Every journalist who requests records from the federal government through the Freedom of Information Act should be familiar with its administrative appeals process. Unfortunately, for various reasons, federal agencies at times fail to adhere to FOIA’s disclosure requirements. When this occurs, journalists are not without recourse. They can appeal adverse decisions to higher authorities within an agency and often must in order to enforce their rights.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau ("CFPB") asked for comments regarding a proposed policy whereby it would post consumer complaint narratives in its online Consumer Complaint Database on an opt-in basis. Previously, only aggregate data from complaints submitted to the CFPB was available through the database. The CFPB's proposed policy statement changed this by allowing consumers to have any narrative included in their complaint publicly published on an opt-in basis. The Reporters Committee, joined by a coalition of news media organizations, submitted comments arguing that all consumer complaint narratives should be published. The disclosure of such comments "would assist journalists who seek to supplement the numbers already made available through the Database with the powerful firsthand experiences of individual consumers," and therefore the public interest weighs heavily in favor of their disclosure, the letter argued.