The number of lawsuits pales in comparison to the annual amount of FOIA requests received by federal agencies. In its most recent report (PDF) from fiscal year 2010, the Department of State reported fielding 30,206 FOIA requests. By the year’s close, 21,135 remained pending. The fastest turnaround for a Department of State request was a single day, while the longest was recorded as 2,162 days, or almost six years. Furthermore, the 2011 Knight Open Government Survey (PDF) found that twelve different federal agencies reported having in-process FOIA requests that had been pending for over six years old. The Knight survey made no mention of OGIS.
In November 2011, OGIS director Miriam Nesbit told the government and technology blog Nextgov that FOIA delays were one of the major themes of the disputes handled by her office. She admitted that OGIS’s recommendations on FOIA improvements had sat, unread, for over nine months inside the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).
When asked about the delay, Nesbit said that the OMB’s attention was on the federal budget. “There’s not a lot more that I can add,” she told me. “Except that we hope that the recommendations will be approved fairly soon.
Lucy Dalglish, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, told me that she feels profoundly disappointed over how the Obama administration has handled the OGIS recommendations.
“They have a wonderful website, and they’re marvelously responsible to requests. They’ve done some very good things,” Dalglish says of OGIS. “But they have no actual ability to make anybody do anything. I encourage people to go to OGIS with simple problems, but for anything else, I still tell people to go ahead and sue.”
“That’s the only way you’re going to get anything,” she continues. “OGIS is not the answer for changing the culture of secrecy in this administration.”