FBI quietly decides all FOIA requests over 50 pages are “complex”

Even with this new definition, Bureau says that its average processing time for “simple” cases is 181 days

Written by Emma Best
Edited by JPat Brown

Just six months ago, I reported that the FBI had quietly changed their FOIA processing queues without alerting anyone or updating their website. And now, once again, the Bureau has changed their standards for FOIA processing - before a request had to be 2,500 pages or more to be classified as large or complex. Now, without any announcement or update to the Bureau’s website, the number’s down to 51 pages.

According to the FBI’s website as of publication, a request still has to be 951 pages or more to qualify as large or complex.

However, according to correspondence the FBI sent on December 8th, the medium track for FOIA requests has been eliminated entirely.

To put the 50 pages into context, that’s 10% of a “segment” that the FBI typically processes “complex” cases in.

Even with this new definition, the FBI says that its average processing time for “simple” cases of 50 pages or less is 181 days - or slightly more than thirteen times the statutory limit. For complex cases, it’s 659 days - nearly fifty times what’s allowed by law.

This move also has an immediate impact on the Bureau’s statistics for FOIA processing times. The average time to process was undoubtedly higher before they began to include cases of 51-950 pages - by folding those in with “complex” cases the Bureau is able to artificially lower its average processing time for “complex” cases. All this bureaucratic miracle required was completely redefining the definition of complex so that it would include cases that were 1/49th as complex as they were at the beginning of the year.

Of course, all of the Bureau’s handling of these statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. According to the same letter sent by the Bureau, they scanned the FOIA request into their system on “06-11-2016.” Assuming they meant November and not June, this is still one day before the FOIA request was actually sent.

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Image via FBI.gov