FOIA Annual Reports
Since the ‘74 amendment, federal departments and agencies subject to the FOIA have been required to produce annual reports (and submit them to the Senate Judiciary Committee and House Committee on Government Operations). These reports contain a wide range of information, including data on department or agency compliance and utilization.
For an academic project, I’m attempting to compile all of the cabinet-level department FOIA Annual Reports from 1975 until present. The ‘96 amendment required departments and agencies to publish this info online (as overseen by the DOJ/OIP). As a result, 1998 until today are relatively simple to find. Finding 1975 until 1997, however, has proved to be a real challenge. I currently have FOIA requests out to the individual departments seeking the records and have another set of requests with NARA. Both efforts have largely failed to return the documents.
I’m working with another piece of NARA in trying to track down the reports on the congressional side. It’s tedious, as I have to find each Executive Communication number in the Congressional Record, and then hypothetically travel to D.C. and physically locate the documents myself. Good news though, in a test run a NARA staffer located 16/20 of the sought reports.
I’m just reaching out in hopes that someone might know of another, better angle or approach, or perhaps someone can bring to light something I’m overlooking. As of now, it looks like I may have to go to D.C. myself. Obviously, I’d prefer not to do that. Submitting FOIA requests seems the best route, but thus far it’s been largely ineffective.
What kinds of problems are you finding when you’ve filed in the past? DOJ wasn’t including in receipt of these reports?
The most common reply from the departments has been no responsive records. They suggest I check with NARA, who often respond similarly.
My next step has been proving that the records exist. I’ve looked at a handful of retention schedules, and I’m of the belief that few of the departments would have disposed of records. There seems to have been an understanding that these were historical reports, not merely transactional FOIA files. In talking with one of the federal departments and suggesting that I believed the records did indeed exist somewhere (after receiving no responsive records replies from both the department and NARA), I was flatly laughed at, and told facetiously to go ahead and try to file an appeal, “How can you prove we have the records?”
It’s not that I don’t believe NARA or the departments as much I’m confident the records exist somewhere. Unfortunately, I’m in the dark as to where, and have received little aid from librarians and others outside the government.