Document agency: State Department Office of Inspector General
Document number: OIG FOIA Case No. 11-00031-FOI
Document date: July 19, 2011
Every Friday, POGO will strive to make one document available that we or others have obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), especially documents that have not previously been posted online. Some of these documents will be more important than others, some may only be of historical interest— although relevance is in the eye of the beholder. POGO is doing this to highlight the importance of open government and FOIA throughout the year.
By JAKE WIENS
POGO Director of Public Policy Angela Canterbury noted recently that despite presidential memoranda to executive branch agencies instructing them to adopt a presumption of disclosure, "there's still a wide gap between promise and practice" when it comes to FOIA. One of the concerns, as stated by Canterbury, is the inconsistency in disclosure of information across agencies.
That inconsistency is evidenced by today’s FOIA Friday document. In response to a POGO request for a “list of all closed investigations, from the period of January 2007 through the present,” the State Department Office of Inspector General (OIG) responded that after a “thorough” and “reasonable” search, they were not able to find documents responsive to POGO’s request.
They also added, for good measure, that “FOIA does not require agencies to create documents in response to an individual’s request for information.”
Only under the narrowest interpretation of POGO’s request could such a response be possible. While State OIG may not maintain an actual list of closed investigations for that specific timeframe, there is little doubt that they maintain records that would be generally responsive to POGO’s request.
It is difficult to imagine that any agency that conducts investigations does not use some method to track (a database, for instance) the status of those investigations. That method (whether it be a database or some other tool) would almost certainly include a listing of investigations that are closed.
Indeed, requests for a list of closed OIG investigations are routinely processed successfully throughout government. Case in point: The website governmentattic.org has posted dozens of such lists from OIG’s that were obtained using the same exact language as POGO’s request. State OIG’s response is just one more example of the inconsistency in which agencies process FOIA requests.
POGO plans to appeal the decision.
Jake Wiens is a POGO Investigator.