Dems request more funds to beef up Interior FOIA office

Democratic lawmakers are asking appropriators to provide more funding so the Interior Department can hire more staff to handle public information requests.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question Cummings requests interview with Census official over new allegations on citizenship question Top Dems question legal basis for appointing Cuccinelli as temporary immigration chief MORE (D-Md.) and Reps. TJ Cox (D-Calif.) and Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaFormer GOP Rep. Rohrabacher joins board of cannabis company GOP rep says taxpayers 'happy' to pay for performance in improving infrastructure Dem says infrastructure 'only major' issue where both parties can get a deal MORE (D-Calif.) are requesting that the House Appropriations Committee allocate enough funds to hire “at least” 10 new full-time staff for the Interior Department’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) office.

Response times for FOIA requests are increasing, sparking an outcry from journalists, environmental organizations and lawmakers. Under FOIA law, government agencies must respond to requests within 20 days or could face a lawsuit, a route some organizations have chosen to take under the Trump administration.

According to the Interior Department, the agency has experienced a 30 percent increase in FOIA requests since Trump took office. More than 100 cases are currently being litigated, the agency said.

ADVERTISEMENT

“Because of the large increase in FOIA requests and litigation, the growing backlog and overwhelming public interest in ensuring transparency during this Administration, we recommend that the funding increase be used to hire at least 10 [full-time employees] FTEs dedicated solely to responding to FOIA requests,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter Thursday night.

Grijalva and Cox have also asked the Appropriations Committee to increase funding levels for the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), the government watchdog that oversees the agency.

In a letter last week, the two lawmakers requested an additional $2.5 million in funds for the office, citing a drop in the number of investigations opened by the office.

In their request, the lawmakers noted that the OIG received only a 2 percent increase in funding between fiscal 2015 and 2018, while during that time period, complaints filed against Interior increased 48 percent.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department's OIG told The Hill the office appreciated “the expression of support that this request demonstrates."