Yesterday I found a very thick envelope from the Department of Justice (DOJ) waiting for me on my desk.
Inside the envelope were 4 documents: a letter letting me know that DOJ was releasing the report to me in full (more on that in a second); the report; and two attachments referred to by the report. You can download all of the documents here:
First, I have to praise DOJ for the thoroughness of its response: proactively releasing attachments is a great way to help a requester avoid having to file more requests.
Honestly, however, this approach would have been even more appreciated is DOJ had sent me versions electronically — as I requested. About half of the agencies I sent requests to have corresponded with me using standard mail. Answering electronic requests with paper responses is extremely frustrating for users — and extremely inefficient. For one thing, using the US Postal service is slower than email and costs more money. According to the postmark, DOJ put the mail report in the mail 5 days ago, and it cost DOJ $2.12 cents to mail me the envelope. If they had emailed me the report, delivery would have been virtually instantaneous and free. Another frustration for users with paper responses is that it puts a greater burden on us to make the documents more usable and widely available. Furthermore, graphics that may be perfectly lovely in their digital format can become almost illegible when they are printed out (see DOJ RM Report Attachment B for an example of this).
Moving onto the substance of DOJ’s response letter, it is interesting that DOJ makes a point of pointing out that the report “contains information that could be considered exempt under FOIA exemption 5” and that the agency has made a “discretionary decision to release the report in full.” We decided to request copies of a report from agencies to the National Archives in part because we knew that the information could be covered under exemption 5 (intergovernmental records). Under the guidelines set by President Obama and Attorney General Holder, agencies are encouraged to make a discretionary release of such information unless there is a foreseeable harm in doing so. We know at least one other agency considered using exemption 5 before deciding to release the report in full. Thus far, however, DOJ’s response letter is the only one that contains this language.