A regulation adopted by the Food and Drug Administration in administering the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) required that it "maintain a permanent file of all requests for . . . records and all responses thereto, including a copy of all the records furnished in response to a request," according to the Jan. 5 Federal Register (page 162). Each file was to be "available for public review during working hours," according to the notice.
The purpose was obvious--individuals other than the original requestor could find out material that had been made available and could easily request a copy of their own.
What was not obvious, however, was the enormous number of requests. According to the notice, FDA received 2,800 FOI requests in 1974, 13,000 in 1975, and 34,000 in 1980. "Interest in obtaining FDA records had been drastically underestimated," the notice admits.
Storage capacity has been taxed because of the rule to keep a copy of everything, FDA officials now say. Over 150,000 files, averaging 66 pages each, have accumulated in a warehouse, "occupying 1,700 linear feet of cabinet space," according to the notice.
Faced with the problem of planning for the future, the agency now wants to change its "permanent file" regulation. It wants to substitute a destruction plan for FOIA material--two years for records that are supplied, five years for files that are "wholly or partially denied," and a four- or three-year rule for records that are denied after appeal to either the courts or FDA's parent agency, the Health and Human Services Department.
Comments on this proposal will be received until March 8. For further information contact Gerald Deighton, (301) 443-1813.