January 7, 2016: The State Department’s internal watchdog slams the department’s FOIA process.

The State Department’s inspector general Steve Linick issues a report claiming that the department “repeatedly provided inadequate and inaccurate responses to Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] requests involving top agency officials, including a misleading answer to a request three years ago seeking information on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s email use.”

Politico states the new report also points to “a series of failures in the procedures the office of the secretary used to respond to public records requests, including a lack of written policies and training, as well as inconsistent oversight by senior personnel.”

According to the report, “These procedural weaknesses, coupled with the lack of oversight by leadership and failure to routinely search emails, appear to contribute to inaccurate and incomplete responses.”

CREW's Logo (Credit: CREW)

CREW’s Logo (Credit: CREW)

One important flawed department response was a letter sent to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) in May 2013 after the organization asked for details on email accounts used by Clinton. State’s response to CREW was, “no records responsive to your request were located.” The report says the inspector general’s office “found evidence that [Clinton’s chief of staff Cheryl Mills] was informed of the request at the time it was received and subsequently tasked staff to follow up.” However, according to the report, none of those officials appear to have reviewed the results of the search done in the department’s files, and there was “no evidence” that those staffers who did the search and responded to CREW knew about Clinton’s private email setup.  CREW followed up last year by saying it never received any final response to its FOIA request.

The AP Logo (Credit: The Associated Press)

The AP Logo (Credit: The Associated Press)

Other flaws pointed out by the inspector general’s report include extreme delays in other cases, such as an Associated Press FOIA request for Clinton’s schedules that was pending without substantive response for five years.

Politico also filed a FOIA request for legal and ethics reviews of former President Bill Clinton’s paid speeches. That request was pending for four years before the department began producing records.

The Gawker Logo (Credit: Gawker Media)

Another failed response involved a Gawker request for emails that former Clinton adviser Philippe Reines exchanged with 34 news organizations. Politico reports “that request initially received a “no records” response from [the] State [Department], even though State has now found 81,000 potentially responsive emails in its official files. At a court hearing last month, a government lawyer would not concede that the no-records response was inadequate.” (Politico, 1/7/2016)