Nearly four-fifths of suits brought against DHS under the Freedom of Information Act cite missed deadlines for responses, an IG report has said, far more than other grounds such as the adequacy of the searches performed or the department’s decision to invoke an exception under the FOIA.
The report noted that law requires agencies to respond within 20 business days to routine requests and gives an additional 10 for more complex requests. When an agency does not respond to a request within the pertinent timeframe a requester may file suit.
In a review of suits over 2014-2018 against DHS, the IG found that 79 percent argued lack of timeliness; one requester had filed suit just 23 days after submitted the request while on the other end another waited 478 business days.
The report said that over 2013-2018 DHS took an average of 85 days to process complex requests, with a high of 99 days in 2018. Shortages of personnel and an increase in requests cited as the main reasons, with the number of annual requests per FOIA staff member rising from 40 to 64 in that time.
However, DHS actually fell below the government-wide average, which ranged from 123 to 128 days for such requests over 2013-2016, it said.
It added that when responding to congressional requests for information, “DHS often exceeded its timeliness goals and did not consistently provide interim responses. Further, DHS redacted personal information in its responses to congressional committee chairs that was eligible for release under DHS policy.”