The FBI said this week that it will temporarily pause electronic public records requests as federal agencies direct employees to work from home and practice social distancing to slow the spread of coronavirus.
A notice on the FBI's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) portal states that electronic requests will resume after the outbreak has ended. Mail submissions are still being accepted, according to the notice.
"Due to the emerging COVID-19 situation, the FBI is not accepting electronic Freedom of Information/Privacy Act requests or sending out electronic responses through the eFOIPA portal at this time. You may still submit a FOIPA request via standard mail. We apologize for this inconvenience and appreciate your understanding," reads the alert.
One government attorney told BuzzFeed that the delay was due to the agency's difficulty in assigning FOIA workers to review requests while adhering to social distancing guidelines.
"The FOIA processors need to be on-site to do the work, but they are too closely positioned to be able to conform to the new social distancing guidance," the attorney told BuzzFeed. "FBI is working on a response, but it is not clear when it will have one. And the production scheduled for the end of this month is now on hold, along with productions in many other cases."
The White House issued a directive days ago urging federal agencies to provide remote work options when available for federal workers amid the coronavirus outbreak, which has sickened more than 100 people in the Washington beltway area and more than 200,000 worldwide.
"All Federal Executive Branch departments and agencies within the National Capital Region (NCR), consistent with OMB's recent guidance (0MB M-20-13), are asked to offer maximum telework flexibilities to all current telework eligible employees, consistent with operational needs of the departments and agencies as determined by their head," read the directive issued Sunday.
"In addition, we encourage agencies to use all existing authorities to offer telework to additional employees, to the extent their work could be telework enabled," it continued.