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Letter to Senator Johnson Regarding DOT’s FOIA Process

Request by the Chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee
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In response to a request from Senator Ron Johnson to review the involvement of non-career officials in the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) response process, we provided the results of a previous review we had conducted at the request of Congress. Specifically, in response to a request from Senator Charles Grassley and Representative Darrell Issa, we examined DOT’s FOIA processes from January 2008 to September 2010 to determine whether or to what extent political appointees are made aware of information requests and have a role in reviewing requests or making decisions. Overall, we found that political appointees within the Department have a limited role in reviewing and approving FOIA requests and responses. Most FOIA responses were reviewed only by career service employees prior to release. Our survey of the Department’s FOIA officers also found no evidence suggesting that political appointees had impeded the FOIA process. Additionally, we reviewed hotline complaints made to our office over the past 8 years and found no allegations of political interference or filtering involving the review and approval of FOIA responses within the Department. Finally, we found that there had been no substantive changes to the Department’s FOIA process since 2008.