Tuesday at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform hearing on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson testified that the federal government has so “perverted” the FOIA process by “ridiculously overused” exemptions and stall tactics they have created a system to intentionally “obfuscate, obstruct and delay” the release of public information.
Attkisson said, “The FOIA process is improperly politicized. Federal agency press flacks and politicians intervene to withhold potentially embarrassing information. FOIA law does not permit this political intervention, but it’s happens all the time. Federal agencies increasingly employ new tactics to obfuscate and delay. They say they don’t understand a FOIA request. They claim it’s too broad. They say a search would be unreasonable.”
She continued, “When they do provide a sensitive document, they redact nearly everything using exemptions such as b(5) deliberative process, which has become so ridiculously overused, it’s earned nicknamed the withhold it because you want to exemption.”
“When a court finds a federal agency violated FOIA law, penalties are almost never imposed and if ordered to repay the plaintiffs legal fees the government does so with your tax dollars, meaning there’s no deterrent to stop the bad behavior. In other words they are using our money to prevent us from seeing our own documents,” she added.
She concluded, “In short, FOIA law was intended to facilitate the timely release of public information. Instead, federal officials have perverted it and use it to obfuscate, obstruct and delay. The system is not broken by accident, it’s by design. In my view, the only thing that could make FOIA work as designed would be meaningful criminal penalties for violators.”