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Survey Finds Action on Information Requests Can Take Years
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of New York Times

New York Times, July 1, 2007
Posted: July 6th, 2007

The Freedom of Information Act requires a federal agency to provide an initial response to a request within 20 days and to provide the documents in a timely manner. But the oldest pending request uncovered in a new survey of 87 agencies and departments has been awaiting a response for 20 years, and 16 requesters have been waiting more than 15 years for results. The survey, to be released on Monday, is the latest proof of a fact well-known to historians and journalists who regularly seek government documents: Agencies often take months or years to respond to requests for information under the law, known as FOIA, which went into effect on July 4, 1967. The law is 40 years old, and were seeing 20 years of delay, said Thomas S. Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a research group at George Washington University. The survey will be posted at The survey found that 10 federal agencies had misrepresented their backlog of FOIA requests in annual reports to Congress, misstating the age of their oldest pending request. It found that the State Department accounted for most of the oldest unanswered requests, with 10 requests filed in 1991 or earlier still awaiting responses. The public interest in some aging government documents was vividly illustrated last week, when the Central Intelligence Agency released the so-called family jewels, papers that described illegal wiretaps, assassination plots and other agency misdeeds from the 1950s, 1960s and early 1970s. The papers were first requested by the National Security Archive in 1992, and a cover letter accompanying the C.I.A. release identified that request as the intelligence agencys oldest still pending.

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