OGIS’ new chief, Secret Service’s vanishing laptops, and more FOIA news

FOIA round-up, Thanksgiving edition

Written by Michael Morisy

Just because America was taking some time off to relax after a grueling election season doesn’t mean that transparency can afford to take a nap. Well, OK, some releases were delayed as agencies shut their doors for the Thanksgiving holiday, but the releases made earlier in the week still made plenty of news.

First off, however, congratulations are in order: Alina M. Semo has been named as OGIS’ new director. OGIS serves as the FOIA ombuds office and provides mediation services that can head off litigation and help resolve challenges requesters face when trying to get records at the federal level.

In other meta-FOIA news, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) noted that DHS has released revised FOIA regulations. EPIC has a brief overview of what it thinks the new regulations got right and wrong .

Now on to the stories that public records helped tell.

National FOIA Stories

Over the past few years, the Secret Service’s reputation has taken some hits as every time it seems to emerge from one scandal it seems to land in another.

This time that scandal comes courtesy of Judicial Watch, which received documents detailing what equipment the Secret Service has lost 2001. It’s a lot: 1,024 computers, 121 guns, and hundreds of Secret Service badges.

Motherboard nabbed the DEA’s 210-page drug dictionary, which offers detailed guidance on what narcotic slang terms mean, as well as various production techniques used by drug manufacturers. The production quality is noticeably higher than the FBI’s internet slang guide .

Speaking of the DEA, journalist and MuckRock user Anthony Roberts details his fight for Kratom documents. After the DEA moved to designate Kratom a schedule 1 drug, Roberts requested the documents underlying that assessment, basing his request off the DEA’s copious footnotes. So far, the agency hasn’t been responding helpfully .

The ACLU is suing the National Security Agency, the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Department of Justice over a variety of spy program documents, Courthouse News Service reports. You can see their request, which covers a lot of internal guidance and training procedures, on page 6 of this PDF .

State/Local Public Record Stories

Phoenix Arizona’s 12 News has a good public-records based story detailing how the former lab director and chief toxicologist for the Maricopa County Office of the Medical Examiner managed to get his job — despite being convicted of stealing weapons and other materials from a crime lab decades ago .

Massachusetts requesters have long complained about a lack of enforcements of the state’s public records laws, but even before reforms go into effect on January 1, there’s reason to celebrate: The Attorney General is suing several District Attorneys for withholding records, as the Boston Globe’s Todd Wallack reports. Sure, the wheels of justice are slow: The records requests are two years old. But it’s still a promising sign.

You miss 100% of the shots you never take, and apparently Texas missed out on shooting a layup: A public records fight by the Texas Tribune has showed that a state agency missed out on a potential million-dollar grant because it never turned in allegedly completed application materials . That grant would have funded the purchase of Naloxone, which can help save lives in the event of an overdose.

The Texas Department of State Health Services is suing to keep documents related to the un-submitted grant secret.

In other medical news, Reason has a document-heavy story on how cops, prosecutors, and lobbyists worked to restrict a seizure treatment that relied on cannabis . The story is interesting because it uses documents to show how a governor who was publicly pro-legalization quietly lobbied behind the scenes against cannabis-based medical treatment.

Our FOIA round-up runs each week; if you’ve written or read a great public records-powered story, send it over via email or on Twitter.


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