Two Years and Counting: Prying Open Wespac Records Isn't for the Impatient

posted in: Fisheries, Marine, November 2010 | 0

How long does it take to respond to a request for records under the federal Freedom of Information Act?

In the case of a request filed more than two years ago by Environment Hawai`i,seeking travel records for Kitty Simonds, the executive director of the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council, and several council members, it takes a very long time indeed.

Rather, the initial response took hardly any time at all. Within a matter of months, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration had determined that the records were off-limits.

On April 3, 2009, NOAA received the completed appeal. Since then, the NOAA attorney handling the appeal, Sarah Schwartz, andEnvironment Hawai`i editor, Patricia Tummons, have had the following email exchanges:

May 8, 2009: “Aloha, Ms. Schwartz, I was just wondering how the appeal was progressing. Pat Tummons.”

May 11: “Morning Pat. At this point, I’m afraid there is not much to report. With the new Obama standards for review in place, the process is a bit slower. We are steadily working on the appeal, however. And please feel free to keep in touch about the status. Regards, Sarah.”

August 13: “Hi, Sarah. Just wondering how the appeal is going. Any info would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. Pat Tummons.”

August 14: “Hi, Pat. Thank you for checking in on your appeal. We are processing the appeals in the order in which they were received here, so we’re pushing older ones out the door before the close of the fiscal year. Consequently, we have not yet completed your appeal. I do apologize for the delay, but I can assure you we are working on it. Thank you and have a nice weekend. Sarah.”

November 19: “Aloha, Sarah. Any word on the status of this appeal? It’s been three months since your last message. Best wishes, Pat Tummons.”

November 19: “Hi, Pat. Thank you for checking back. Your FOIA appeal is actually my priority at the moment. In the course of working on your appeal and through further discussions with NMFS’s FOIA office, however, NMFS realized last week that they may have a few more documents to provide. They are currently collecting those for me, thus I am waiting on documents so that I may complete the appeal. Again, I apologize for the delay. Regards, Sarah.”

January 22, 2010: “Aloha. It’s been more than two months since I received your message below [November 19]. Could you give me a status update, please? Thank you. Pat Tummons.”

January 25: “Morning Pat. I received the documents from NOAA and have nearly finished the appeal. Once complete, I’ll pass the appeal forward for final clearance. We have a multi-step review process, which can take about a month (though sometimes less). Much will depend on how many FOIA appeals are ahead in line. Have a great day, Sarah.”

June 11: “Aloha, Sarah. It’s been a while since our last correspondence. Any word on when the appeal may be decided? Thanks. Pat Tummons.”

June 14: “Hi, Pat. I do apologize for the delay. Our office received more documents from NMFS since my last correspondence to you, which required additional time for review. I hope to get this out to you soon, however. Thank you for checking. Sarah.”

July 16: “Any ETA? Thanks. Pat T.”

July 20: “Morning, Pat. We’re aiming for this month or early next. Regards, Sarah.”

August 18: “Aloha, Sarah. Just checking in, now that July has passed and early August is history. Pat.”

August 20: “Hi Pat. We’re still actively working on it. I’m waiting for NOAA to confirm one last detail. Regards, Sarah.”

September 20: “Hi, Sarah. Been a month since our last exchange. How are things going? Is an end in sight? Pat.”

September 21: “Morning Pat. Yes, an end is in sight. I’ve heard from NOAA, and I’m finishing up the appeal now. Regards, Sarah.”

September 28: “Hi Pat, … Would you be willing to exclude taxpayer identification numbers and bank account numbers from the scope of your appeal? Thanks so much, Sarah.”

October 12: “Hi, Sarah, Nice to hear from you. Yes, by all means exclude bank account numbers and taxpayer IDs, employer ID numbers, Social Security numbers. I really don’t care about these. Any idea of when a final package will be ready? Pat.”

October 14: “Hi, Pat. Thanks so much for the response. We will exclude those numbers and hopefully get a final package out within a couple of weeks. We have a review process in our office that requires a couple of steps once the appeal leaves my hands, but I’d imagine that will not take too long. Have a great day, Sarah.”


Patricia Tummons


Volume 21, Number 5 — November 2010


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