“Take a Number:” SEJ’s Report on Growing FOIA Backlogs

March 15, 2023 — If justice delayed is justice denied, can the same be said of information? The Freedom of Information Act requires federal agencies to respond to requests for documents within 20 business days, barring “unusual circumstances.” But an SEJ review finds that key federal environmental agencies are taking months and even years to respond to records requests.

Last year, it took EPA an average of 8 weeks — twice the mandated response time — to handle even a simple FOIA request for a handful of documents. The Interior Department is even slower, taking an average of 123 weekdays — six months — to deal with simple FOIA requests.

Despite some recent progress at a couple agencies, wait times to get a response and backlogs of unfulfilled requests have worsened over the last decade and are at all-time highs in some agencies.

Delays in agencies providing information can keep journalists on deadline from getting the whole story. When that happens, the public is left in the dark about what its government is doing.

Click here to read “Take a Number,” SEJ’s report on growing FOIA backlogs.