agencies spend millions of tax dollars opposing Americans’ successful lawsuits
seeking public records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), but can’t
say exactly how much, according to a new Government
Accountability Office (GAO) report.
Justice (DOJ) officials responsible for tracking agencies’ FOIA compliance
don’t know how much agencies spent fighting 112 cases from 2009 to 2014 in
which the plaintiff “substantially” prevailed, according to GAO. Of the 57
lawsuits agencies could track, agencies spent $1.8 million.
just a drop in the bucket compared to the $144 million agencies estimated they
spent fighting 3,350 FOIA lawsuits from 2009 to 2014, according to GAO.
policy doesn’t require department officials to track spending by agencies on
specific lawsuits, or whether the plaintiff or agency prevailed, leaving gaps
in federal records about FOIA lawsuits, according to GAO.
requiring Justice and agencies to report actual cost information could lead to
better transparency regarding federal operations, costs would be associated
with such reporting,” the GAO report said. “Considering these costs, as
well as potential benefits, could help Congress in determining whether such a
requirement would be cost-effective for enhancing oversight of FOIA
FOIA is the
main tool for journalists and members of the public to request government
documents, and agencies have 20 business days to respond. But agencies often
fail to meet that deadline, at which point the requester can file a lawsuit
against the government. (RELATED: Agency Admits It Destroyed Records After Six-Year
The Department of State is the slowest agency in responding to
FOIA requests, taking 111 days on average, according to a DOJ report released
earlier this year.
The number of
FOIA lawsuits against federal agencies continues to climb. Plaintiffs filed 290
FOIA lawsuits against agencies in 2006, but 456 in 2015, according to GAO.
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