House Democrats on the Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter to Chairman Darrell Issa voicing their concerns about his examination of changes to Freedom of Information Act procedures and to evaluate federal agencies’ compliance with the law.
As part of the investigation, the California Republican requested that FOIA offices release their logs for the past five years and communications on pending requests.
Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Reps. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and Peter Welch (D-Vt.) voiced their concerns that the investigation, which was launched without Democratic input, could clog the FOIA system and render it unable to expeditiously respond to requests.
“Although we agree that effective oversight is needed to promote the goals of FOIA, we are concerned that the overwhelming scope of your recent document requests to 180 FOIA offices may have the opposite effect — impairing FOIA compliance rather than enhancing it,” the trio wrote. “Your requests will produce vast amounts of information, but agency compliance with them could impair FOIA responsiveness to the public. Without a defined focus, your inquiry will place a significant burden on FOIA offices and divert limited staff from processing requests from the public.”
The lawmakers suggested narrowing the panel’s focus to three areas: request committee staff briefings with the Justice Department, which tracks federal agencies’ compliance with FOIA; initially limit the requested documents to FOIA logs; and create a forum for FOIA officers to share concerns and to discuss ways to improve response times.
“We believe the proposals above are a more reasonable and efficient way for the Committee to obtain the information it needs without impairing the very FOIA offices we are trying to help,” the three Democrats wrote.
An Issa spokesman confirmed receipt of the letter. “We have received their letter and are reviewing it,” the spokesman said.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.