Audit Finds No Political Interference in FOIA Responses at DHS

A DHS policy giving political appointees advance notice that the department is about to release information under a significant FOIA request has not resulted in interference with decisions regarding release of information but it has that potential, an IG audit has said.

The goal of the advance notice is to give high-ranking officials a chance to “prepare for media inquiries or possible litigation,” a report said.

The report was a followup to one of 2011 that concluded that appointees might have improperly delayed or withheld releases of information. Since then, the department has reduced the notice from three days to one, and FOIA processors no longer wait for approval before releasing responses to such requests.

The IG reviewed the 57 significant requests DHS processed during a three-month period last year and found that none was delayed by political appointees or others in headquarters, although nine were delayed by the FOIA offices themselves “because of FOIA employees’ errors or absences.”

However, the IG warned that the process “could be vulnerable to misuse because guidance has not been finalized or formalized”—it currently exists only as an internal email and draft guidance—and does not explicitly state that the notice “is solely to notify political appointees and not to allow political appointees to approve, modify, or delay significant FOIA releases.”