Three weeks before a court-imposed deadline, the State Department has requested a 27-month delay to complete the review of emails from four of Hillary Clinton’s former aides, including top advisers Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills. The request was made because State belatedly realized it had badly underestimated the number of documents that would be responsive to the FOIA request at issue in the lawsuit. The Hill reports:
Citizens United has sued for emails between a handful of State Department officials and people at the Clinton Foundation and a consulting firm, Teneo Consulting, which has ties to the Clintons.
Among other errors, State officials said than an initial test looking at just 300 emails, which was used to calculate the amount of time necessary to process the emails, neglected to include keyword searches of the messages. Instead, they only searched the “To” and “From” lines of the messages, which failed to catch many emails.
State Department officials also “inadvertently” labeled some email attachments as irrelevant to the open records request, without checking them to make sure.
The bottom line is that State initially estimated 6,082 documents were potentially responsive to the request and, based on a test review, concluded less than half that number would need to be turned over. However, as they started reviewing documents they caught the errors made in generating those numbers. A new search yielded “34,116 potentially responsive documents.” Oops!
The remainder of the court filing is mostly taken up with an explanation of the number of qualified reviewers State has on hand as well as the large number of outstanding FOIA requests which are not part of litigation. All of that leads up to this estimate of when State can actually get this done:
“Based on the FOIA and Privacy Act demands IPS is currently facing, the limited number of part-time reviewers currently working on litigation, the fact that many of those part-time reviewers, including those working on this case, are inexperienced, and the bottleneck caused by limited senior reviewer capacity,” State estimates that it can review records for releasability in this case at a rate no faster than 500 pages per month.
State thus requests an extension of its deadline to complete production to October 20, 2018. State regrets that it is not able to produce all responsive, non-exempt records by July 21, 2016.
Seems a bit excessive but 27 months is the blink of an eye compared to 75 years. That’s how long the State Department said it would take to respond to an RNC lawsuit demanding emails from Clinton’s top aides.
In January, the State Department’s Inspector General issued a report faulting the agency’s response to FOIA requests as being the slowest of any government agency and also often inaccurate and incomplete. This chart, showing 177 FOIA requests from Secretary Clinton’s tenure were still open three years after she left office, was included in the report: