On November 29, 2012 – almost exactly nine months after the Executive Office for U.S. Attorney’s acknowledged receiving my FOIA request on February 28, 2012 – the EOUSA FOIA office informed me “Your request for records under the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act has been processed.” Nine months – that’s not so bad, right?
EOUSA FOIA was not actually releasing any materials with this letter, merely informing me that their office was unable to process my request. The reason:
“Pages originated with another government component. These records were found in the U.S. Attorney’s Office files and may or may not be responsive to your request. [Bold type theirs] These records will be sent to the Drug Enforcement Administration. By making a FOIA request, you agreed to pay search and/or copying costs. A $154.00 review fee is being assessed for these records. We received a check from you in the amount of $1000. We are senging the check back to you and asking that you send a check in the amount of $154.00. The Drug Enforcement Administration will respond directly to you regarding your request. Please send a check or money order for $154.00 payable to the Treasury of the United States. Payment should be mailed to the Freedom of Information Act/Privacy Act Staff, 600 E Street, N.W., Room 7300, Washington D.C. 20530. If payment is not received, any future requests for records will be rejected until payment is received.
So, it took nine months and $154 for the EOUSA FOIA office to determine they were not capable of, and/or legally responsible for, fulfilling my request and that my request was better suited for the Drug Enforcement Administration, where the documents in question “originated.” (Note: I had chosen EOUSA as the place for my request after being instructed to do so by a staff member of the Ohio US Attorney’s office.)
But what about the part of the letter that reads, “We received a check from you in the amount of $1000.” This is true. I had sent them a check for $1,000, as I had been (erroneously) instructed to do over the phone by an EOUSA FOIA employee.
In between the EOUSA’s February 28, 2012 request-receipt-acknowledgement letter and this November 29, 2012 request-transfer-and-fee-notification letter, I had made a number of phone calls to people at the EOUSA FOIA inquiring about the status of my request. (At this point, my request was relatively young, and I believed it would be handled fairly quickly, I would get what I needed, and proceed with a book proposal.)
“It’s four huge boxes; I only got through one,” an EOUSA FOIA employee working on my request told me during one phone call in September of 2012, seven months after the agency acknowledged receiving my request. “I just got the request last month. It’s going to take me probably until the beginning of October.”
During a phone call in November of 2012, this same employee told me – and I’m quoting here from notes I typed during our phone call – “The records are here in my office they look to be fine…There isn’t anything to be referred to DEA.” In this same call, this employee said the people at her office had processed and reviewed the records I requested, eveything looked “legit,” and if I sent $1,000 (the ceiling amount I had agreed to pay in my initial FOIA request letter), “The boxes I have on my desk will be coming your way.” I repeat, she told me that all I needed to do was pay $1,000 and – in a line that haunts me – “The boxes I have on my desk will be coming your way.”
This, of course, turned out not to be the case. And after a few phone more phone calls, during which this woman’s higher-ups explained to me why the request was being sent to the DEA, I received official notification of the EOUSA-to-DEA transfer.
“This is the final action this office will take concerning your request,” reads the last line of that November 29, 2012 letter from EOUSA FOIA. Here is the full PDF of that letter.