Grassley, Leahy ask for costs incurred in FOIA litigation

Justice 1From Press Release


Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy of Vermont are calling for a detailed accounting of the amount of taxpayer dollars spent on lawsuits that stem from information wrongly withheld under the Freedom of Information Act.  The Senators requested the Government Accountability Office to issue a report on total litigation costs of federal agencies for cases in which judges ruled, or the government itself admitted, that the sued agency withheld or censored information that the public should have had access to under FOIA.

FOIA allows information requesters to sue the government if they believe an agency wrongly withheld information when processing their request. The law also allows courts to order the government to pay the requester’s legal fees when a court rules in favor of the requester or when the government admits that its initial withholding was wrong.

At a recent Judiciary Committee hearing, witnesses testified that federal agencies’ reflex is often to deny FOIA requests, and only provide the requested information when sued by the requester. The government has conceded in nearly a third of these lawsuits that it improperly withheld or censored the requested information when processing the original FOIA request.

“Withholding information from the public unless sued undermines the very spirit of FOIA and wastes significant taxpayer money in the process,” the Senators write in a letter requesting a breakdown of the costs incurred by the taxpayer when federal agencies’ decisions to withhold or censor documents are successfully challenged in court.

A signed copy of the letter is available here.