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FBI FOI request system found 'dysfunctional'

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FBI FOI request system found 'dysfunctional'05/20/96 WASHINGTON, D.C.--The FBI's structure for processing Freedom of Information Act requests is "so muscle…

FBI FOI request system found ‘dysfunctional’

05/20/96

WASHINGTON, D.C.–The FBI’s structure for processing Freedom of Information Act requests is “so muscle bound as to be dysfunctional,” federal District Judge Stanley Sporkin said in late April when he ordered the agency and the Civil Rights Commission to finish processing a litigant’s FOI request within 60 days.

He noted the FBI had submitted a 20-page, detailed declaration as to why it would not assign the request for processing until June 1997 or complete it until after February 1998. He said the court could not countenance “a system which will take several years to process four records. The bureaucracy is presently under attack. This type of conduct is one of the reasons that the public has joined in the current favorite game of ‘Government Bashing.'”

Timothy Hunter, a former employee of the Department of State in Washington, D.C., initially filed a request for documents regarding his employment there. The State Department gave him some records, denied others, and referred 60 documents to other agencies for processing. The judge approved the State Department’s use of FOI Act exemptions to deny several of the records. He also approved a Secret Service plan to process documents referred to it within 60 days.

Noting that the agencies have backlogs and queues for processing requests in turn, Judge Sporkin told the government to learn from private sector supermarkets that “have recognized the efficiencies inherent in establishing express lines for a limited number of items.”

The judge ruled on the records before him without a hearing after Hunter first requested a continuance and then failed to appear, sending the judge a fax saying that he had overslept. (Hunter v. Department of State; Counsel: pro se)