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Deloitte Launches FOIA-Processing Software, FOIA Shows Interior Dept. Issued Thousands of Oil Drilling Safety Waivers, and More: FRINFORMSUM 2/28/2019

February 28, 2019

Deloitte Launches FOIA-Processing Software but Improved FOIA Numbers No Guarantee

One of FOIA’s perennial head-scratchers is why agency FOIA offices seem able to search for and review only hundreds of pages of documents a month for release – even when under court order – when existing eDiscovery tools allow lawyers to review tens of thousands of pages of records in a comparable amount of time. Deloitte has launched a new FOIA-processing software based on eDiscovery tools for its government clients as a possible solution to this imbalance. The software, which Matthew Nelson reports is “based on Relativity’s eDiscovery software and hosted in a cloud environment authorized under the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program,” could be a boon for agency FOIA shops – or it could be a black eye for the accounting firm if agencies’ FOIA numbers continue to be abysmal. It’s not clear which agencies have purchased the Deloitte platform, but knowing the information would be a good first step in seeing just how much of FOIA’s processing delays are technical, or if there’s something more systemic behind them. (A 2017 FOIA search survey developed and circulated by the Archive and the Project on Government Oversight asked FOIA processors – anonymously – what search software their agency used – with only a very small percentage using Clearwell, another eDiscovery platform.)

Interior Dept. Issues Nearly 2,000 Waivers to Obama-Era Offshore Drilling Rule     

After 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill killed ten workers and dumped more than 200 million gallons of oil in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration passed the Well Control Rule. The rule was aimed at tightening safety procedures surrounding blowout preventers, the device that failed in the BP accident. Two years into the Trump administration, however, FOIA-released data shows that the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement has issued 1,700 waivers, “effectively gutting parts of the regulation before the Trump administration officially rolls them back.”

Exemption 4 SNAP Case Goes to SCOTUS on April 22

The Supreme Court will hear the case of Food Marketing Institute v. Argus Leader Media in less than two months. The upcoming SCOTUS fight concerning public access to sales figures for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has potentially wide implications for FOIA’s Exemption 4. As Kel McClanahan, Esq., executive director of National Security Counselors says, “A ruling for the requester would mean nothing more than a continuation of the status quo, where business information can only be withheld under Exemption (b)(4) upon a showing of competitive harm. But a ruling against the requester would turn Exemption (b)(4) into some sort of super-exemption, where the mere fact that business information had not previously been made public would suffice to withhold it.” The Department of Justice recently filed an amicus brief in support of an expansive interpretation of the exemption – an unsurprising move considering the department’s willingness to defend any and all agency FOIA positions in court, no matter how feeble.

Census Bureau Cites DOD Reporting as Risk to 2020 Census

A Census Bureau memo obtained by the NAACP through the FOIA outlines new Department of Defense guidance that it says places “the 2020 Census at risk.” In previous years, the Census Bureau added all military members serving abroad to state census totals based on address they provided when enlisting – but the new rule will count deployed troops “as residents of the stateside military installations where they’re usually stationed,” a likely bump for states like North Carolina, Kentucky, and others with large bases. But the Defense Manpower Data Center on whose data the Census Bureau planned to rely is no longer able to report on currently deployed service members – only members who have completed their assignments. The Census Bureau argues the the DMDC restrictions “places us in jeopardy of not having the information necessary to count those who are deployed overseas in the communities in which they live.”

How the Strategic Air Command Would Go to Nuclear War

A recently declassified Strategic Air Command (SAC) checklist sheds brand new light on the procedures that SAC would have followed in the mid-1960s if U.S. nuclear forces had gone to war. The checklist – obtained by independent scholar Robert S. Hopkins III and published by the Archive – provides the first fully declassified details of SAC procedures under Defense Readiness Conditions (DEFCON), from 1 to 5, along with the Emergency War Order red dot messages that would have directed SAC bombers and missiles to launch nuclear strikes against the Soviet Union and other targeted adversaries.

The VICE File

The movie VICE, which recently won one Academy Award and was nominated for seven others, including the best picture Oscar, shows on screen several documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Those documents relate to then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s meetings with oil company lobbyists discussing potential drilling in Iraq. But at least a dozen other declassified records deserve screen time before Sunday’s Oscars show, according to the National Security Archive’s publication of primary sources from Cheney’s checkered career.

The documents show how Cheney built a rap sheet for drunk driving and arranged draft deferments in the 1960s, pitched in on President Gerald R. Ford’s unsuccessful veto of the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 1974, helped undermine investigations of CIA scandals in 1975, excused President Ronald Reagan’s Iran-contra misdeeds in 1987, mistakenly distrusted Gorbachev and slowed the end of the Cold War in 1989, promoted the global hegemon role for the U.S. in 1992, hid his work with oil companies in 2001 to set energy policy, endorsed torture and warrantless surveillance in the 2000s, played a leading role in trashing Iraq and the Middle East from the Iraq invasion in 2003 to the present, mysteriously went whole days at the White House without his Vice President’s office generating any saved e-mail, and presented a danger to civilians whether they were armed or not by shooting his hunting partner in 2006.

The United States and the North Korea Nuclear Threat

Prior U.S. administrations from both political parties wrestled intensively with complex security, economic, and diplomatic challenges in trying to rein in successive North Korean dictators’ nuclear ambitions, a review of declassified documentation makes clear. The Archive presents an array of records from the Nixon, Bush 41, and Clinton administrations that describe the many concerns and tests that have confronted U.S. policymakers and negotiators alike. These records provide essential historical context for recently-ended Hanoi meeting between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

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