal information.
I totally understood that, and told him that. Why ask for me to amend my request to exclude that one page, though, I asked? Just (so I cynically expected) to pad the command’s FOIA stats – a “release in full” rather than a “release in part”?
Not at all, he said. It was because he, as the command’s FOIA officer, was authorized to make a release determination on the report itself – he’d been delegated “initial release authority” – but didn’t have the authority to deny the release of the information requiring redaction on the cover sheet – “initial denial authority”.
So, if I don’t want the cover sheet, he can just e-mail me the report. If I want the cover sheet, he has to bounce the whole thing up the chain to Washington, where it goes to the back of the queue, and I get the whole report plus the redacted cover letter in, oh, eight or ten months.
Thinking about it, I guess that sort of makes sense in a twisted backwards bureaucratic sort of way…
Anyway, if you’re ever contacted by FOIA personnel asking you to amend the scope of your request to exclude specific documents or whatever, that’s (possibly) the reasoning. Now you know, and knowing is half the battle, et cetera.