In their June response to my Keystone XL FOIA request, the Department of State (DOS) declared, after a fifteen-month review, that they did not have the Keystone XL’s GIS data – despite the agency being tasked with reviewing the project’s environmental impacts (read more here). The FOIA statute allows for an appeal of this finding and requires a response by the DOS within 21 days. In this case, where the requested information is not found, the appeal process reviews the completeness of the department’s search.
Come September I began making follow up calls, only to be told the appeal was pending. I learned that 30 other Keystone FOIA requests were also pending (readers may recall that last year I was told that I was the only one seeking Keystone XL route information). Further calls revealed that my request had to be reviewed by an appeal board which meets once a month – the next meeting being in December (don’t ask).
Of course, the 21-day response deadline set by Congress turns out to be hopelessly optimistic. More to the point, the delay raises questions about short-staffing at the DOS. Does the Pentagon have this problem?
For an impartial view on this case I contacted the Office of Government Information Services (OGIS), the governmental agency “Congress has charged with reviewing FOIA policies, procedures and compliance.” An OGIS employee told me she was encouraged that the DOS was providing me with updates at all.