By Ryan Dube,

This past week, there have been a lot of unusual side-effects as a result of the government shutdown. Numerous government websites have been either scaled back or completely shut down, and just about all agencies have scaled back normal operations that aren’t considered critical.

However, it might be surprising to some readers to know that there are some unforeseen consequences for researchers who make frequent use of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to obtain information otherwise hidden from the public. According to John Greenewald of the FOIA warehouse of formerly classified documents known as The Black Vault, government agencies have started to stall all FOIA requests until the government shutdown is over.

The Freedom of Information Act is a law that insures the public’s right to access information of the Federal government. The law was first enacted in 1966 and provided the public with full access to all federal agency records, unless those records are exempt from disclosure by meeting one of nine exemptions or one of the three law enforcement exclusion rules. It isn’t easy for any government agency to evade disclosing information to the public if it is not classified or doesn’t meet the rules of exemption, but during the government furlough, all of those agencies seem to have a temporary reprieve from fulfilling their responsibilities under FOIA law.

FOIA is On Furlough

While there are certainly plenty of nuisance requests from an element of wing-nuts that constantly request government information about UFOs, aliens, Bigfoot and crop circles, there are also legions of professional researchers that are conducting important historical research into past activities of the federal agencies.

Most researchers that have been in the field for long enough start to recognize a regular pattern within agencies to try and evade FOIA requirements by either naming or classifying documents in ways that might keep them exempt from disclosure, or not creating a document trail at all, if possible. FOIA work is also viewed by many within agencies as a low position within the “totem pole”, and so those that fulfill such requests are usually not in any big hurry to complete the queries, despite the fact that Federal law mandates a response to FOIA requests within a certain time limit.

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10.09.2013 (193 days ago)
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