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Audit: Bush Barely Trims FOIA Backlog
Key Excerpts from Article on Website of New York Times/Associated Press

New York Times/Associated Press, March 17, 2008
Posted: March 19th, 2008

Despite ordering improvements more than two years ago, President Bush has barely made a dent in the huge backlog of unanswered requests under the Freedom of Information Act. At the same time, an audit by the National Security Archive found that Bush has provided citizens someone to talk to about how long it is going to take to get the government records they want or to be turned down. The archive, a private research group at The George Washington University, released its seventh audit ... of the 1967 law that gives people the power to request information from federal government files. The audit of 90 government agencies found mixed results from Bush's executive order on Dec. 14, 2005, to agencies to clear the backlog and be more responsive to requesters. "Behind its ambitious facade, the order lacked both carrot and stick," the audit said, because it provided no additional money to do the job and no way to force agencies to set substantial goals or step up their efforts if they fell short. "Many of the same old scofflaw agencies are still shirking their responsibilities to the public," said Tom Blanton, director of the archive, whose FOIA audits are funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The archive found that unanswered requests government-wide dropped just over 2 percent, from 217,000 to 212,000, from the end of 2005 to the end of 2007. Of those agencies with backlogs, 31 percent even saw pending requests rise during the two years, including some agencies that significantly reduced very old unanswered requests but saw gains wiped out by a surge of new requests. The audit particularly criticized the Treasury Department for trying to "wait out the requester."

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