By Zoe Tillman
A new study details the growing number of lawsuits filed under the federal Freedom of Information Act during President Barack Obama's first term in office.
The study, announced last week by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, or TRAC, showed that number of FOIA lawsuits filed went up by about 6 percent between President George W. Bush's second term and Obama's first term.
Comparing the last two years of those terms, TRAC found that the number of FOIA lawsuits jumped by 28 percent, from 562 under Bush to 720 under Obama. TRAC, which is housed at Syracuse University, noted in its release that the two-year time periods at the end of each term might be a more meaningful time period to study because there's often a delay in filings during the transition to a new administration.
The December 20 study broke down which agencies faced the largest increases in FOIA lawsuits. The U.S. Department of State had the highest growth rate, with lawsuits jumping from 18 during the last two years of Bush's second term to 38 for the same time period during Obama's first term – a 111 percent increase.
In comparing those same time periods, the U.S. Department of Justice saw the biggest jump in the number of lawsuits filed, from 141 under Bush to 211 under Obama.
In the announcement, TRAC researchers suggested that the rise in FOIA lawsuits was surprising, given Obama's pledge after taking office to increase government transparency. They added that it isn't clear from the data is whether the rise in lawsuits was because of backlogs in processing requests for information or because more agencies were withholding information.
The study did show that FOIA lawsuits dropped for some agencies. The U.S. Department of Treasury, for instance, saw an 11 percent decline in lawsuits filed during the last two years of Bush's second term compared with the same time period for Obama's first term.
The full study is available here.