The following is a news analysis.
The Washington Post recently received a treasure trove of Dr. Anthony Fauci's emails related to the Covid-19 pandemic and response.
But the shame of it is... under federal law, the emails should have been made public over a year ago.
According to Freedom of Information law, the government must produce such public information to requesters, whether it's you or me, within about 30 days.
In my experience, it never does.
I requested Dr. Fauci's emails starting April 1, 2020. I was granted "expedited processing," meaning my request was entitled to be bumped to the top of the line because it's a matter of public health importance and involved material to be used for time sensitive news reporting.
One year and two months later, my requests are still ignored by the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
The Washington Post is lucky to have received a response, even if it's wildly belated. Federal FOI officials may rightly calculate that I am less likely to embark upon the personally costly exercise of suing them. I have occasionally sued over an unanswered FOI request, but it is expensive and time consuming. Plus, in the end, the government tends to redact the very public information that's most important to the story. Trying to crack that nut means more court action and more money. They (the federal government) on the other hand have unlimited taxpayer money to spend to fight a FOI lawsuit.
Things aren't likely to change soon. Even when requesters like me are successful with a FOI lawsuit, years have passed and the obstructive federal government has succeeded in keeping the information from being part of a news story --when it was news. Further, there is zero punishment given to the federal obstructionists responsible when the courts find, as they often do, that the material should have been turned over long ago.
Therefore, there is no incentive for federal officials to follow the law, and every incentive for them to break it.
The game many of them play is predictable and discouraging.
In the case of my Fauci email requests, a FOI officer called me and told me my request would be denied in its entirety if I didn't dramatically limit the request to fewer documents. (I argued that it would actually be easier to produce "all" of Fauci's emails over a certain time period than to have to pick through them, but I knew that it's nearly impossible to use logic and win an argument with a FOI officer whose mission is typically to keep documents out of public hands for as long as possible.)
The FOI officers pretended that if I dramatically limited my request, they might actually fulfill it in a reasonable time period. But they did not do so. What they were actually doing is getting me to make a narrow request that tends to exclude damning documents or the very material that it could be most important to see.
As you can see by my amended request (below), after consulting with the NIH FOI officer, I was convinced to narrow my FOI request to a specific and relatively small range of dates:
Separately, last year, I filed a FOI request for all of Fauci's emails related to hydroxychloroquine. Again, the call came from a FOI officer. I would have to narrow my search to specific words used for hydroxychloroquine, and I could only pick three. Below, you can see the three terms I chose:
The game is: federal officials know their records are subject to FOI requests and so some of them communicate outside of their official email and/or use what amounts to "code words" to elude a FOI search for documents. For example, they could have called hydroxychloroquine by the initial "H" or by some other name entirely and I would never see them, even if they did properly respond to the technical aspects of my FOI request. By requiring me to narrow my request to three specific terms, it increases the likelihood I will not get relevant material.
When the National Institutes of Health almost immediately stalled on my request, I put in a simple request for one day's worth of emails. This could have been filled in a matter of an hour. See the wording of my request below:
But, again, more than a year has gone by with no response. If I ever get the documents, their timeliness will have long passed.
Freedom of Information law is clearly broken. It was designed to help keep the feds from withholding documents we own and are entitled to see. Federal officials have figured out how to pervert it into a tool that further obstructs the release of obviously public information.
And nothing is done about it.