Transparency: TSA takes 4 years to respond to one simple FOIA request

posted at 2:01 pm on May 7, 2012 by Morgen Richmond

Apparently the only connection between the TSA and transparency are all of our images as we pass through their scanners at the airport.  A big hat tip to Josh Gerstein at Politico for highlighting this account late last week by Michael Grabell at ProPublica:

In my first week at ProPublica in June 2008, I filed a public records request for the agency’s complaint files. Such records can provide good fodder for investigations.

For example, amid the brouhaha over the agency’s introduction of intensive full-body pat-downs in 2004, I requested complaints and discovered an untold story of the pain and humiliation suffered by rape victims and breast cancer survivors. In one incident that I found from that request — while I was a reporter at the Dallas Morning News — a woman complained that a screener asked her to remove her prosthetic breast to be swabbed for explosives.

When I made a similar FOIA request in 2008, I assumed the TSA would respond in a few months. Government agencies have about a month to respond to public record requests, though they often take longer. I figured even if their response took months, I’d be able to repeat it regularly to get a timely, inside look as to what passengers were complaining about and find out about incidents that required some more digging.

Boy, was I wrong.

As you’ve probably ascertained, the records Grabell requested finally arrived last week. The TSA blamed the delay on the volume of information requested, but after four years of foot-dragging, the records they delivered amounted to only 87 pages. The highlight has to be a complaint from an elderly woman in a wheelchair that she was made to walk through security – and subsequently fell – but click on over to ProPublica to read more.

But the real story is the delay itself, bringing to mind a government directive the President signed in his very first week in office (emphasis added):

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve. In responding to requests under the FOIA, executive branch agencies (agencies) should act promptly and in a spirit of cooperation, recognizing that such agencies are servants of the public.

Officially this was a presidential “memorandum”, not a directive, with the difference apparently being that a very large wink is implicit along with a memorandum. Because this Administration has really made a mockery of the sentiments expressed in the paragraph above, from Fast and Furious to the latest scandals with the GSA and the Secret Service. The essence of all three of these scandals was a decision by government officials to put their own needs ahead of the public interest, if for no other reason than to protect the guy at the very top of the org chart. This has been a problem with every White House I can remember, but I don’t recall any other recent presidents having the audacity to claim they are somehow different – the most transparent Administration in history, in fact – when stories like this appear with such regularity.


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Get rid of them!

KOOLAID2 on May 7, 2012 at 2:05 PM

Congress needs to do something NOW!

KOOLAID2 on May 7, 2012 at 2:05 PM

Everything JugEars people do is a cluster!

KOOLAID2 on May 7, 2012 at 2:06 PM

Thieves, Liars, and Crooks!

williamg on May 7, 2012 at 2:06 PM

Transparency!

KOOLAID2 on May 7, 2012 at 2:07 PM

a woman complained that a screener asked her to remove her prosthetic breast

Of all people, the fake boob in the White House should understand.

NoDonkey on May 7, 2012 at 2:07 PM

Hey, cut them some slack. They were busy roughing up old people, groping people’s groins and fondling other people’s children.

totherightofthem on May 7, 2012 at 2:08 PM

This IS the most transparent administration ever. Transparently crooked!

GarandFan on May 7, 2012 at 2:08 PM

Congress needs to do something NOW!

KOOLAID2 on May 7, 2012 at 2:05 PM

Be careful….every time Congress does something, my wallet gets lighter and my kids’ futures get bleaker.

search4truth on May 7, 2012 at 2:13 PM

They were busy roughing up old people, groping people’s groins and fondling other people’s children.

totherightofthem on May 7, 2012 at 2:08 PM

Yet they make sure not to poke and prod muslims in burkas and awami suits

burrata on May 7, 2012 at 2:15 PM

OT:

I just received a letter from DeMint, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul endorsing Don Stenberg for the Nebraska Senate seat.

Dack Thrombosis on May 7, 2012 at 2:16 PM

They’re transparent all right. Just not in the good way.

Happy Nomad on May 7, 2012 at 2:16 PM

Good piece, Morgen. This stuff(the footdragging) needs sunlight and public attention.

a capella on May 7, 2012 at 2:17 PM

I just received a letter from DeMint, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul endorsing Don Stenberg for the Nebraska Senate seat.

Dack Thrombosis on May 7, 2012 at 2:16 PM

Hmmmmmm. Not my favorite person, but, better than Bruning, I guess.

a capella on May 7, 2012 at 2:19 PM

President Romney will gain the instant trust of the people if he immediately announces a huge overhaul of the TSA, and a 50% reduction of the workforce. The TSA is just blowing out money lie 0bama’s apocryphal 8 mpg car.

The TSA has garnered such a huge reservoir of ill will among the flying public that it is probably as hated now as the IRS.

The TSA is Bush’s legacy of oppression.

Any way you slice it, Romney is going to have to INCREASE unemployment among government employees, to get anything done. There’s going to be pain during the next presidency – no way to avoid it – but the TSA is the perfect place to start.

The TSA, just in the way that my family members and I have been treated over the years, is #1 on my list of places to start cutting.

cane_loader on May 7, 2012 at 2:21 PM

Hmmmmmm. Not my favorite person, but, better than Bruning, I guess.

a capella on May 7, 2012 at 2:19 PM

I’ve been leaning towards Stenberg because he did a good job when he was Attorney General. He actually worked hard to land some butts in the electric chair (especially John Joubert). There are three thugs who are no longer draining tax dollars on death row thanks to this guy.

I don’t trust Bruning. There’s that fishy deal with the vacation house and he’s embroiled in a scandal now about trying to obtain drugs from an overseas supplier for a lethal injection that’s just turned into a big clusterfark. He seems like the kind of guy that will do anything to get elected.

Dack Thrombosis on May 7, 2012 at 2:25 PM

No one should fault Keller for his liberalism. It is his pretense of fairness that is galling. His claims about Fox’s faults can be just as easily directed at the Times. The real poison at the heart of American journalism isn’t Fox, it’s the mainstream media’s false front of objectivity.

The Obama admin. is as “transparent” as the NYT.

Schadenfreude on May 7, 2012 at 2:26 PM

There is an article over at http://www.canadafreepress.com/ that concerns the TSA that will curl your hair. This is the internal “military” that Obummer wanted. We need to get control of this bunch NOW.

retiredeagle on May 7, 2012 at 2:28 PM

You know what other FOIA request will be relevant at this time ?
A list of ALL TSA employees and their breakdown by ethnicities, and how many of them are actual US citizens.
Crowdsourcing won’t be a bad idea , for transparency ofcourse !

burrata on May 7, 2012 at 2:32 PM

The TSA must be abolished entirely. It cannot be reformed. Turn security over to the individual airlines to handle as they wish.

Harbingeing on May 7, 2012 at 2:34 PM

The Senate passed the Faster FOIA Act (twice) last year, but it stalled in the House: http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/112/s1466. (And here: http://www.mainjustice.com/2011/08/02/senate-passes-faster-foia-bill-again-amid-growing-criticism/).

I agree the TSA is ridiculous, and the FOIA request could be granted much faster even without the Faster FOIA Act, but the Republican House also deserves a lot of blame for not passing it.

tneloms on May 7, 2012 at 2:41 PM

(peeks in…

… looks around to see if bluegill is still having multiple orgasms over Morgan)

(sees giant wet spot on the floor…

… closes door quietly and leaves)

/

Seven Percent Solution on May 7, 2012 at 2:42 PM

You think the TSA is bad now, wait until, God help us, they are still enabled by an Obama second term. We’ll get a taste of oppressive government nobody will ever forget.

Folks are actually talking about a new civil war. It is completely understandable. Except this time the war won’t be about freeing black slaves, it will be about freeing us slaves from the oppression of a freeloading class that only sucks on the federal teat 7/24/365.

If ever there was a case for poll taxes, and intelligence tests for voters, it is going to come up again in spades.

We know from history that the Roman Empire went down the tubes when the unproductive citizenry finally outnumbered the productive citizenry. There it was – in black and white, and Cicero said it best – and our blessed leaders still pretend that it ain’t so. Nobody comes right out and says so, but I would imagine there was a great reduction in the population of Rome once the freebies ran out.

Our great world leaders know that population reduction is a happy solution to lots of their problems. They are always tempted by the existence of nuclear weaponry that can seriously reduce populations in short shrift.

Keep that in mind the next time you look adoringly at Obama. He’s a megalomaniacal narcissist who’s mind is defective to start with.

dockywocky on May 7, 2012 at 2:42 PM

It isn’t that the Obama crew is just another bunch of lying, thieving, corrupt politicians.

It is the Orwellian nature of the regime that makes proclamations of virtue that are 180 degrees from their corrupt conduct, and then demand that we believe their words and ignore our lyin’ eyes. It is the horrific spectacle of so many of our fellow citizens falling in line with this transparent depravity.

And if you don’t take their word for it, and ignore your lyin’ eyes, why then you are a reactionary and a raaaaaaaacist.

novaculus on May 7, 2012 at 2:47 PM

When they said they would be transparent they meant that they would use naked scanners on people. You people are so naive….

jeffn21 on May 7, 2012 at 4:27 PM