For Immediate Release:
May 5, 2010
David Burnham, TRAC (202) 518-9000
Susan B. Long, TRAC (315) 443-3563
  TRAC FOIA Request of June 10, 2008 (PDF)
  Treasury Response of April 8, 2010 (PDF)
  Sample Pages Provided (PDF)
  TRAC's Appeal of May 3, 2010 (PDF)
  Help Support TRAC's FOIA Efforts
  Other TRAC FOIA Activities

Treasury Ignores FOIA Despite Obama Open Government Initiative

Syracuse, NY — The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) has accused the Treasury Department's Disclosure Services — the department unit that processes Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests — of secretly withholding government records about how it handles FOIA matters.

An administrative appeal filed by TRAC charges the department's Disclosure Services Office with failing to abide by the basic legal requirements of the FOIA.

Since first coming to office, President Obama and his administration have repeatedly emphasized their commitment to an open and transparent government.

TRAC's May 3 appeal said the failure was unusually egregious because it concerned an office that was not abiding by the specific provisions of the law it had been established to manage.

TRAC's administrative appeal challenged the April 8 response of Disclosure Director Hugh Gilmore to an information request that had originally been submitted almost two years before on June 10, 2008.

In its appeal, TRAC said the proper functioning of the FOIA process was central to ensuring government transparency. "Yet the office charged with acting on the Treasury Secretary's behalf to ensure openness has ignored these same legal requirements when it comes to providing records sought about its own practices."

In a telephone conversation with TRAC, Mr. Gilmore acknowledged that his office had no intention of complying with a key provision of the FOIA. "The requirement is that you must provide the requested information or explain why it is being withheld," TRAC said in its appeal that explained how this responsibility was not met.

In its original request, TRAC had requested copies of the documentation describing the department's FOIA tracking system, copies of all records tracking the receipt, processing and outcome of FOIA requests under the law and raw statistical data regarding the processing of FOA receipts.

In the April cover letter from Mr. Gilmore, the only information provided were some limited and heavily redacted paper records that required the disclosure officers to print out and copy pages that were then shipped to TRAC in a small box. The action of course violated the requirements of both the Electronic Freedom of Information Act and the directives of the Obama Administration. (For some months, the government has also emphasized how agencies are now expected to take advantage of the web and make information from their data bases more accessible and searchable to the public.)

The failure of Treasury's Disclosure Services to follow the provisions of the FOIA is unusually significant at this time because of the vast discretionary powers that have been granted the Treasury Department in spearheading the federal government's massive efforts to revive the nation's economy.

TRAC has extensive experience with the FOIA. For more than 20 years, it has used this law to obtain — and make available to the public — many millions of detailed records from numerous federal agencies.