Bipartisan, bicameral group releases GAO Report finding increases in FOIA backlogs and continued delays in agency compliance

WASHINGTON DC (March 16, 2020) — Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles "Chuck" Grassley (R-IA), House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairwoman Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY), Senate Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), and Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), released the findings of a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report titled “Freedom of Information Act: Federal Agencies’ Recent Implementation Efforts.”

The lawmakers requested that GAO conduct a comprehensive review of agency compliance with The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) because some agencies were not fully implementing reforms required in the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016. Today’s report is the first of two planned GAO reports on FOIA compliance.

GAO’s findings for fiscal years 2012 through 2018 include:

  • The backlog of FOIA requests has grown more than 80% since fiscal year 2012, driven in part by increased requests. 
  • Only one out of four FOIA requests, 27%, were fully granted.
  • Agencies made fewer than 155,000 proactive disclosures in fiscal year 2018.
  • FOIA staff have increased by 21% from fiscal year 2012. 
  • Agencies reported a more than 30% increase in FOIA requests since fiscal year 2012.
  • Costs to litigate FOIA requests increased by 69% since fiscal year 2012.

“Full compliance with FOIA is critical to ensure the public has access to government records in order to hold the government accountable.  According to GAO’s report, agencies are making progress in hiring FOIA staff, but they are keeping more information secret and backlogs continue to grow,” the Members said.

“It is particularly concerning that more than three years after Congress enacted the FOIA Improvement Act, 16 agencies either have no plans to update their FOIA regulations to come into compliance with those reforms or have failed to provide an update to the Department of Justice.”

Click here to read the full report.

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