On February 6 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) granted my request in full, and emailed me the records. According to the response letter, the release is in response to the request I filed back in October.
Here is the report and response letter:
As followers of this blog may remember, when I called to check on the status of the October request a few months ago, DHS said it had no record of ever receiving it and asked me to please resubmit the request. A call to follow-up on the re-submitted request revealed that DHS had found the original request and were already processing it.
The only outstanding issue at DHS now is what happened to the second request I submitted. Hopefully, DHS disregarded that request once it found the old one (though it would have been nice of them to at least notify me). At worst, DHS is still processing my second request and I may get another copy of the report.
Actually, at the VERY worst, DHS applies some exemptions to the report the next time it is reviewed and sends me a redacted version. An agency applying exemptions inconsistently to the same document is certainly not without precedence – our friends over at the National Security Archive have some great examples from the world of classified documents.
This brings me to another reason why by default all records the government releases under the FOIA should be available online. At least one of the reasons exemptions are sometimes applied inconsistently is that at most agencies FOIA reviewers have no way to know how other reviewers have treated the same document. If all of the released documents were online, reviewers could look to the records already online to see how exemptions have been applied to similar records.
Making all records released under the FOIA available online is a common-sense solution to addressing some (though clearly not all) of the public’s frustrations with the federal FOIA system. As we’ve discussed previously, it is good policy for the public because it means we can access more records without having to file a FOIA request, and it is good policy for the government because it will have to process less requests for the same document.
Agencies already participating in the FOIAonline service currently have the option of making records released under the FOIA available in a (somewhat) searchable central repository. We hope that agencies using FOIAonline start to make better use of this feature. Agencies do not have to wait to join FOIAonline to start making this a common practice, though. We hope that all agencies start to think about how they can make material released under the FOIA more accessible.