Twenty year wait for response to FOI requests

Some people in America have waited nearly twenty years for responses to their requests under the Freedom of Information Act, according to a new study by the National Security Archive, a nonprofit research library housed at George Washington University.

The group has released a list of the oldest pending requests, as identified by federal agencies themselves, in honor of Sunshine Week, an annual effort by news organizations and watchdog groups to call attention to the importance of open government. The CIA has been especially slow, accounting for 4 of the 10 even though it handles less than 0.1 percent of all FOIA requests.

The FOIA law generally requires federal agencies to respond to requests within 20 days. As a practical matter, however, even routine requests typically take weeks or months to fill, and complex requests can take years The rankings are based on when the agency received the request for processing, not the request date. In some cases, the agency responsible for processing a request did not get it for years, either because some officials were slow to refer requests to the appropriate agency or because of litigation.

Freedom of information requests: Still Waiting (Washington Post, 16 March 2006)