In this week’s FOIA roundup, a look at how open data was shown to be misleading through a FOIA request, the case of the high-priced pens, and what FOIA shows us about name brand drugs versus generics.
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo accused of covering up COVID-19 deaths in New York’s nursing homes
Gov. Andrew Cuomo is under fire for allegedly understating the number of COVID-19 deaths in New York’s nursing homes. The New York Supreme Court recently ordered the Department of Health to release records on COVID-19 deaths in the state’s nursing home and long-term care facilities, six months after think tank Empire Center filed their initial FOIA request. The court order has pressured the department to publish new death tolls for each facility, which increased the total death count from approximately 9,000 to nearly 15,000. The governor’s top aide, Melissa DeRosa, also admitted that the state had previously withheld data in order to avoid a potential investigation by the Trump administration. Read more from Jesse McKinley and Luis Ferré-Sadurní at The New York Times.
Mike Pompeo allegedly misused taxpayer funds to hand out luxury gifts
Mike Pompeo may have spent more than $43,000 of official State Department funds for his personal and political benefit. According to documents obtained by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, Pompeo invited a number of business leaders, politicians and diplomats to attend private dinners held at the State Department between 2018 and 2020. New records released this month further showed how Pompeo used government funds to purchase more than $10,000 worth of specially embossed pens for his guests. His possible misuse of taxpayer money has been a focus of an investigation launched by Steve Linick, the State Department’s inspector general. Read more from Lara Jakes at The New York Times.
Taking generic drugs may be riskier than previously thought
Gregory Krauss, a neurologist at Johns Hopkins University, filed a public record request with the Food and Drug Administration and found that the peak amount of active ingredients in five generic versions of the epilepsy drug carbamazepine vary by approximately 40 percent. That variability, Krauss argues, means the generic versions were less reliable than brand name drugs. These discrepancies could make the medications much less effective for some people. Read more from Harriet Brown at Vice.
Anti-lockdown groups harass residents using information obtained from FOIA requests
Washington residents who reported businesses over COVID-19 violations have become targets of online harassment after a FOIA request revealed their names. The far-right group, Three Percenters, shared on social media a “snitch list” of those who filed complaints against local businesses in violation of Gov. Jay Inslee’s coronavirus mandates. Meanwhile, government officials are also receiving threats for doing their job to contain the spread of the virus. Read more from Kate Briquelet at The Daily Beast.
The Environmental Protection Agency is riddled with FOIA failures
Joe Biden is trying to undo Donald Trump’s environmental legacy through a flurry of executive orders, but staffers and members of Congress said that the Environmental Protection Agency currently lacks the capability to support the president’s ambitious plan. According to Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), the Biden administration has inherited a crippled agency with a wide range of problems including “a trail of FOIA failures and [information requests] unanswered.” Employees are now demanding greater accountability. Read more from Zahra Hirji at BuzzFeed News.