Saturday, April 17, 2010

FOIA Follies III- FBI Response Time Confusion

Writing a thesis on a domestic terrorism in America requires a lot of FOIAs to the FBI. Besides requests for the famous groups like the Weathermen or famous attacks like 9-11, you have to submit requests on all the terrorist organizations operating in America. Needless to say, I have interacted a lot with the FBI FOIA office. Honestly, I am not impressed.
Response times are horrible, even when FOIAing for files that are frequently requested and require little searching. Staff can be snippy and bitchy about answering basic questions. Not to mention, they destroy files with little public notice or apparent rhyme or reason. On a more basic level, they cannot keep their policies straight on simple policy matters like how long a requester has to respond to a letter or query from the FBI FOIA office.

Below is a letter I received from the FBI regarding a FOIA request. On one hand, it informs me that I "must notify us [FBI] in writing within 60 days from the date of this letter of your willingness to pay." However, by the next-to-last-paragraph, I am informed that "if you fail to notify us of your willingness to pay [and/or] we do not hear from you regarding your willingness to reduce the scope of your request within 30 days from the date of this letter, your request will be closed."

Do I have 30 or 60 days to which to respond to this letter? It is unclear from this muddled missive. Given that this is a form letter and the minor nature of this gaffe, thousands of people have received this letter and I doubt anyone has informed them of their mistake. Most likely, they laugh, maybe mock the FBI amongst their friends and then pay the fee or reduce the scope of their request within 30 days.

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