- I am a reporter who works full time for a well-respected
national news organization in the Washington, DC area. My news
publishes more than 25 national and regional magazines and newspapers,
primarily in the area of business and law, and at least two (Legal Times
and The National Law Journal) primarily devoted to the activities of the
justice system and of federal government agencies.
- Last year I learned that the Department of Justice Office
of Legislative Affairs (DOJ OLA) provided weekly legislative activity (i.e.
DOJ lobbying) reports to the Office of the Attorney General. These reports
are usually 2-3 pages in length.
- I asked for a few of these reports under the Freedom
of Information Act; those were provided in their entirety. Then I sent
a letter, again citing FOIA, and requested a couple of years worth of these
reports (still only a couple of hundred pages in all). Soon afterward,
the roof fell in.
- The news organization I work for routinely reports on
Justice Department activities in several magazines and newspapers.
DOJ decided that I am no longer a representative of the news media. As
a result, they declined to process our request without our payment of
or thousands of dollars in search fees. Under the FOIA law, reporters
should not be charged any search or review fees.
- I found out soon afterward what had happened. A small
office in DOJ called the Office of Information and Privacy runs training
seminars for government FOIA managers in a variety of agencies. At one
training session in November, 2001, the question came up of how to handle
troublesome requests, including my request for legislative weekly reports
to the Attorney General. The DOJ representative said that they were going
to deny my status as a representative of the news media, despite the fact
that I work full time for a national news organization and actively cover
- I learned this from a FOIA Manager who was in attendance
at the seminar, and who also spoke to the group criticizing this decision.
This manager told me that he thought their decision-making was highly
- Despite letters to the DOJ from the editor in chief of
our news organization, as well as inquiries from our company General
the Justice Department is standing firm and suppressing the release of
these reports by insisting that a reporter is not a reporter.
- The Justice Department is now considering spreading this
technique of hiding government documents to other agencies. If it is
not halted now, this approach could keep reporters from learning about
the activities of the government. This matter is too important to keep
within the confines of a newsroom.
- Apparently these documents which I requested are highly
embarrassing or sensitive, since they are taking such extraordinary steps
to prevent their release.
- If I withdraw my request for these documents, which date
back at least as far as the mid-1980s, they will undoubtedly be shredded
under the Justice Department's document destruction schedules.
- What can you do about this?
- FIRST of all, these reports should be requested to
their immediate shredding. Once records are requested, the agency is
to retain the records until the request has been processed.
- If anyone else is interested in these reports, you can
request them, specifying the years that you are interested in , by sending
a letter simply mentioning the Freedom of Information Act, and asking
- THE OFFICE OF LEGISLATIVE AFFAIRS WEEKLY REPORTS TO THE
ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE YEARS XXXX - XXXX. (as of last month, they had
these reports going back at least 15 years)
- Office of Legislative Affairs -- Requests for Office
of Legislative Affairs records should be addressed to:
- Melanie Ann Pustay, Deputy Director
- Office of Information and Privacy
- Suite 570, Flag Building
- Department of Justice
- Washington, DC 20530-0001
- PHONE: 202: 514-FOIA
- FAX: 202-514-1009
- What lobbying activities are described in these reports
that the Justice Department is willing to go to such great lengths to
- SECOND, you can contact the Office of Information &
Privacy and ask them why they are squelching the release of these
- If you would like any further information, you can
me at 202-828-0328. I will provide copies of the relevant correspondence
upon request to anyone from a newsroom or public interest or advocacy