A FOIA audit for thee, but not for me

I received an email yesterday from a journalism professional who takes exception to this post.

In that post, I noted that the Cleveland Plain Dealer has historically supported what are known as “FOIA audits” but that it registered contempt and disdain when a GOP political operative filed an open records request seeking copies of “hundreds of thousands” of emails from four Ohio politicians.

The professional journalist writes that it is unfair and misleading to compare what the GOP political operative did to what happens during a standard FOIA audit because:

  • The operative requested many documents, whereas in a regular FOIA audit, each requestor only asks for one document.
  • In a regular FOIA audit, the documents requested are documents that should be available quickly and easily, but the Ohio operative asked for documents that could only be made available after an extensive search and review process.
  • My thoughts:

  • I believe the e-mails sent and received by gubernatorial–and presidential–staffs should be available quickly and easily in response to open records requests.
  • The open records request of the Ohio GOP operative revealed that only one Ohio statewide constitutional officer (the state’s treasurer) is able to produce copies of emails quickly and easily–he did so right away, providing the emails on a couple of CDs for no charge.
  • Finding that out is an important result of what the GOP operative did.
  • I believe the newspapers in Ohio should be concerned about the fact that e-mail from four statewide constitutional officers is not available quickly and easily.
  • I believe they should be a lot more concerned about that then about “outing” the intern who filed the requests.
  • I’d have some respect for the Cleveland Plain Dealer if they focused on the fact that Ted Strickland (whose candidacy they supported) does not manage his email in such a way as to be able to provide the documents quickly and easily.
  • In Missouri, GOP governor Matt Blunt and his staff are in the practice of routinely discarding/destroying their email.

    The Missouri media has done terrific, careful work on this–here’s just one example–contrasting the e-mail archiving policies of different statewide officers, asking for copies of e-mail retention and archiving policies, and so on.

    The Ohio mainstream press could do, but has so far chosen not to do, similar work in Ohio.

    On the question of whether what the GOP operative in Ohio did “gummed up” government, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer insists, versus FOIA audits, where each FOIA requestor only asks for one document–true enough, but when there’s an organized FOIA audit involving dozens or sometimes hundreds of requestors, is there some point at which that becomes “gumming up” the government?

    The government officials who are asked for that one document often don’t manage to produce it.

    As I noted in my original post, an Ohio open records audit in 2001 indicated that only about half of the government agencies were able to produce the requested documents.

    The 50% of government agencies who were asked for a document they were unable to produce no doubt felt aggrieved and as if the time of their agency had been wasted, and that they were unable to do the things they otherwise would have that day because they had to deal with a request they were surely not delighted to receive.

    I’m all in favor of FOIA audits. But I think the Cleveland Plain Dealer should blush the next time it signs onto one.

    Note:   I’m travelling the rest of the day and will then be at a conference but hope to continue with this discussion over time. 

    E-mail archiving requirements.

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    2 responses to “A FOIA audit for thee, but not for me

    1. Pingback: Public records props to Bucks County Democrats « State Sunshine and Open Records

    2. Pingback: Will Maine lead the way on e-mail archiving and retrieval? « State Sunshine and Open Records

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