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NASA FOIA Follies Continue

By Keith Cowing
NASA Watch
August 23, 2017
Filed under ,
NASA FOIA Follies Continue

Getting NASA to Comply With Simple FOIA Requests Is a Nightmare
“Trying to effectively use the Freedom of Information Act can be hell. Maybe a police department will demand a ridiculous and seemingly arbitrary fee to collect records, or perhaps an agency simply won’t respond to requests. Judging by Motherboard’s own requests as well as those from Freedom of Information organizations, one government body in particular stands out for turning FOIA requests into a nightmare: NASA. Trying to effectively use the Freedom of Information Act can be hell. Maybe a police department will demand a ridiculous and seemingly arbitrary fee to collect records, or perhaps an agency simply won’t respond to requests. Judging by Motherboard’s own requests as well as those from Freedom of Information organizations, one government body in particular stands out for turning FOIA requests into a nightmare: NASA.”
NASA FOIA Follies Continue, earlier post
Why Does it Take 2 Years For GSFC To Respond to a FOIA Request?, earlier post
Never Ask NASA a Simple Question, earlier post
NASA Refuses To Accept Its Own News Media Accreditation (Update), earlier post
In Search Of A CASIS Report Card, earlier post

NASA Watch founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.

7 responses to “NASA FOIA Follies Continue”

  1. Paul451 says:
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    Keith, you’ve repeated that paragraph. Keith, you’ve repeated that paragraph.

  2. Michael Spencer says:
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    You are annoying someone? Or an entire Agency?! And this is about the only way they can strike back?

    This has got to piss you off. Would me.

    Maybe you need a pseudonym! A nome de guerre!

    • fcrary says:
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      Actually, one of the complaints in the full story was a requirement to provide personal information. The requestors have to include things like their home address. So they have already taken care of people using a pseudonym or nom de plume. (And, despite being a bit abrasive at times, I don’t think Keith’s activities warrant a nom de guerre.)

  3. fcrary says:
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    That’s ridiculous. Motherboard asked for emails from a specific server, sent between specified hours on a specific day, with keywords like “Musk” and “SpaceX” in the subject. That’s too vague and poorly defined for NASA to handle? Really? If a system administrator needed more than five minutes to do that search, he probably should be fired for incompetence. Some of the other examples in the report make it seem as if NASA expected a FOIA request to contain the official document ID number. Maybe someone should file a FIOA request for the index with document titles and IDs, so they could be more specific in the future. Oh, wait, you’d need the document ID of the index in order to request it.

    Seriously, I expect government agencies to drag their feet over FIOA requests. Those requests are trying to make them release information they didn’t wish to release on their own. But that’s the whole point of the Act. The level of obstruction goes far beyond the usual, bureaucratic foot dragging I’d expect.

    I never thought I’d say this, but someone should file a lawsuit over this. What does the FIOA say about enforcement? I really hope it didn’t leave it up to the individual agencies, to police themselves. (If so, you could talk to NASA’s Office of the Inspector General, for all the good it would do.) Of course, suing a government agency is expensive, but if someone did sue and tried to crowdsource funding, I’d chip in. But any such suit shouldn’t be all about one case. I think the term I’m looking for is a class action. Something about systematic misfeasance.

    • Paul451 says:
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      What does the FIOA say about enforcement? I really hope it didn’t leave it up to the individual agencies, to police themselves.

      Pretty much.

      “5 USC §552(a)(4)(F) Whenever the court orders the production of any agency records improperly withheld from the complainant and assesses against the United States reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs, and the court additionally issues a written finding that the circumstances surrounding the withholding raise questions whether agency personnel acted arbitrarily or capriciously with respect to the withholding, the Special Counsel shall promptly initiate a proceeding to determine whether disciplinary action is warranted against the officer or employee who was primarily responsible for the withholding. The Special Counsel, after investigation and consideration of the evidence submitted, shall submit his findings and recommendations to the administrative authority of the agency concerned and shall send copies of the findings and recommendations to the officer or employee or his representative. The administrative authority shall take the corrective action that the Special Counsel recommends.”

      Other than costs, it doesn’t look like there’s any punitive mechanism available to the courts. It’s assumed that any failings are individual, therefore an internal matter, not institutional.

      So first you have to get a ruling in your favour from a court, then you have to convince the judge/justice that the agency acted capriciously. And all that does is trigger an internal review. w00t.

      • fcrary says:
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        How truly good. At least there is a shred of hope: “The administrative authority shall take the corrective action that the Special Counsel recommends.” That’s shall, not should or shall consider, and the Counsel is someone outside the agency. But that’s a very thin hope. And an agency like NASA could simply get a little more creative about denying FIOA requests. (We haven’t reviewed that document and it may contain proprietary information from a contractor. Or it might contain ITAR or otherwise export-controlled information. We can’t give it to you until you’ve sent us a big check to cover the cost of those reviews.)