A report released Monday by the Society of Environmental Journalists found that delayed non-response to a FOIA request are becoming commonplace. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Mark Schleifstein, hurricane reporter of The Times-Picayune of New Orleans “filed a request under the federal Freedom of Information Act, asking for any reports on spills, accidents or fires.”
After badgering the Environmental Protection Agency for days to learn where dangerous chemicals were leaking after Hurricane Katrina, still couldn’t get a clear answer.
More than a week later, he has received no response.
“On one hand, they need time to make sure the information is accurate, but if they are sure enough to release to the public, they should release all information as quickly as possible,” he said.
Sadly, Mark Schleifstein of the New Orleans Times-Picayune is not alone in waiting waiting for a response from the FOIA…
The report, drawn from 55 interviews with environmental reporters nationwide, shows government compliance with FOIA has worsened considerably since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
“The most disturbing thing is that information that was once routinely accessible without a FOIA, now various agencies are requiring journalists to file a FOIA,” said Elizabeth Bluemink, a reporter with The Juneau (Alaska) Empire and co-writer of the report.
The reporters surveyed, all members of the journalism trade group, reported significant delays — some up to a year — before receiving the information they requested under FOIA. Many reported that the information was of poor or incomplete quality, with paragraphs or entire pages blacked out. They also reported difficulty monitoring the status of their requests and delays due to waffling over fees.