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 CummingsHouse Oversight chair plans to subpoena for 10 years of Trump financial records: report Oversight Republicans to chairman: Investigate Obama aides Overnight Energy: Greenhouse gas reductions slow in 2017 | Dems request more funds for Interior FOIA office | Europe turning to Russia for oil amid US sanctions MORE (D-Md.) and Reps. TJ Cox (D-Calif.) and Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaOvernight Energy: Greenhouse gas reductions slow in 2017 | Dems request more funds for Interior FOIA office | Europe turning to Russia for oil amid US sanctions Dems request more funds to beef up Interior FOIA office Overnight Energy: Bipartisan Senate group seeks more funding for carbon capture technology | Dems want documents on Interior pick’s lobbying work | Officials push to produce more electric vehicle batteries in US 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.

“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.”

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