USDA Adopts CoA Institute’s Recommendations for Improved FOIA Regulations

The Department of Agriculture finalized a rule today implementing revised Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) regulations that incorporates important revisions proposed by Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) in a comment submitted to the agency last year.  These changes are a small, but important, step towards more transparent government and proper administration of the FOIA. Learn More

NASA Adopts CoA Institute’s Recommendations to Improve Revised FOIA Regulations

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (“NASA”) finalized a rule last week to implement revised Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) regulations.  That final rule incorporates important revisions proposed by Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) in a comment submitted to the agency in May 2019.  CoA Institute’s comment recommended improvements to several aspects of NASA’s proposed regulations that were inconsistent with current statutory guidelines regarding fee reduction classifications and the proper scope of searches for agency records.  CoA Institute also recommended that NASA add a provision to implement the  “foreseeable harm” standard—a new statutory requirement that CoA Institute has been investigating government-wide.  These changes are a small, but important, step towards more transparent government and proper administration of the FOIA. Learn More

CoA Institute Sues White House Office of Management and Budget over Refusal to Update Outdated FOIA Fee Guidelines

Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) filed a lawsuit yesterday against the White House Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”), continuing the parties’ longstanding feud over the agency’s failure to update thirty-year-old guidelines for the adjudication of fee issues under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).  In June 2016, CoA Institute submitted a petition for rulemaking to OMB asking it to revise the government-wide 1987 Uniform Freedom of Information Act Fee Schedule and GuidelinesAfter CoA Institute filed suit to compel a response, OMB denied the petition, arguing incorrectly that no agency subject to the FOIA is “currently relying” on outdated or statutorily superseded guidance.  The new lawsuit seeks judicial review of that denial. Learn More

Investigation Update: The VA continues to subject certain FOIA requests to “sensitive review,” but the agency is keeping records about the practice secret

Over the past year, Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) has been investigating the Department of Veterans Affairs for its continued politicization (here, here, and here) of the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”).  That politicization takes the form of “sensitive review,” which refers generally to the practice of giving certain FOIA requests extra scrutiny.  Sensitive review usually entails an additional layer of review or “consultation” with interested parties before potentially embarrassing or politically sensitive records are released to the public.  At its best, it almost always causes delay.  At its worst, it leads to intentionally inadequate searches, politicized document review, improper redaction, and incomplete disclosure. Learn More

The EPA bypassed public comment on its new FOIA regulations, which raises some important legal questions

The Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) has long struggled with the politicization and abuse of its Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) processes.  Indeed, as Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) has repeatedly argued, the agency has a “terrible track record for anti-transparency behavior”—from the weaponization of fee waivers and the use of undisclosed “alias” e-mail accounts, to the failure to preserve text messages and the creation of special “awareness review” procedures for politically sensitive FOIA requests.  Yet the EPA’s rather poor reputation plunged even further in late June 2019, when the agency published an unexpected direct final rule implementing various changes to its FOIA regulations. Learn More

CoA Institute Defeats IRS Motion to Dismiss Lawsuit Over Access to Congressional Communications

Washington, D.C. (July 18, 2019) – U.S. District Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson yesterday denied the Internal Revenue Service’s (“IRS”) motion to dismiss Cause of Action Institute’s (“CoA Institute”) Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) lawsuit over the agency’s refusal to produce records relating to its dealings with Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation (“JCT”).  To date, the IRS has refused to search for records potentially responsive to CoA Institute’s FOIA requests.  The agency instead has argued that all relevant records would categorically be “congressional records” outside the scope of disclosure permitted under the FOIA.  In its failed motion, the IRS claimed that the federal district court even lacked the authority—or subject-matter jurisdiction—to adjudicate CoA Institute’s well-pleaded claims in the first instance.

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Investigation Update: GSA Continues to Block Disclosure of White House Directive on Congressional Oversight Requests, Reveals Sensitive Review Procedure for Media Requesters

Cause of Action Institute (CoA Institute) received an interim response yesterday from the General Services Administration (GSA) on a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request that suggests the agency is deliberately stonewalling the release of a White House directive instructing agencies on how to respond to congressional oversight requests. Records released by the agency also suggest that the GSA has implemented a “sensitive review” FOIA process by which news media requesters are subject to an extra layer of pre-production review.

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