Forest Service: the Poster Child for FOIA Reform


One year ago today, Dr. Dennis Murphy filed a FOIA request with the Forest Service for e-mail sent by or received by the Forest Supervisor who approved the Upper Echo Lake Hazardous Fuels Reduction Project pertaining to the project and by the lead biologist with respect to the project. Shortly after receiving the request, the Forest Service improperly denied Dr. Murphy's request for a fee waiver. Following an appeal by Dr. Murphy, on January 6, 2015, the agency granted the fee waiver. More than three months later (and more than six months after the initial request was filed), on April 7, 2015, the Forest Service issued its "response" composed primarily of hundreds of pages of redacted (i.e., blacked out) documents. On April 9, 2015, Dr. Murphy once again filed an administrative appeal from the agency's unlawful decision to withhold documents. More than five months since the appeal was filed, the agency has yet to respond.

This was not a burdensome request; the redacted materials amount to just over 500 pages of e-mail and attachments. In addition, all of the materials are available electronically to the agency, making the review and production process simple. Unfortunately, this appears to be standard operating procedure at the U.S. Forest Service. One can only conclude that the Forest Service has elected to flout the law, ignoring its statutory obligations and the guidance provided by both the current President and former Attorney General Holder.

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