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For FOIA Follies, Treasury Department Wins Incompetence Prize

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March 19, 2008

In the spirit of Sunshine Week, today the National Security Archive announced the winner of its annual Rosemary Award, named after President Nixon’s secretary Rose Mary Woods, infamous for “accidentally” erasing 18 ½ minutes of an important Watergate tape. And the winner is…

The Treasury Department, for its mishandling of and all around unresponsiveness to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests!

The Washington Post reports:

Instead of answering the requests, [National Security Archive Director Tom] Blanton said, Treasury just keeps asking people if they still really want the information and often “actually destroys the original request letters the way [Woods] erased the tapes.” One Archive request is 21 years old.

A 1997 Archive request asked for information about the Clinton administration’s certification that Mexico was working against drug trafficking. Treasury responded in 2001, 2004 and 2007, but only to ask if the Archive was still interested in the information. The agency has sent the Archive 74 such “Are you still . . .?” letters for 42 different requests in the past seven years.

The Treasury Department’s shenanigans did not go unnoticed by the news media covering Sunshine Week this week. Reporting on National Security Archive audit on FOIA requests earlier this week, the AP noted Treasury’s “wait out the requestor” game.

Treasury faced stiff competition from 2006 winner – the CIA, which was honored by the Archive for “the most dramatic one-year drop-off in professionalism and responsiveness to the public we have seen in 20 years of monitoring federal government compliance with the freedom of information law.”

So congratulations to Secretary Paulson and the Treasury Department! First the mortgage meltdown, and now this!