A bipartisan group of four senators active in Freedom of Information Act issues is urging that agencies keep up with their compliance with FOIA requests even amid the workplace disruptions caused by the Coronavirus pandemic, saying that “government transparency and accountability is even more important during a time of crisis.”
In a letter to the Justice Department, which oversees FOIA policies in general, they said that “we understand all agencies and departments are continuing to adapt to the current circumstances, but it is the department’s duty to ensure that FOIA administration is not simply cast aside as a temporary inconvenience.”
They asked for information on agencies “that have limited in any manner their acceptance of FOIA requests or delayed processing of such requests due to the current crisis,” along with the reasons cited and what Justice has done to lessen the impact.
A recent Congressional Research Service report on a sampling of a dozen agencies found that several have posted notices saying they have cut back on staffing to respond to requests and have warned requesters to expect delays in normal processing times.
Several, including Interior, NASA, CDC, NRC and FDA, say in those postings that they currently are not opening mail and recommend that requesters submit online; even the Postal Service itself is recommending against sending submissions by mail. Meanwhile the FBI has said the opposite, that it is not accepting online submissions and that requesters should send them by mail instead.