Homeland Security buried in FOIA requests

The Department of Homeland Security is getting buried in demands for documents, with the backlog of Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests jumping to more than 50,000 in fiscal 2013. 

The DHS Privacy Office, which handles FOIA requests, publicly released its annual report to Congress this month detailing its work from July 2013 to June 2014.

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The department regularly receives the most requests for information of any agency, reaching 231,534 requests in 2013 alone — an increase of 18 percent in a year.  

DHS has been unable to meet the demand with its backlog of requests nearly doubling this year to 51,761. 

"The Department continued to take a multi-pronged approach to reduce its backlog, including the deployment of contractors and Privacy Office staff to the Components with the largest backlogs," according to the report

Offices dealing with requests for immigration-related records are almost solely driving the backlog — including exit and entry, detention, and deportation records. The department said 95 percent of the backlog is coming from either Custom and Border Protection, Immigration and Custom Enforcement, Citizenship and Immigration Services, or the National Protection and Programs Directorate which deals with cyber and physical infrastructure. 

The privacy office and others in the department have set up an electronic monitoring system to track information requests, and earlier this year created an online request form for the media and public.

The FOIA backlog is just a tiny portion of the 91-page report from the decade-old privacy office, the first of its kind created in the federal government. 

The privacy office is tasked with preventing security breaches while also promoting transparency and protecting the public’s privacy interests.

In a blog post Tuesday, chief privacy officer Karen Neuman touted the office's use of social media. She also said the department’s privacy principles and guidance have become a model for other agencies. 

"We will continue to ensure that DHS remains committed to protecting the privacy of all individuals, and to providing the highest level of transparency and accountability," she said in the post.