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Chair Grijalva on Interior Dept. Backtracking on FOIA Responses: “Political Appointees Should Not Decide What Documents The Public Get to See” | The House Committee on Natural Resources

10.28.19

Washington D.C. – Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) released the following statement today on the news that the Department of the Interior (DOI) will reverse its proposed changes to how it processes Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. The move comes after public outcry by lawmakers – including former House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) – pushing DOI to end its politicization of the FOIA process.

“The Interior Department under President Trump has treated information as a political weapon, regardless of what our laws require or what democracy demands of its leaders,” Grijalva said. “These changes should have never been proposed in the first place, and political appointees should not decide what documents the public get to see. Interior should not be manipulating FOIA responses, and their efforts to hide or destroy information has everyone wondering what they have to hide. This decision is welcome, but Interior still has an enormous and growing backlog of requests they need to eliminate.”

As Chair of the Natural Resources Committee, Grijalva has prioritized DOI oversight and pressed political leaders there to stop politicizing the FOIA process. Actions include: 

  • January 23, 2019 – Letter to Secretary Bernhardt demanding an extension of comment period for new FOIA guidance.
  • March 13, 2019 – Letter to Secretary Bernhardt raising concerns that DOI was trying to limit the amount of information going out through FOIA, and requesting related documents.
  • April 11, 2019 – Letter to the Appropriations Committee asking for funds to hire additional FOIA staff at DOI.
  • September 6, 2019 – Letter to the Office of Inspector General asking them to include the supplemental awareness review process in their investigation into DOI’s FOIA awareness review.

Before today’s announcement, the inspector general was investigating DOI’s FOIA response program. DOI has experienced at least a 30 percent increase in new FOIA requests since the beginning of the Trump administration, which includes a 210 percent increase in new FOIA requests to the Office of the Secretary since fiscal year 2016. More than 100 FOIA cases are now in litigation due to agency non-response, and the FOIA office is suffering from staff attrition.

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