The Center for Public Integrity, as a matter of policy, does not accept grants from the federal government. But the Center will accept compensation for the time and effort we put into fighting the government’s efforts to keep information from the public. And that’s what happened last month when the Center concluded a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Energy with an agreement that DOE pay the Center $5,000 in attorney fees.
The case began when the Center filed a lawsuit in August 2015 over a FOIA request for a report by DOE’s inspector general — a report on allegations against the Sandia Corporation, which then operated the Sandia National Laboratory in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Center also requested a variety of other documents related to the IG’s investigation. In June 2015, DOE released a copy of the IG report to the Center but withheld the names of numerous federal officials and employees of Sandia and of its parent company, Lockheed Martin. The Center filed suit to challenge those redactions and because, nine months after the original FOIA request, DOE had turned over only one other document.
The timeliness of the government’s response is often at issue in FOIA matters. The act generally requires a complete response to a FOIA request within 20 business days, but many agencies don’t have enough resources budgeted to keep up with the volume of requests they receive. The only real penalty for missing the deadline is that, once it passes, the requester can go to court.