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The 2016 Foilies

Some government agencies are so bad at handling public records requests, they deserve an award.


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This year, the Pentagon makes the DEA's assessment look like pocket change. When MuckRock user Martin Peck asked for the number of "HotPlug" devices (a tool used to preserve data on seized computers), the agency came back with a whopping $660 million fee estimate to "perform the necessary redactions of proprietary data."

The Defense Department claimed it has no way to do a text search of its document system, so it would take 15 million labor hours to do the search and redact the documents.

By MuckRock's calculations: "15 million labor hours breaks down into 625,000 days, or a little over 1,712 years. So, assuming one DOD employee started working on this nonstop tomorrow, they'd finish somewhere in the summer of 3728."

Special Prize for Drunk Dialing for Public Records
New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez

New Mexico media outlets have been battling against Governor Susana Martinez and her stalling tactics on records requests basically since she was elected to office in 2010. Yet when it comes to her own requests for public information, Martinez is a little impatient.

Last year, Martinez was partying in a room at a downtown Santa Fe hotel when police responded to complaints of noise and bottles being tossed off the balcony. While still at the hotel, a furious Martinez called 911 and demanded to know the name of the person who filed the complaint. As the 911-dispatch recording revealed, Martinez demanded: "It's a public record. Give it to me!"

We're a little sympathetic: The world would be a better place if we could all get public records on demand with a simple phone call. Unfortunately, that's not the case yet, apparently not even for governors.

Martinez claimed she'd only had one cocktail, but witnesses told police that she was visibly "inebriated." She later claimed that "nothing that I said or did was as a result of any alcohol." That's almost worse, isn't it?

Ministry of Silly Talks Award
UK Independent Commission on Freedom of Information

The United Kingdom also has a Freedom of Information Act, and last year a new body was formed to review the state of play (i.e., investigate whether transparency is too expensive and invasive). But at its first meeting in 2015, the Independent Commission on Freedom of Information announced a ludicrously ironic set of ground rules for reporters. As The Guardian reported, the meeting would be "off-the-record" and journalists could not quote anyone. Transcripts weren't published either.

Head Trip Award
US Army Surgeon General

The US Army wasn't happy with New York Times reporter Dave Philipps' investigation into concussions at West Point. As documents show, Army officials came up with a plan to undercut his story by stalling the release of FOIA documents until they could publish their own report. What's worse, this wasn't the first time they'd pulled this trick. As Army surgeon general Lieutenant General Patricia D. Horoho said, according to a meeting summary, "Timing is everything with this stuff. We were able to do something similar ... when the Colorado Springs Gazette attacked them with treatment of wounded warriors last year — killed any scrutiny from the media and killed their story."

Copywrong Award
City of Inglewood

Local governments hate gadflies, those tenacious citizens who troll public meetings at every opportunity. The City of Inglewood, California thought it would use copyright law as a swatter, suing local resident Joseph Teixeira. Teixeira had been posting video clips from city council meetings (which are public records) to YouTube with his own DVD-Bonus-Feature-style commentary, accusing officials of lying and betraying their constituents. Teixeira won the case in federal court in August, proving that trying to use copyright law to silence critics is a waste of tax dollars and everyone's time.

Gitmo, Get Less Award
Department of Defense

Miami Herald reporter Carol Rosenberg has been covering Guantanamo Bay for more than a decade, and that's how long its taken the Department of Defense to release information on the costs of running the offshore detention facility for enemy combatants in the "War on Terror." In 2004, a DOD official started compiling answers to her questions, but later informed her that he was under orders not to release the information. So, Rosenberg filed a formal FOIA request in February 2005, received a rejection, and then appealed. In 2015, almost 4,000 days later, she received an apology for the delay and was notified of a decision that the secrecy was unwarranted. She received three pages of information that showed the tens of millions of dollars spent to maintain the controversial facility in its first years.

Correction Fluid Award
Willacy County Sheriff, Texas

The Houston Chronicle was researching a reported spike in crime along the Mexican border by filing Open Records Act requests for crime data with sheriffs across South Texas. None of the sheriffs asked the Chronicle to pay records fees, except for one: the Willacy County Sheriff provided reporter Brian M. Rosenthal with an itemized invoice for $339.60 that included — wait for it — $98.40 worth of Wite-Out. Based on Staples pricing, that's a full 55 bottles worth of redaction or one bottle of Wite-Out per 18 pages of responsive documents.

Beasts of Privacy Award
Oregon State Legislature

This year, we received three separate nominations in which FOIA officials were absurdly mindful of the privacy of animals. Reporter Elizabeth Dinan found on at least two occasions that the Portsmouth Police Department in New Hampshire were redacting the names of lost and loose dogs from its blotters. Meanwhile, MuckRock contributor Carly Sitrin found that the State of New Jersey initially refused to release the necropsy results for a dolphin that died in the South River, citing the dolphin's "medical privacy." New Jersey later reversed course.