FOIA Roundup: FOIA finds regulatory weaknesses, the debts owed to D.C., and more Mueller soon

FOIA Roundup: FOIA finds regulatory weaknesses, the debts owed to D.C., and more Mueller soon

How public records is shining a lot — or being stopped — around the United States

Written by
Edited by Michael Morisy

In this week’s FOIA Roundup, we feature an investigation from Science on oversight of clinical trials, a questionable court decision on Twitter direct messages, and the recent decision to overturn Department of Justice exemptions throughout the Mueller report.

See something we missed? Let us know.

FOIA Finds

According to a Science investigation based on hundreds of FOIA requests, “FDA’s enforcement of clinical research regulations is often light-handed, slow-moving, and secretive,” which is a danger to the wellbeing of participants and the public. Read more from Charles Pillar in Science.

MuckRock user T. McElwee’s National Aeronautics and Space Administration FOIA request returned emails on Yevgeny Mikrin, head designer of the Russian human spaceflight program, who passed away in May following a COVID-19 diagnosis. The communications show that despite Mikrin’s close proximity to a member of the U.S. space program while symptomatic, NASA wasn’t informed of the coronavirus death. Read more from Kevin G. Hall on McClatchy.

Records released by the D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles show that Maryland and Virginia drivers owe D.C. more than $370 million in outstanding traffic and parking fines. Read more from Luz Lazo in The Baltimore Sun.

Numbers released by Customs and Border Protection to the Cato Institute show that by mid-May 2020 COVID-19 travel bans contributed to almost 4,000 individuals being denied at U.S. ports of entry. You can read more on this, as well as CBP’s response to family separations, from David J. Bier at the Cato Institute.

For nearly a decade, the Los Angeles Police Department and other law enforcement agencies have been using tools by the data and surveillance company Palantir to aggregate and analyze residents’ information, the purported goal being better identification and reduction of crime. Training manuals for Palantir Gotham, obtained via a California Public Records Act request and released last week, help give more insight into how the technology works. Read more from Caroline Haskins on Buzzfeed.

University of Maryland Athletic Director Damon Evans and 13 of the school’s coaches will be taking a paycut, which for Evans will include a 10% reduction to the supplemental pay he gets, which currently stands at $120,000 according to a contract obtained through FOIA by Inside Maryland Sports. Read more from Jeff Ermann on IMS.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service has cut a tenth of its workforce since the start of the coronavirus, even though meat plants have been particularly hard hit by the disease and whistleblower complaints have grown by nearly a third. Read more from Lewis Kendall on The Guardian.

An Illinois union representing school bus drivers used the state’s public records law to learn more about the contract between their employer First Student Inc. and the Joliet School District. Drivers say they learned the school district is only paying First Student 40 percent of their contract, which doesn’t include pay for the drivers. Read more from Rex Robinson on The Times Weekly.

Transparency Threats and Triumphs

Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion Oct. 5 reiterating the requirement that localities comply with the state’s public records law despite any emergency measures that may be in place. You can read Opinion 20-043 here.

More elements from the Mueller report, the result of an investigation into Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election, will be released publicly, a judge ruled last week, after finding that the Department of Justice had failed to justify (b)(5) deliberative process exemptions it had used to redact portions of the report. The federal FOIA lawsuit had been brought by Buzzfeed and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). Read more from Jason Leopold and Ken Bensinger on Buzzfeed.

The Boston-based Lawyers for Civil Rights filed a FOIA lawsuit this week against U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The agency has failed to produce any records in response to a January 2019 request for information on the Trump administration’s proposed expanded definition of “public charge,” which would have made immigrants’ use of many government services a disqualification for permanent residency. Read more from Lawyers for Civil Rights.

Virginia State Police has adopted a NextRequest portal to help handle its records requests. You can find more on WFXR.

Public records requests around the country continue to be delayed due to the coronavirus. Read more from Nate Jones at The Washington Post.

Weeks after an August clash between the far-right Proud Boys and protestors for social justice at city hall in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Mark Tower, the MLive news leader for Kalamazoo, says the outlet is still having trouble reaching city officials and getting responses to their FOIA requests. Read more from John Hiner on MLive.

Virginia Tech has denied multiple requests from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals for the school’s records on dozens of beagles it has purchased in the last five years from Envigo, a controversial lab animal breeding facility. Read more from Kate Masters in the Virginia Mercury.

Prince William Circuit Judge Kimberly A. Irving dismissed a case looking for the release of 20,000 direct Twitter messages sent by Prince William School District superintendent. Read more from Uriah Kiser on Potomac Local News.

Image by CDC via Unsplash