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DHS' Process for Responding to FOIA and Congressional Requests

Executive Summary

DHS generally met deadlines for responding to simple Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, it did not do so for most complex requests.  A significant increase in requests received, coupled with resource constraints, limited DHS’ ability to meet production timelines under FOIA, creating a litigation risk for the Department.  Additionally, DHS has not always fully documented its search efforts, making it difficult for the Department to defend the reasonableness of the searches undertaken.  With respect to responding to congressional requests, we determined DHS has established a timeliness goal of 15 business days or less; however, on average, it took DHS nearly twice as long to provide substantive responses to Congress, with some requests going unanswered for up to 450 business days.  Further, DHS redacted personal information in its responses to congressional committee chairs even when disclosure of the information was statutorily permissible.  This was a descriptive report and contained no recommendations.  In its response, DHS acknowledged FOIA backlogs remain a problem, despite increasing requests processed.  DHS stated its process responding to congressional requests varies greatly and that its redactions are appropriate.

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