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DHS misplaced 12,000 FOIA requests and forgot they existed

(AP/Eric Gay)

(AP/Eric Gay)

Count the Department of Homeland Security as yet another government agency that has trouble keeping track of important documents.

The entire government currently has 95,000 backlogged Freedom of Information Act requests—and DHS is responsible for half of them.

The Department committed several years ago to fixing their backlog. The Government Accountability Office recently checked in on their progress, and was not impressed.

The GAO found that the department “improperly closed” 11,000 cases, and left 12,000 more requests stuffed into boxes and forgotten about before even entering them into the processing system. The mystery boxes were eventually stumbled upon by a new manager.

The review found multiple other points of concern, including that FOIA requests are sometimes erroneously counted multiple times.

In 2011, DHS resolved to reduce their backlog by 15 percent every year. But the sheer scope of the department has made progress particularly difficult.

DHS oversees 28 agencies, and has seven “operational components,” of which the GAO studied five: USCIS, CBP, ICE, FEMA, and the Coast Guard.

Across just those five components, there was little to no uniformity in how FOIA requests were handled. ICE, for example, uses two automated systems, “FOIAXpress” and FileMaker Pro. But the Coast Guard just uses Excel spreadsheets.

Thanks to the mismatched reports, the GAO “concluded that, overall, the cost data provided were not sufficiently reliable, based on federal management cost accounting standards, to determine DHS’s total FOIA costs, but that our analysis allowed us to conclude that overall costs were underreported.”

Read more, including the full GAO report, at TechDirt.

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