State Dept. Failing to Respond to Records Requests, Report Finds

PHOTO: The US State Department is seen on Nov. 29, 2010 in Washington.Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images
The US State Department is seen on Nov. 29, 2010 in Washington.

The State Department is failing to respond in a timely and accurate manner to requests for public records filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), an internal watchdog investigation released today concludes.

The report, issued by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General, recommends the State Department hire and dedicate more staff for the purpose of producing records, to which the State Department says it agrees.

“While the volume of State Freedom of Information Act requests has tripled since 2008, our resources to respond have not kept pace,” State Department John Kirby said in a statement to ABC News. “That said, we know we must continue to improve our FOIA responsiveness and are taking additional steps to do so.”

To keep on pace, the State Department says it will comply with all the recommendations for improvement and has already hired a “transparency coordinator,” which the report noted as a positive step.

Delays in document production have been both highlighted and exacerbated by recent FOIA litigation in which a federal judge ordered the State Department to release 55,000 pages of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s private email correspondence accumulated during her time in office.

The State Department has noted that this requirement alone has heavily taxed its personnel resources. At the end of last month, the State Department fell short of a court-ordered requirement to release 82 percent of the documents. Coincidentally, the department plans to release more emails today in order to reach that goal.

The report said plainly that searches conducted by the State Department “do not consistently meet statutory and regulatory requirements for completeness and rarely meet requirements for timeliness.”

Government agencies are required by law to respond to FOIA requests within 20 days, simply to inform them about whether or not they intend to comply. The report found that in some cases responses lagged for 500 days.

The report also examined historical trends of FOIA requests. That data shows that of the past five secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton has the most FOIA requests that are still pending -- 177 of them. But she also had by far the most requests to respond to -- 240. Colin Powell had the second most requests at 99, with 23 of them still pending.

In addition to requests from the public, the State Department is also required to respond to constant barrage of requests for information from Congress.

At a congressional hearing today in front of the House Oversight Committee, the State Department’s Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, Julia Frifield, argued essentially that her department is overwhelmed by requests from Congress. She pointed out that in 2015 alone, the State Department arranged 536 congressional and staff trips abroad, 2,500 briefings, handled more than 5,000 constituent cases for members of Congress, testified at 168 hearings, answered 1,700 congressional letters and provided hundreds of thousands of pages of documents. She said the dozens of investigations from nine separate committees has doubled the workload from 2014.