Friday, January 04, 2019

Interior Dept. wants to make FOIA requests more difficult

Proposed regulations from the Department of the Interior could make it more difficult and expensive for journalists to obtain documents through Freedom of Information Act requests.

The changes, proposed in a notice Dec. 28, "would allow the Interior Department to enforce caps on how many requests it will process from frequent FOIA users, make it more difficult for news organizations to justify having their FOIA fees waived, and relax internal deadlines for the agency to act on requests," writes Frank D. LoMonte, director of the Brechner Center for Freedom of Information at the University of Florida.

Frank LoMonte
The Interior Department reports that FOIA requests to it have increased 30 percent since President Trump took office, with 128 cases in active litigation as of September. That's partly because journalists, archivists and historians worried that Obama-era documents about topics like climate change might be destroyed if not preserved, LoMonte writes.

It's possible the proposed changes also stem from a desire for less scrutiny from journalists. Reporters used documents obtained through FOIA requests to document the actions of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who recently resigned because of accusations that he used his position for personal benefit, LoMonte writes.

"The Interior Department is taking public comments on the FOIA regulation through Jan. 28. They can be filed electronically by referencing Docket No. DOI-2018–0017," LoMonte writes. "By law, federal agencies must show that they took account of public input before they can finalize enacting or amending a regulation."

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