FOIA Requests Hit Record High in 2014

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The Justice Department’s latest summary of all agency Freedom of Information Act activity in fiscal 2014 shows a record number of requests.

 “Agency FOIA offices received a record high 714,231 requests while also facing several other challenges including reduced staffing, tough fiscal times, and a three-week government shutdown during which requests continued to come in when there was no staff available to process them,” Justice’s Office of Information Policy wrote in a report and compilation uploaded onto  “Managing these challenges, the government overall was able to process 647,142 requests while continuing to maintain a high release rate of over 91 percent for the sixth year in a row. The government overall also improved its average processing times for simple and complex track requests.”

The increase of 9,837 requests over the previous year continued a four-year trend of setting a record for requests, Justice said. For the sixth consecutive year, the Homeland Security Department received the most requests, with 291,242, a 26 percent increase. The next highest numbers of requests went to the departments of Justice, Defense, Health and Human Services, and Veterans Affairs.

The total of requests processed fell from 678,391 in fiscal 2013 to 647,142 last year, while the backlog rose from 95,564 in 2013 to 159,741 in fiscal 2014. Only 6 percent of requests were denied due to FOIA exemptions.

Costs of FOIA-related activity rose 3.4 percent over the previous year, reaching a governmentwide total of $461.8 million, the report said, roughly 6 percent of which was spent on litigation. Agencies collected $4.2 million in fees, which covers less than 1 percent of FOIA-related spending, the report added.

“A total of twenty-eight agencies reported having less than one ‘full-time FOIA staff’ at the end of fiscal 2014,” the summary said. “When adding together all of the ‘full-time FOIA staff’ reported by these agencies, it is the equivalent of under 10 staff members.” Forty-eight agencies had between one and 19 full-time FOIA staff. The remainder reported between 21 and 96 full-time FOIA staff.

The new numbers from the Justice Department follow a spate of “report cards” criticizing the government’s responsiveness to FOIA requests. 

The following chart shows how the government's backlog of FOIA requests has grown since fiscal 2009. 

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