FAA & Other Agencies, Using Pay-to-Play and Other Tactics to Deny Us Our Rights Under Federal FOIA Laws

It is a separate issue, yet thoroughly intertwined: the ongoing revelations about Hillary Clinton’s emails on a private server, expose the fact that our elected officials and agency leaders – all the way to the top, and regardless of which party has the White House – are waging a war against our citizens’ right to see what government officials are doing. As such, they are ensuring we can have no real Democracy.

(click n image to view source article at Washington Examiner)

(click on image to view source article at Washington Examiner)

Our FOIA Laws were passed by Congress in 1966. An incredible amount of careful deliberation went into defining the rules needed to be followed, to ensure transparency. FOIA was signed into law by LBJ, on 7/4/1966. The original laws have since been amended to incorporate electronic media. As President Obama wrote in his brilliant FOIA memo on the day he was inaugurated, January 21, 2009:

“…the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which encourages accountability through transparency, is the most prominent expression of a profound national commitment to ensuring an open Government.”

Words are wonderful things, but they need to be backed up by actions. Such has not happened since January 2009. Simply, although FOIA is a critical tool for government transparency, accountability, and performance, it is being side-stepped and ignored. At FAA (and elsewhere), here is what they are doing:

  • Ignoring FOIA requests: just like the Secretary of State did in the article/link shown above, FAA and other agencies are choosing to outright ignore FOIA requests. This is not legal. Legal recourse for citizens is in the U.S. District Courts. However, the district courts are bogged down with both a wholesale indifference and processes that are deplorably byzantine, to the point of making it impossible for justice to be served. The Judges are all political appointees, thus inclined to serve the power status quo in DC. We can have all the laws we want but, if the laws are not enforced, they mean nothing.
  • Delaying & Side-stepping: with time, even the best of laws become ruined by workarounds. There are so many ways FAA fails to comply with the FOIA Laws, yet excuses off their failures. Some of these include:
    1. they’ll spend months delaying on your reasonable request for a fee waiver, and use their indecision to rationalize that the FOIA request could not be started until the the fee waiver issue was resolved.
    2. they’ll claim the FOIA request was never ‘perfected’, lacked specificity, etc.
    3. they’ll use ‘Pay-to-Play’ to intimidate regular citizens away from using the FOIA Laws (see below).
    4. they’ll pretend to not comprehend even the most explicit FOIA request. Even more, they may not call to clarify but process it anyway, building months and years of delays producing a series of response packages that slowly migrate back toward the real response … but only IF the requestor sticks with it for all that time.
    5. they’ll route the FOIA request to multiple offices and refuse to produce ANY responsive records until all offices have finished their seperate sub-response; and, at least one of those offices will never finish … so nothing ever gets released.
    6. they’ll sweep the floor and compile all sorts of unrelated documents so a request that should have cost nothing (under 100 pages and less than 2-hours administrative time to produce), instead costs hundreds of dollars and swamps the requestor with thousands of pages of irrelevant records.
    7. they’ll cry to the People, to the media, and to Congress that they just lack resources and cannot comply with burdensome FOIA laws. It is like declaring, “Pay us more and maybe we’ll do our job,” and Congress does nothing to compel them to perform. Of course, all of this happens while ignoring the simple reality that:
      • they have full-time paid FOIA specialists on staff;
      • the vast majority of their workload is arbitarily added and focused on obstructing the release of disclosable records; and
      • if they ‘erred on the side of disclosure’, their workload would all but disappear.
  • Pay-to-Play: a very effective way to obstruct the FOIA Laws is to demand exorbitant payments and watch the requestors withdraw their FOIA requests. No pay, no play. This violates the spirit and the law within FOIA. Agencies are expected to grant fee waivers, and are also expected to routinely waive requests that require minimal time to produce (e.g., less than 2-hours of administrative processing, and less than 100-pages of responsive records). There is also the Office of Information Policy guidance initiated in 2008, that precludes agencies assessing fees for simple FOIA requests, if the agency fails to comply with the 20-day time limit:
20081231scp-portion-of-guidance-new-limitations-on-assessing-foia-fees-doj-oip-opening-para

(click on image to view an archived copy of the OIP Guidance)

Despite these clear requirements, all of which are aimed at ensuring the People can easily see inside government operations to keep those operations from running astray, FAA and other agencies routinely use Pay-to-Play.