Treasury Wins 2008 "Rosemary Award" as Worst FOIA Agency

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As if the sub-prime credit crisis was not enough, the U.S. Treasury Department today won the fourth annual Rosemary Award for the worst performance by a federal agency under the Freedom of Information Act.

Given annually by the Emmy- and George Polk Award-winning National Security Archive at George Washington University, the Rosemary recognizes outstandingly bad responsiveness to the public that flouts the letter and spirit of the Freedom of Information Act. The Award is named after President Nixon's secretary Rose Mary Woods and the backwards-leaning stretch with which she erased an eighteen-and-a-half minute section of a key Watergate conversation on the White House tapes.

"The Treasury Department has brought new meaning to the notion of sub-prime performance," remarked the Archive's director Tom Blanton. "Instead of answering Freedom of Information requests, Treasury puts the burden on requesters to repeatedly confirm interest in their requests and actually destroys the original request letters the way Rose Mary Woods erased the tapes."

On one Archive request filed in 1997 about the Clinton administration's certification of Mexican efforts against drug trafficking, Treasury:

(1) repeatedly asked the Archive (in 2001, 2004 and 2007) if we were still interested (Treasury has sent the Archive 74 such letters for 42 different requests in the past seven years),

(2) asked for another copy of the request since the original had been "destroyed," (Treasury has asked for similar replacement letters for other Archive requests 42 times),

(3) finally closed the request without ever processing a document, claiming so much time had elapsed that the records had been retired to the National Archives (Treasury has asserted such claims in at least 10 of the Archive's FOIA cases).

Air Force was the recipient of the 2007 Rosemary for its status as an "E-Delinquent" in the 2007 National Security Archive audit of agency compliance with the Electronic FOIA, which found 139 broken links on the Air Force FOIA Web sites. In its latest Audit, 'Mixed Signals, Mixed Results: How President Bush's Executive Order on FOIA Failed to Deliver,' the National Security Archive found that the Air Force has since made significant strides in improving its FOIA Web site and developing it into an effective tool for FOIA requesters.

The Archive presented the 2006 Rosemary Award to the Central Intelligence Agency for "the most dramatic one-year drop-off in professionalism and responsiveness to the public we have seen in 20 years of monitoring federal government compliance with the freedom of information law." After this poor performance, however, the CIA received high marks for its E-FOIA performance in the Archive's audit, 'File Not Found: 10 Years After E-FOIA, Most Federal Agencies Are Delinquent,' and for its handling of backlogged FOIA requests in the Archive's latest audit 'Mixed Signals, Mixed Results: How President Bush's Executive Order on FOIA Failed to Deliver.'

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