Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Here's why more reporters don't use the Freedom of Information Act:
On Dec. 19, 2001, I submitted a FOIA request to the Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. I wanted something simple, a log of FOIA requests. FOIA logs, by the way, can be a useful if sneaky reporting tool. They divulge who else is digging for dirt -- including, perhaps, political opposition researchers and other reporters.
Remember that date: Dec. 19, 2001. On Monday, Sept. 29, 2008 -- yesterday -- I received a response to my seven-year-old request. Now, if only I could remember why I asked for the material in the first place...
The FOIA log, moreover, is very rudimentary. It lists the requesters, but not what they were looking for. Thus, I can now reveal that then-Texas congressman Charles Stenholm filed a 2001 FOIA request, but not why. I can report that Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas filed a request, but not what for.
There's a word that comes to mind. It will come to me in a second...