WASHINGTON DC (May 4, 2020) — US Senators Charles "Chuck" Grassley (R-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Cornyn (R-TX), and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) are requesting information about the federal government’s ability to timely respond to public-records requests in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In a letter to the Justice Department’s Office of Information Policy (OIP), the senators, all members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, noted reports of decreased capability to process Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests and other concerning developments, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) decision to stop accepting electronic requests altogether.
“Of course, government transparency and accountability is even more important during a time of crisis. While many agencies have sought to be clear about their temporarily reduced capabilities, we are concerned that some, particularly the FBI, may have created unnecessary burdens on requesters in response to the COVID-19 national emergency declaration,” the senators wrote. “We understand all agencies and departments are continuing to adapt to the current circumstances, but it is the [Justice] Department’s duty to ensure that FOIA administration is not simply cast aside as a temporary inconvenience.”
In March, the Congressional Research Service released an initial survey of FOIA processing changes due to COVID-19. Today’s letter seeks further details on OIP’s efforts to encourage and prioritize FOIA during the public health emergency, as well as on any limitations or constraints that may be discouraging the processing of FOIA requests at this time.
Text of today’s letter enclosed at link.