The watchdog group Empower Oversight is taking action against the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for evading accountability in its legal obligations to disclose "requested" documentation under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
According to Empower Oversight’s court filing, NIH improperly withheld information gathered in response to questions from Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) and Roger Marshall (R-Kansas).
Last year, the Senators asked about the agency’s decision, the request of Chinese researchers, to delete coronavirus genetic sequence information from an NIH database.
NIH has already admitted in the lawsuit that it failed to meet deadlines required by FOIA in responding to Empower Oversight’s request.
“The NIH has flouted deadlines and ignored its legal obligations to be transparent with Congress and the public.
The agency gathered answers to the Senators’ specific factual question but did not transmit them, and then it blacked-out entire paragraphs rather than disclose the information pursuant to our FOIA request.
Under FOIA, the deliberations of agency officials are exempt from the normal disclosure requirements, but facts are not exempt."Jason Foster, Founder and President of Empower Oversight
Oversight filed its initial FOIA request on July 14, 2021. Although NIH admitted receiving the request, it failed respond in any way for four months, which is a violation of federal law. However, federal agencies routinely violate FOIA law and are not punished for doing so.
Empower Oversight sued the agency in November 2021 to compel disclosure of the requested documents. Since then, Empower Oversight filed an amended complaint on March 1, 2022 challenging the improper redactions of information in answers drafted but never transmitted to the Senate.
Empower Oversight also released a research paper describing what has been learned from the documents NIH was forced to reveal so far as a result of Empower Oversight’s lawsuit.
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