Sunshine Week: The five least responsive agencies

Army, TSA have requests more than two years overdue

Written by Jasper Craven

Of the hundreds of federal agencies subject to Freedom of Information requests, many have less than stellar response rates. Federal agencies comprise the top five least responsive in MuckRock’s system.

While federal agencies are subject to the Freedom of Information Act, which dictates that responsive documents or a denial should be produced within 20 business days, the law and reality rarely match up. Some of MuckRock’s earliest requests have been outstanding for more than two years.

Here are the five agencies with the worst response rates, along with highlights of some of the requests that are still outstanding.

The United States Army

18 of 21 requests overdue

Total requests filed: 23

Longest Overdue Request: 2 years, 2 months MuckRock user Jason Smathers filed Freedom of Information requests concerning Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army soldier arrested in May 2010 on suspicion of passing classified material to the website WikiLeaks. In November 2010 Smathers requested information about Manning contained on MilBook, an army social networking site.

United States Secret Service

15 of 17 requests overdue

Total requests filed: 28

Longest overdue request: 1 year, 11 months Internet freedom activist Aaron Swartz, who died in January, was one of MuckRock’s earliest users. In February 2011, he asked for records about how the Secret Service reads encrypted hard disks and records about Max Ray Butler in February 2011. Swartz pushed back against the Secret Service’s claim that a privacy waiver was needed in April 2011, and the agency hasn’t responded since.

Transportation Security Administration

8 of 11 requests overdue

Total requests filed: 15

Longest overdue request: 2 years, 3 months MuckRock co-founder Michael Morisy filed a request in November 2010 for all complaints about the TSA's Rapiscan security scanners and revised full-body patdowns. The TSA announced in January that all 147 scanners will be removed from airports by June 2013.

Defense Intelligence Agency

6 of 6 outstanding requests overdue

Total requests filed: 10

Longest overdue request: 2 years, 2 months Morisy filed a request in March 2012 for a copy of the “Defense Intelligence Agency Purple Book: A Primer on the Future Threat, 1996-2010.” This book was produced by Gen. Patrick Hughes, DIA director from 1996-1999. The book reflected the DIA perspective on future threats and was designed to stimulate discussion on the challenges facing US interests. Three additional editions were published in 1997, 1998 and 1999.

Bureau of Customs and Border Protection

5 of 5 outstanding requests overdue

Total requests filed: 11

Longest overdue request: 1 year, 7 months MuckRock and the Electronic Frontier Foundation have been waiting more than six months for any acknowledgement or response to its Drone Census request, which seeks documents related to CBP’s use of drones along the Canadian and Mexican borders as well as the agency’s informal practice of lending its unmanned vehicles to local law enforcement.