Today The Associated Press story showing that political officials reviewed FOIA requests proves that the Office of Government Information Services can effectively resolve disputes and avoid potential litigation (not that we necessarily doubted OGIS).
(For full disclosure, the AP is a member of the Sunshine in Government Initiative.)
AP’s Ted Bridis reports that political appointees at the Department of Homeland Security ordered career staff to give them a heads up when a FOIA request came in for sensitive information. AP describes it this way:
[DHS] detoured hundreds of requests for federal records to senior political advisers for highly unusual scrutiny, probing for information about the requesters and delaying disclosures deemed too politically sensitive
As of June 1, OGIS reported closing 182 cases since opening their doors in September 2009. The vast majority appear to be breakdowns in customer service: requests fall through the cracks, a requester needs more information about FOIA or where to submit a request, etc.
This is routine stuff that for the most part the agencies themselves should be taking care of. It’s frustrating for the requester, and OGIS does a service by helping requesters with these issues, but these are things agencies should be fixing.
But this particular request by the AP appears to be a case where the agency did not want to disclose. An independent eye (OGIS) on the dispute was necessary to resolve the issue and possibly prevented costly litigation.
This is exactly what the OGIS was created to do.