Parts of the federal government have declared transparency non-essential, deciding requests under the Freedom of Information Act will go unprocessed during the shutdown.
Some agencies have indicated they won’t even accept FOIA requests until everything is back to normal and have suspended their websites.
In addition to the problem of getting a request filed, journalists and others seeking information from the federal government should be prepared for longer than usual delays in receiving the requested records. While generally the government must respond in some way to FOIA requests within 20 days or request an extension, shutdown days are not likely to be counted in those 20 days.
Requests submitted during the shutdown will undoubtedly face long delays, but even those submitted before the shutdown are probably sitting unaddressed. Before deciding that an agency has missed its 20-day deadline, requesters should subtract any shutdown days. With most FOIA employees furloughed, shutdown days are probably not going to be held against the agency in meeting its deadline.
The National Security Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and the Food and Drug Administration are among those who have announced they will not process FOIA requests until their funding is restored. Their FOIA websites have notices at the top of the pages to alert requesters to the impact of the shutdown.
Neither the Department of State nor the Department of Justice have any notice posted as to their FOIA policies during the shutdown. It is unclear how those agencies, and others that have yet to comment on their FOIA policies, will handle requests during the furlough.
The Departments of the Interior and Agriculture, and the Transportation Security Administration have made their FOIA websites completely inactive. A list of other agencies commonly subject to FOIA requests that have confirmed reduced FOIA operations during the shutdown is below.
Bureau of Reclamation
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Central Intelligence Agency
Department of Agriculture
Department of the Interior
Department of Labor
Environmental Protection Agency
Food and Drug Administration
National Institutes of Health
National Labor Relations Board
National Security Administration
Office of Government Information Services
Transportation Security Administration