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Posted at 01:22 PM ET, 06/08/2010

Nickles wants reply time extension for FOIA requests

The D.C. government is unable to handle the crush of Public Information Act requests it is receiving from unions, disgruntled employees, taxpayers, citizens, journalists and others trying to obtain information from Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's administration, according to Attorney General Peter Nickles.

Nickles sent a letter to Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) last week seeking immediate legislation to extend the amount of time the city has to respond to FOIA requests. Under current law, the city has 15 days to respond to a request with an additional 10 days allowed for "unusual circumstances."

But Nickles, whose office often processes requests sent to the administration, said he's increasingly unable to meet that deadline. He wants the city to adopt the provision of the federal FOIA law that allows for agencies to request "unspecified additional time for a response in unusual circumstances," Nickles wrote.

"In the context of the significant FOIA requests, increased complexity of the FOIA requests made, and reduced agency resources, and the absence in our FOIA statue of time frame safety-valves similar to the federal FOIA, is creating insurmountable challenges for the District," Nickles wrote. "These challenges are felt first at the administration level, but are increasingly resulting in litigation outcomes highly unfavorable to the District, despite the documented best efforts of District employees and officials to meet their obligations."

Nickles said the city received 5,637 FOIA requests in fiscal 2009, a 14 percent increase since Fenty was elected. And, Nickles outlined, judges are increasingly demanding that the city respond to the requests within the time frames outlined under the law.

Nickles said that without changes to the city's code, District employees could be subject to "contempt citations" if they are unable to process the requests in a timely manner.

"They also open the District to the payment of attorneys fees and costs at a time of severe fiscal constraints," Nickles wrote. "This situation is a serious one, that I believe the council should promptly address."

Nickles's letter comes as council members Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) and Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3) are trying to push separate pieces of open government legislation through the council. There is no word on Gray's response to Nickles' request, but union leaders say part of the increase in FOIA requests stems from the increased volume of litigation from employees who think that Fenty has unfairly terminated them or has not abided by the provisions of their contract. Union leaders vow that they will resist efforts to change the city law.

-- Tim Craig

By Washington Post Editors  |  01:22 PM ET, 06/08/2010

Categories:  Tim Craig, Tim Craig, Tim Craig, Tim Craig

 
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