Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Time to Shut OPA Down.

Info Now Banned by DOJ / OPA
For years, the Editor of this blog has requested information on when granted clemency applications have been filed with the Office of the Pardon Attorney (OPA) and when they have been forwarded to the White House. While the information revealed absolutely nothing about the content or merit of particular applications, reasons for clemency, reports, inter-agency communications, or anything at all substantive re the deliberation process ... it did provide relevant factual information on the flow of successful applications through the clemency process.

These FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) requests were granted to the Editor through the entire administration of George W. Bush (eight years) and the Obama administration as well, for the better part of six years, until April of 2015. Indeed, the requests were routinely sent, acknowledged by OPA and fulfilled by OPA in a matter of weeks ... two or three weeks max.

Then, William N. Taylor II "Executive Officer" of OPA simply stopped responding to our FOIA requests. He then stopped acknowledging that they were being received at all. Consequently, we have waited - quite literally, for years - for any indication whatsoever that his Office is of the opinion that FOIA law applies to its work. The previous pardon attorney (Robert Zauzmer) recommended that we simply wait until the Obama administration was over.

Info Now Banned by DOJ / OPA
Of course, by the time he left office, President Obama set a record for commutations of sentence and engaged in the largest 4th year clemency surge in American history. Media reports suggested clemency officials were working well into the night, over the weekends and during holidays, trying to bust their way through thousands of applications. Nameless, faceless bureaucrats in the administration that promised greater transparency, and greater cooperation with FOIA requests in particular, simply shut the doors, at the worst possible time. Because they could.

This evening (February 8, 2017), we sent an e-mail to OPA, politely inquiring whether or not it intends to knowledge / fulfill FOIA requests this year (2017)? Within minutes, mere minutes (!), six of our FOIA requests (189, 250, 279, 309, 680 and 784 days old) were given e-mail responses. A Christmas miracle! And they were all given - for the first time ever - a "full denial." The Executive Officer explained:
... After carefully considering your request, I have determined that if any such records do exist, they are exempt from disclosure ... 
The Executive Officer of OPA does not know if data exists in his own office any more? Who knows what other critical data they lose, or do not know they have? Causally recognizing its god-awful work in recent years, the OPA says:
We expect that our FOIA and Privacy Act response times will increase quite drastically during the spring of 2017.
Indeed. Looks like that Office will be "going through" FOIA requests, in 2017, like it did commutation applications in 2016. No easier way to cut through a backlog of requests than flippant summary denials. We are "appealing" the request, but, well, you know ...

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