A new release of data collected by Syracuse University researchers shows that the number of Freedom of Information Act cases filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia went up during the last fiscal year by more than 20 percent.
The data also show that FOIA case filings were up nationwide by 27 percent during the last fiscal year, which ended on Oct. 1.
The FOIA Project is an arm of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, a research center at Syracuse University. Researchers developed a system to automatically capture information on FOIA cases filed in federal courts nationwide.
Center Co-Director David Burnham said his team is just starting to analyze the data, so they have yet to determine what might be behind the jump, or which agencies have been involved in the most FOIA litigation.
In D.C. federal court, there were 149 FOIA cases filed between October 2010 and the present. During the previous fiscal year, the FOIA Project tracked 124 new FOIA cases filed in Washington.
There were 378 new FOIA cases filed nationwide during the last fiscal year, up from 297 new cases filed the year before.
The bulk of FOIA cases come through D.C. federal court, making up nearly half of all FOIA cases nationwide.
Public interest groups are behind many of the cases. Conservative judicial watchdog group Judicial Watch filed 25 FOIA cases during the last fiscal year, the most of any filer, up from the 17 cases the group filed the fiscal year before.
President Tom Fitton said he believes federal agencies, under the Obama administration, have been “less transparent” about turning over information, and that the administration has been “as aggressive” as the Bush administration in fighting FOIA cases court, and “sometimes more so.”
Anne Weismann, chief counsel for the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington – a nonprofit that filed 10 FOIA cases last fiscal year in Washington – also said that her organization hasn’t seen the type of transparency they were hoping for as well. The center filed five FOIA cases during the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
Another area the FOIA Project is looking to track is the speed at which FOIA cases are resolved. Until recently, the Washington federal court bench was operating with several vacancies, which posed a problem for filers looking to get information as quickly as possible, Weismann said.
Because the criminal docket has to move at a quicker pace by law, Weismann said that civil cases, including FOIA cases, “get shorter shrift – that’s always a frustration.”