Sec. of State Tillerson attempting to clear huge FOIA backlog at State Department

The State Department is notorious for either delaying answering ‘Freedom of Information Act’ requests, or never answering them at all.

In fact, although I used FOIA a number of years ago with another federal agency, I never bothered with it on the refugee issue knowing of the State Department’s horrible reputation for stonewalling the public.

tillerson foia

Sec. of State Tillerson orders FOIA backlog cleaned up!  Transparency here we come! (I hope!)

This story at CNN from several days ago, got my attention because a former bigwig in the Bureau of Population Refugees and Migration was recently assigned to Tillerson’s admirable project of clearing the backlog of FOIA requests —-Laurence Bartlett (here).

CNN says disgruntled State Dept. employees sent to the FOIA office are hiring lawyers because they feel such work is beneath them.  (The article does not list Bartlett as one of those seeking a legal remedy to what is described as a demotion.)

Frankly, it makes enormous sense to me to place experienced people in that office because how would someone with no history with certain departments at the State Department know where to find the information requested.

Here is CNN’s “exclusive” story from nearly a week ago:

Washington (CNN) A growing number of State Department employees are charging they are being put in career purgatory because of their previous work on policy priorities associated with President Barack Obama and in offices the Trump administration is interested in closing.

The situation has got so serious that several officials tell CNN they have retained attorneys after repeatedly trying unsuccessfully to raise concerns about being assigned to low-level jobs in Foggy Bottom such as answering Freedom of Information Act requests.

The issue has also come to the attention of senior Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has made clearing a backlog of FOIA requests a priority and reassigned staff to what State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert has called “an all-hands on deck” effort to clear the backlog. Significant progress has been made, and the number of outstanding requests — which stood at 22,000 in January 2017 — has been reduced to about 13,000, Tillerson said in November, adding that he hopes the backlog will be cleared by the end of 2018.

The backlog grew over the last several years in part due to numerous requests from journalists and conservative groups, including Judicial Watch and Citizens United, for records relating to Hillary Clinton’s emails. [LOL! Leave it to CNN to blame the backlog on rightwingers!—ed]

bartlett at Heritage

When Lawrence Bartlett was the lead panelist at a Heritage Foundation event last fall, along with other inside the beltway types, I knew Heritage had no clue about what was really happening with refugees in your towns and cities.   https://refugeeresettlementwatch.wordpress.com/2017/09/14/is-the-heritage-foundation-selling-you-out-on-unus-refugee-admissions-policy/

“Those helping with FOIA requests have a range of skills and backgrounds, from interns to deputy assistant secretaries,” Nauert told CNN. “The assignments are temporary — some staffing the office are simply between assignments as they determine their next step.”

But many of those assigned to the “FOIA Surge” effort resemble a band of misfit toys, including several ambassadors returning from overseas and senior career and civil service members who were detailed to other agencies. Others worked in offices created by Obama as policy priorities, which the Trump administration has announced it intends to close.

[….]

Nauert said that employees are being asked to serve in the FOIA office due to need, “without regard to politics.”

“There is a job that needs to be done,” Nauert said. “It may not be a glamorous job, but it’s an important one.”

Lawrence Bartlett, the head of refugee admissions in the State Department’s bureau of Population Refugees and Migration was recently benched and assigned as a “senior adviser” to the FOIA office. His case was first reported by Reuters.

The State Department said Bartlett’s assignment was temporary but has not said whether he would return to the post or whether someone would cover his position in his absence.

Several current and former officials fear the decision to reassign Bartlett, a leading advocate for refugees in the State Department, is part of the Trump administration’s wider effort to limit refugee resettlement in the US.

Much more here.


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