MSHA Publishes Long-Withheld (but Legally Required) FOIA Report

December 17, 2008

The Labor Department's Mine Safety and Health Administration has finally released its long-withheld Freedom of Information Act annual reports. MSHA had fought a FOIA request for the public documents by veteran requester Mike Ravnitsky for some 18 months.

Why would MSHA resist Ravnitsky's request? The agency said the reports, which the Freedom of Information Act requires it to publish, were exempt because they represented "deliberative process." But the information they had denied to Ravnitsky was purely statistical, and had nothing to do with policy deliberations.

What did the withheld info show? That MSHA's costs for processing each request had skyrocketed between 1998 and 2006 — increasing more than eightfold as it assigned more and more staff hours to the tough job of thinking up reasons (specious ones, as it turned out in at least this one case) for denying FOIA requests.

The whole story came out in the November 24, 2008, edition of Mine Safety and Health News, published by Ellen E. Smith.