Freedom of Information requests hit political filter
WASHINGTON — For at least a year, the Homeland Security Department detoured hundreds of requests for federal records to senior political advisers for highly unusual scrutiny, probing for information about the requesters and delaying disclosures deemed too politically sensitive, according to nearly 1,000 pages of internal e-mails obtained by The Associated Press.
The department abandoned the practice after AP investigated.
Inspectors in the department’s Office of Inspector General quietly conducted interviews last week to determine if political advisers acted improperly.
In July 2009, Homeland Security introduced a directive requiring a wide range of information to be vetted by political appointees for “awareness purposes,” no matter who requested it.
The government on Wednesday estimated fewer than 500 requests underwent such political scrutiny.
The Homeland Security Department received about 103,000 total requests for information last fiscal year.
Career employees were ordered to provide Secretary Janet Napolitano’s political staff with information about the people who asked for records — such as where they lived, whether they were private citizens or reporters — and about the organizations where they worked.
If a member of Congress sought such documents, employees were told to specify Democrat or Republican.
Homeland Security Department spokesman Sean Smith said the mandatory reviews by political appointees never blocked disclosure of records that otherwise would have been released.
“No information deemed releasable by the FOIA office or general counsel was withheld,” Smith said.