State Dept. slow to hire open records staffers despite flood of requests

State Dept. slow to hire open records staffers despite flood of requests
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The State Department has faced a deluge of open records requests and lawsuits in recent months, many of them stemming from former Secretary Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFarrow: Clinton staff raised concerns over Weinstein reporting Perry says Trump directed him to discuss Ukraine with Giuliani: report The Memo: Once the front-runner, Biden now vulnerable MORE’s use of a private email server throughout her tenure at the department.

But despite the demands, the department has been slow to hire new staffers, according to a court filing that was made as part of an open records lawsuit launched by the Republican National Committee (RNC).

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This year, the State Department has been authorized to hire 25 new full-time staffers to work on processing requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

But only one has been hired, Obama administration lawyers disclosed in their filing this week. 

And only six other postings have been advertised on the government’s official jobs portal, suggesting that 18 of the openings have not even been made public.

“State will post two more positions on USAJOBS this month and is planning on posting additional positions next month,” lawyers for the administration said in their update of the department’s FOIA efforts.

The pace of hiring makes it incredibly unlikely that a significant number of employees will be added by Election Day, a key deadline for much of the State Department’s open records material. Given that much of the interest in the department’s activities has been driven by Clinton’s presidential candidacy, litigants have hoped to have as much information as possible out before the elections on Nov. 8.

The State Department claims that the slowness in hiring new FOIA officials is due to bureaucratic demands and the specialization required of new staffers, who must receive security clearances at the top-secret level.

“The department must create and finalize a position description for new full time positions before a job announcement can be posted, which takes time and resources,” spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

“The department must also follow competitive process requirements throughout the hiring process as we review applications, conduct interviews, make offers of employment, work with new hires to obtain the necessary security clearance and then bring the new employees onboard,” he added.

Security clearances alone can take months to be granted.

“That context is important to put our staffing levels in perspective, as some recently hired FOIA office staff are currently going through the hiring process or waiting to receive security clearances before beginning work,” Kirby said. “These matters have the full attention of the department’s leadership and we are committed to managing these challenges within the constraints of our finite resources.”

The slow rate of hiring is notable given the State Department’s longstanding troubles to deal with what officials have characterized as a tsunami of requests and lawsuits under FOIA over the past year.

The department is currently contending with more than 25,000 pending documents requests, it said in the filing this week, as well as approximately 43 lawsuits that demand it produce batches of records every month.

To deal with the pressure, the department was authorized to hire 25 new full-time staffers and turn another 25 part-time staffers into full-time employees. The new staffers would be on top of the roughly 70 full- or part-time officials the department has had working to review documents and handle litigation.

“This comes at a time when the department’s operations funding has decreased 25 percent in constant dollar terms since fiscal year 2012,” Undersecretary for Management Patrick Kennedy testified before the House Oversight Committee earlier this month.

The department “has worked” to make the 25 part-time officials full-time, State declared in the filing, though a spokesperson declined to say whether the process was complete.

Additionally, the department filled three preexisting but vacant FOIA positions within the last two months, it claimed. The department declined to specify whether there were additional vacant staffing slots.

For the next fiscal year, the State Department has requested an additional $4.9 million for staffers focusing on open records issues.

“These additional human resources, if provided, will help State to meet its existing FOIA demands, especially after the new and vacant positions have been filled and the new hires have been trained,” administration lawyers claimed.