DHS political vetting of FOIA requests and PRM

March 29, 2011

Posted by Matt Ehling

Yesterday, Ted Bridis of the Associated Press wrote an article that expanded on the AP’s earlier reporting about the political vetting of FOIA requests by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Since last summer, the AP has been engaged in a struggle to obtain unredacted copies of e-mails between DHS personnel who were applying political scrutiny to certain FOIA requests. In the newly unredacted e-mails, DHS FOIA personnel describe the vetting process put in place by their superiors as “meddling” and “nuts.” The AP story asserts that political review was applied to particular FOIA requests in order to flag any that might result in political embarrassment for the Obama administration. The AP characterizes such scrutiny as causing delays in the production of FOIA determinations.

In June of 2010, PRM filed a FOIA request seeking contracts between the U.S. Coast Guard and the private security company Talon Security. This request was acknowledged in a letter from the U.S. Coast Guard on July 22. We then sent a response letter on August 26th, notifying the Coast Guard of their failure to respond within the timeframe allowed by FOIA. We have received no further correspondence from the Coast Guard in the past eight months.

At the time we submitted our FOIA request, the political vetting process described in Bridis’ AP article was apparently in force. The AP first wrote about the process last summer. Bridis penned an update on Monday, based upon the unredacted e-mails that the AP had received.

While we have no direct evidence that DHS worked to delay the production of records that we sought under FOIA, we have now filed two additional requests aimed at discovering whether political considerations played a role in delays related to our June 2010 request. We have also filed an administrative appeal related to our initial request. We will post copies of all of these documents soon.