Judicial Watch is suing the State Department to find out how many travel exemptions the Biden Administration granted to federal employees and their families during the Covid-19 pandemic.
President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation in January 2021 prohibiting the entry of non-residents to America if they had been in the Schengen Area, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Brazil, and the Republic of South Africa in the 14 days prior.
The stated objective of Biden's order was to “prevent further spread” of Covid-19.
The watchdog group argues that federal employees could have potentially used their positions and connections to circumvent the travel bans by obtaining National Interest Exemptions (NIE).
“Covid restrictions have been too often ignored by government officials, and Americans have a right to know if federal employees used their positions of power to see their families when others could not.”Tom Fitton, Judicial Watch President
The lawsuit was filed after the State Department failed to respond to Judicial Watch's Sept. 21, 2021 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
Federal agencies routinely ignore and/or violate FOIA law without punishment. Those seeking information owned by the public have to spent a great deal of money to sue for the documents in court. The court process succeeds in delaying the release of material for months or years, though the law calls for its release to the public within about 30 days. Additionally, when the courts find federal agencies improperly withheld material, as they typically do, there is usually no punishment or accountability.
Judicial Watch is seeking to obtain the following data:
- The total number of NIE requests made during the public health emergency from federal and non-federal employees
- The number of rejections and approvals of these requests
- All records of the policies related to the processing of applications for NIE
- All records of communication between officials from the State Department and officials from other U.S. Government offices regarding the applications
(Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of State (No. 1:22-cv-00736)).