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Aug. 20 — There is no evidence political appointees from President Barack Obama's administration interfere with or in any way influence the handling of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, according to the EPA Office of Inspector General.
The report, requested by a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, concluded any delays in handling of FOIA requests were due to the volume and complexity of information involved.
Political appointees were generally only involved in the FOIA process when their own records were requested, the report said. An employee tasked with handling FOIA requests told the Office of Inspector General he had never been told how to respond in more than 11 years.
“We did not find any indications of political interference or delay in the release of FOIA documents,” the report said.
The lawmaker who sought the report asked the head EPA official in charge of the FOIA process to certify that no political appointees were involved in how requests were handled or, if any were involved, that their presence did not delay record releases or alter what documents were disclosed.
EPA's head FOIA official said the certification request was not “feasible” because political appointees had responsibilities to provide responsive records like all other employees. The official noted an earlier 2011 OIG report found a role for administration appointees in the process, but it said the officials were “not involved in filtering FOIA requests.”
The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee did not respond to request for comment.
According to the inspector general, the lawmaker requested the report in late June and asked for a report within 60 days.
The agency's handling of FOIA requests has come under fire multiple times in recent months. A federal judge scolded the EPA in March for its “continued disregard” for its obligations under the records act and said the agency's treatment of a conservative group's request left “far too much room for a reasonable observer to suspect misconduct”.
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The report (No. 15-N-0261) on the FOIA process at the EPA is available at http://1.usa.gov/1J7SeIx.
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